You can only assume that conservatives don’t write good songs. But of course, what are you going to write about? Keeping the poor down, hating icky brown-skinned people, etc? Theocracy isn’t a catchy subject, I know and “The government owns your uterus” isn’t a lyric that’s likely to get a crowd stomping their feet. Whatever the problem and its cause, Republicans seem to always latch onto songs by social liberals and play them as campaign anthems, completely misrepresenting the song and the songwriter’s intent.
Back in 2008, John McCain tried using Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty” when he attacked President Obama’s energy policies. Brown sued, won, and not only got a public apology but a cash settlement. Surely everybody remembers Sarah Palin laying her paws on Heart’s “Barracuda” in 2008, much to the annoyance of the Wilson sisters. Or look at Newt Gingrich using Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” this year, and Michelle Bachmann’s use of Tom Petty’s “American Girl “last year.
The most recent offense has been given by One Percenter Mitt Romney, who took “Wavin’ Flag” , a song about being born in a “violent prone, poor people zone/but it’s my home, all I have known” and used it Tuesday night at a rally for his supporters after the Florida Primary. Look at the lyrics:
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
This is not a song by the One Percent for the One Percent. And here is the richest white guy EVER to run for the office of president playing it, the same guy who says he doesn’t care about the very poor and who supports the Ryan Budget which would further strip the supposed safety net Romney says is there to catch them by making cuts to Medicaid and food stamps among other cuts.
The song’s writer is understandably unhappy. K’Naan is a Somali-born, Canadian and the song, Wavin’ Flag, became a hit in 2010. K’Naan doesn’t want Romney using his song, said if he had asked he’d have said no, but has no problem with the Obama campaign using it:
“I have not been asked for permission by Mitt Romney’s campaign for the use of my song. If I had been asked, I would certainly not have granted it. I would happily grant the Obama campaign use of my song without prejudice.”
Both Romney and Gingrich have now ceased using the purloined songs and Tom Petty got Bachmann to back off his music by sending her a letter. K’Naan reached out via Twitter:
And it worked. “The song was used through our regular blanket license, but we respect K’Naan’s statement and will not use his music again,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul told the New York Times.
Steve Schmidt, a Republican campaign strategist and campaign manager for McCain in 2008 complains:
“When you think about every iconic song that has emotional resonance for millions and millions of Americans, in almost every instance, Republican candidates can’t use the song because the artist is not supportive. All these artists are delighted to sell concert tickets to independents and Republicans.”
Schmidt doesn’t seem to understand that there is a difference between paying to go watch somebody perform their music, and using that music yourself for purposes the songwriter does not agree with. If we use his argument and apply it to a book instead of to music, it is much more obvious how foolish a complaint it is. Imagine paying to hear an author read from their new book. That does not entitle the listener to appropriate that book, print copies and give them to all your friends.
But the real problem Republicans have is that they have so narrowed their audience that it is unreasonable to expect artists to freely donate their music in support of a very narrow and repressive political and religious agenda. Apparently, only Republicans don’t get it.