High Hopes and the Lowest Common Denominator

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“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope in the songs of a man so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”
– Ronald Reagan, 1984

I suspect the golden age of political campaign songs has passed us by. It’s not like it used to be back in 1960, when John F. Kennedy enlisted his pal Frank Sinatra to stump for him and sing “High Hopes” with new lyrics:

Jack’s the nation’s favorite guy
Everyone wants to back—Jack
Jack is on the right track.
‘Cause he’s got high hopes
He’s got high hopes

It may have been corny, but Sinatra brought that ring-a-ding swagger to the convention hall, and made it work.

And it sure as hell isn’t like what it used to be back in the halcyon days of the summer of 1984, when Ronald Reagan, the old rock ‘n roller, appropriated Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” for his re-election campaign. Never mind that the song was written from the viewpoint of an alienated Vietnam veteran. For a few weeks there we had yuppies in yellow ties pumping their fists and acting like crazed frat boys, and music fans from the Redwood forests to the Gulfstream waters chortled in the giddy hope that music could change the world, or at least provide a decent soundtrack to the political chicanery.

This week Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her theme song for the upcoming 2008 presidential campaign:  Celine Dion’s “You and I.” You may know the song as a commercial jingle for Air Canada, with Celine shilling for airline tickets. That should probably tell you all you need to know, but just in case you want the sordid details, here’s the chorus:

You and I
Were meant to fly
Higher than the clouds
We’ll sail across the sky
So come with me
And you will feel
That we’re soaring
That we’re floating up so high
‘Cause you and I were meant to fly

I don’t know about you, but my heart isn’t exactly swelling with patriotic fervor. Although it’s a song that could inspire any fan of unicorns or rainbows, it seems to be lacking in that pragmatic grounding that could animate potential voters to get behind a candidate who must deal head-on with terrorist attacks and melting polar icecaps. And as poetry it absolutely sucks, expressing sub-greeting-card sentiments that even the Hallmark Company would have the good sense to reject.

But you can rest assured that we’ll be hearing it, ad infinitum, for a long time to come. It’s going to be a long seventeen months, and I’d prefer to skip the whole sordid American Idol Goes to Washington extravaganza if I could. At least in that sense, the song achieves its original goal. It makes me want to travel abroad.