Theme Party

Oct. 16 1996 3:30 AM

Theme Party

Politics really is a song and dance.


For most of this century, it's been a routine British sneer that Americans have no sense of irony. Bob Dole's poll numbers may finally be proving the Brits right. Dole has run the most ironic, postmodern presidential campaign ever seen--starting with his campaign theme song, the only conceivable purpose of which is to serve as an ironic negation of everything campaign themes are meant to do. "I'm a Dole Man" is a takeoff on the '60s hit "I'm a Soul Man," and its most immediate quality is that it's so un-Dole. It's a parodic campaign song: Dole obviously has never heard of it, any more than he's heard of Tupac Shakur or those other gangsta rappers his advisers periodically call on him to denounce. Then again, considering that 98 percent of all pop songs are gender-neutral (though Pat Buchanan toyed with "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun"), the number seems to have been especially picked for the blithe insouciance it shows toward the Dole campaign's "gender gap." What do they do for a second chorus? "I'm a Dole Chick"? More ironic is that the song is an exquisite musicalization of the candidate's most frequently cited defect: his campaign's lack of any central theme. "Dole Man" isn't about anything at all. You can't blame Dole for having trouble staying "on message" when the only message of his song is that you should stand around twitching:


I'm a Dole Man,
Na-na-na-na, na-na.
I'm a Dole Man,
Na-na, na-na
(Repeat until fade)

Sam & Dave sang the song back in the '60s, and Sam gave the campaign permission to use it. I forget how Dole voted on the 1976 revisions to Title 17 of the U.S. Code, but it clearly never registered with him that, in pop songs, copyright belongs to the copyright holder--in this case the recording company--not to the recording artists. One of the song's writers objected to "Dole Man," the recording company backed him up, and Sam's permission proved to be irrelevant. So much for Dole's line that though he may not have a lot of fancy words, he's a legislator and knows how things work.

C ompare all that with Clinton in '92, who went on the stump to a Fleetwood Mac song that suited him perfectly. Yes, that's a cruel thing to say about anybody, but the point is that it was a plausible soundtrack to his campaign:

Don't stop
Thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop
It'll soon be here.

This quatrain distills brilliantly both the vapidity and ruthless single-mindedness of the Clinton administration. We can't say we weren't warned.


F or a campaign song that's pithy you have to go back to 1931 and the satirical musical Of Thee I Sing, in which John P. Wintergreen campaigns for the White House with a powerful slogan ("A Vote for Wintergreen Is a Vote for Wintergreen") and a winning campaign song (by the Gershwins) of just four lines:

Wintergreen for president!
Wintergreen for president!
He's the man the people choose,
Loves the Irish and the Jews.

Unfortunately, the strategy wasn't so successful the second time around. In the sequel, Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933), John P. Wintergreen runs for re-election and is defeated by John P. Tweedledee, with his winning campaign song:

He's the man the country seeks!
Loves the Turks and the Greeks!



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