With a Song in Our Hearts and Stars in Our Eyes

What is a song? What does it mean, in the grand scheme of things? Can a song change the world? Can it sum up all the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a presidential candidate?

I wouldn’t bet on it.

In olden times (as the kids say), presidential campaigns would commission songs that usually had all the grace and elegance of a Hallmark card written by an accountant. You can be forgiven for not recalling such toe-tappers as “Huzzah for Madison, Huzzah,” “Tippacanoe and Tyler, Too,” “Buckle Down with Nixon,” and “Get on a Raft with Taft” (which, considering Taft’s girth, sounds like a really unsafe suggestion).

More recently, campaigns have adopted popular songs, sometimes to the artist’s consternation. The Reagan campaign briefly used “Born in the U.S.A.” as a campaign song before Springsteen protested; the same thing happen in 2004 with Orleans’ song “Still the One,” when songwriter John Hall raised a fuss.

On the one hand, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” seems to sum up the ambitions of every politician who has dared use it over the last 23 years. But Al Gore’s use of “You Can Call Me Al” didn’t seem to humanize him as much as he was probably hoping.

For a brief moment during the 1992 campaign, the Clinton campaign was playing Jesus Jones’ “Right Here, Right Now” at campaign stops, before Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop” became the official theme song. Much as I like their music, it’s hard for me to not think of the mid-70’s Fleetwood Mac as the prefect representation of all the bright-eyed dreams of long-haired hippies daring to change the world turned into the coke-fueled wretched excess that came after Woodstock. But maybe that’s just me.

Hillary Clinton was using “Right Here, Right Now” at events, but she held a Web contest to select an official song and the results are in: Celine Dion’s “You and I.” You could point out that Dion represents safe, mainstream, middle-of-the-road pop. Or you might notice that she’s Canadian – not that there’s anything wrong with that country and their fine healthcare system.

Better still, it turns out the song was written for an Air Canada ad campaign, and an advertising consultant wrote the lyrics. This isn’t unprecedented – the Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun” started as a jingle for a bank commercial – but it doesn’t help with that “authenticity” problem Clinton has. You know, the one about her being warm, human and just like the rest of us.

But even more disturbing than Clinton fronting herself with Celine Dion is how she chose to reveal the contest winner. It was a cute little Web video starring her and Bill, done as a spoof of the final scene from The Sopranos (cameo appearance from Johnny Sack). Let’s not even touch the fact that Senator Clinton hasn’t hesitated to strengthen her moral and spiritual standing by attacking the media for violence. Instead, let’s recall that I pointed out just last week that The Sopranos is about a family in massive denial. Whether Hillary is suggesting that she’s Tony (violent and selfish) or Carmela (straying husband, materialistic), I’m not sure she comes off well either way.

I don’t know if John Edwards has picked a theme song yet, but I can promise you it’s going to be something populist. After all, at the DNC Winter Conference, he played John Mellencamp’s “This is Our Country” as his entrance music; in April, donors could receive a collection of country and bluegrass recording artists; on his MySpace page, you can currently hear Foo Fighters’ “Times Like These.” Obama’s been blessed or cursed by the Web phenomenon that is Obama Girl singing “I’ve Got a Crush on Obama.” Can a uplifting number from R. Kelly be far behind?

I’m not sure any of Clinton’s competitors will edge her out based on theme song choice. And in time, we’ll probably forget all about the whole Sopranos thing and we’ll tune out the Celine Dion as we hear it for the hundredth time. After all, can one song, any song, sum up all the hopes, dreams and aspirations of a presidential candidate? Probably not. But if a campaign goes up in flames, it provides a satisfying target for armchair political strategists to point and say, “There, that’s when I first knew it was all going wrong.”

Editor’s Note: P.J.’s not one to curse the darkness. Nor are the rest of us here at Spot-on. Here’s a link to an iTunes iMix of our suggestions for Sen. Clinton’s campaign.