PART ONE IN A TWO-PART SERIES
Occasion: The official nominations of Dick Cheney (candidate for Vice President) and George W. Bush (candidate for President).
The nominations being mere formalities, the GOP naturally and astutely peppered each event with the Top 40 hit “Cup of Life” by Ricky Martin. By selecting a song by such a popular, sexy, not to say spicy performer, the GOP accomplished three missions with one Top 40 hit.
Mission number one: Ricky Martin is a Latino performer. Because Martin is Latino, the choice of his song advanced the Republicans’ theme of inclusiveness and let everyone see that they accept minority populations. Several of the verses of the song are sung in Spanish. Bush speaks some Spanish while on the stump.
Mission numero dos: The song served as an I-can-dig-it-man nod to the youngest voters of our country, all of whom love Martin’s music. Many of these voters are known to instantly and closely identify with anyone who likes the same music as they. The process works like this: You and all your best friends listen to Martin’s music. Bush is nominated to the tune of Martin’s music. Therefore, Bush is your new best friend.
Mission number three: It capitalized on the combination of the song’s gusto (“Do you really want it? (YEAH) / Do you really want it? (YEAH) / Do you really want it? (YEAH) / Go, Go, Go! (Go, Go, Go!) / Alé, Alé, Alé! (Alé, Alé, Alé!)”) and inspirational ambition (“And when you feel the heat / The world is at your feet / No one can hold you down / If you really want it / Just steal your destiny / Right from the hands of fate / Reach for the cup of life / ’Cause your name is on it / Do you really want it… (YEAH!) / Do you really want it… (YEAH!) Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”). The Republicans clearly believe Bush, along with Cheney, is likewise reaching for either his (Bush’s) cup of life or their (Bush-Cheney 2000) cups of life. Or perhaps they all will share and drink from the same cup of life once the world is at their feet. Yeah.
Occasion: Speech by Dick Cheney.
Who alive doesn’t love “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang? And what is a political convention if not a celebration? However, there’s more to the choice of this song than meets the ear. Not only is “Celebration” arguably the most inspiring tune of recent years, but the music is replete with meaningful double entendres. Listen: “There’s a party going on right here / A celebration to last throughout the years / So bring your good times, and your laughter too / We gonna celebrate your party with you.” The “party” refers not only to the convention at hand (the party that’s “going on”), but also the political party, the Republicans (“your party” that “we gonna celebrate. . . with you”). If things turn out as the GOP hopes, the next four years (at least) will see their candidate in the White House. Could this be the “celebration to last throughout the years”?
The inclusiveness theme apparent in Martin’s song makes another appearance here, in the form of the inclusive acceptance of all cultures: “Everyone around the world—come on!” Now witness how the song doesn’t say everyone who is white, economically well-off, and also conservative, come on! The song invites everyone. This is a true celebration for all.
Occasion: Speech by Senator John McCain.
Playing the theme from “Star Wars” to introduce McCain might seem at first too obvious to merit careful exegesis. “Star Wars” is a popular science-fiction movie written and directed by George Lucas and starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and many others. Star Wars also serves, since the days of Ronald Reagan, as a nickname for a comprehensive missile defense system. The Republicans staunchly favor a current proposal for a more modest missile defense system. Employing the inspirational, instantly recognizable, and beloved music from the movie subconsciously generates further approval for the proposal to fill the skies with things to shoot down other things.
But the selection is also a brilliant red herring as it helps the GOP avoid certain issues pertaining to McCain, issues such as campaign finance reform. In the movie “Star Wars,” the Rebel Alliance, like the present-day GOP, isn’t concerned with campaign finance reform. The Rebel Alliance, again like the GOP today, is fighting for the good of the galaxy, fighting, not to put too fine a point on it, to overthrow the incumbent Emperor Palpatine of the Empire. The GOP wants to overthrow the incumbent President Clinton of the Democrats. In Star Wars, the cast of characters includes Han Solo, a rogue loner with an aversion to authority on one hand but worldly and military expertise on the other (he made the Kessel Run in twelve parceps), and who, after getting past his own doubts and selfishness and also the suspicions of the higher-ups in the Alliance, helps the Rebels overthrow the Empire. And there is also Luke Skywalker, who was born into a political family and is more the trusted, exalted leader. Clearly the theme music succeeds in casting McCain, a war hero, political rebel, and someone who is often at odds with party higher-ups, as the Han Solo figure, and Bush, son of a former president, as Skywalker.
Occasion: Speech by George Prescott Bush.
The selection of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” to introduce candidate Bush’s nephew, George Prescott Bush, was keen. Because Wonder not only is black but also blind, the Republicans are able to demonstrate here that they are open to both racial minorities and the handicapped. Furthermore, Prescott is Latino, like Ricky Martin is Latino. He often translated key phrases of his speech into Spanish (“Viva Bush! Muchas gracias!”). The fact that Prescott is a schoolteacher in Florida underscores his uncle’s commitment to education and echoes the first line in “Higher Ground” (“People keep on learnin’”) as well as the fourteenth line (“Teachers keep on teachin’”). The line, “Powers keep on lyin’ / While your people keep on dyin’,” is perhaps not so good a message to send, but that’s okay, because as Wonder sings in the end, “Believers keep on believin’.”
For the careful listener, Wonder’s song offers a veritable cornucopia of references to specific Bush policies. When Wonder says, “Soldiers keep on warrin’,” we are reminded of Bush’s vow to bulk up military resources. Also, the song’s chorus undoubtedly makes us think of Bush, a man whose past with drink has marred his reputation: “I’m so darn glad he let me try it again / Cause my last time on earth I lived a whole world of sin / I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then / Gonna keep on tryin’ / Till I reach the highest ground.” Or the highest office.
Occasion: Speech by Elizabeth Dole.
I have no idea what was up with using the theme music to the Oscar-winning film, “Chariots of Fire.” I think at the end of the movie there’s an important footrace. I guess the Republicans are in their own footrace, against the Democrats. This metaphorical footrace contests nothing less than the presidency of the United States. Perhaps it is also an attempt to bring in the impetuous Hollywood vote?
Occasion: Speech by Laura Bush, wife of George W. Bush.
At first glance the decision to play the Jackson Five’s “ABC” appears to be a natural fit, and a jolly one at that. Mrs. Bush is a schoolteacher. The song’s repetitive rendition of a portion of the A-B-C’s and 1-2-3’s brilliantly invokes pleasant images of small children learning the alphabet from a schoolteacher such as Mrs. Bush or Prescott Bush.
However, a close reading of the lyrics reveals something dark and problematic. For the Jacksons aren’t singing about the merits of school, school vouchers, and standardized testing, but about different lessons — lessons in the school of love and, depending on your individual interpretation, sex: “You went to school to learn girl / Things you never knew before / . . . / Now I’m gonna teach you (teach you, teach you) / All about love girl (all about love).” From there it gets more racy: “Sit down girl, I think I love ya’ / No, get up girl, show me what you can do / Shake it, shake it baby, come on now / Shake it, shake it baby, oooh, oooh / Shake it, shake it baby, yeah.” At the very least, the song’s willy-nilly mixture of themes of education and sex (sung by youths no less) blatantly contradicts the Republican party’s traditional stance on sex education. Bush can expect immediate repercussions from the Christian right.
READ PART TWO, THE DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION