Ira Gershwin was much better at spoof campaign songs than the real thing. In the '50s, he reworked "It Ain't Necessarily So" for Adlai Stevenson (and included the first sung reference to a vice-presidential candidate: "L'il Nixon was small, but oh, my/His office expenses were high") as well as "Love Is Sweeping the Country" (also from Of Thee I Sing):
Adlai's sweeping the country!
He will be the next prez,
We'll be leaning
On words with meaning,
For he means every word he says.
It's funny how hard it is to find anything to sing about. Most presidential elections in the republic's history have had specially commissioned themes: "Teddy, Come Back," "Wilson--That's All," "Franklin D. Roosevelt's Back Again," "Nixon's the One." But it wouldn't have made any difference if they'd been "Wilson's the One," Theodore Roosevelt's Back Again," "Franklin--That's All," and "Nixon, Come Back."
A s if to concede the John P. Wintergreen/John P. Tweedledee interchangeability, most campaigns eventually settled for an "INSERT NAME OF CANDIDATE HERE" approach, shoehorning their man into the handiest existing song. In 1988, I asked Sammy Cahn if he'd been pressed into service. "Funny you should mention that," he said, "but I got a call from some friends in Boston who are backing a fellow called Dukakis. So I wrote 'My Kind of Guy (Dukakis Is).' "
"A bit tricky to rhyme, 'Dukakis is'?"
"Sure," said Sammy, "but there's always a way around. When Kennedy asked me if he could use '
"Just what makes the little old ant
Think he'll move a rubber-tree plant?
Ev'ryone knows an ant
Move a rubber-tree plant,
But he's got high hopes.
"So, instead of that, I spelled it out:
Jack's the nation's favorite guy,
Ev'ryone wants to backJack.
Jack is on the right track,
And he's got high hopes."
When I subsequently encountered Dukakis, it seemed highly unlikely that he could be Cahn's (or many other folks') kind of guy--and, of course, he wasn't particularly. Cahn was simply plying his trade. "I'm a songwriter and I play straight down the middle. Sinatra asked me to do a lyric for Spiro Agnew, so I did." Amazingly, the guy who wrote "Call Me Irresponsible" and "All the Way" insisted that the song he wrote to mark Ed Meese's first year as Attorney General was one of his best lyrics ever.
Perhaps one day the Dick Morrises and Ed Rollinses will find it easier to pick candidates who already have the names of popular songs. Watching the shamelessly bogus populist Lamar (Lamar!) Alexander "walking across New Hampshire," accompanied by campaign workers in immaculately pressed plaid shirts they'd clearly changed into in the men's room at Manchester airport, you began to wonder if the candidate himself wasn't just Lamar Schmoe who'd changed his name just so he could use "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as his theme song.