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A Brief History of Presidential Campaign Songs and Other Musical Musings

Franklin Roosevelt’s campaign song for his first presidential run in 1932 was the catchy number titled Happy Days are Here Again!. With America deep in the Great Depression, the uplifting and popular tune helped him win in a landslide. Unfortunately, his “New Deal” prolonged the Depression by seven years and “happy days” wouldn’t really arrive until 1945, when FDR was gone and World War II ended. (See Great Myths of the Great Depression for the details).

A campaign song is never a political platform or a documentary or even a reliable indicator of what the candidate will do after the election. It’s marketing puffery, an entertaining form of propaganda. Its intent is to put you in a good mood to vote for a particular candidate, not to inform or educate you. Case in point: When Iraq’s dictator Saddam Hussein ran for re-election in his rigged election of 2002, he cynically chose Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You as his official tune.

When not secluded in his Delaware basement during the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden often played We the People from the Staple Singers as he walked onto a stage. The theme of the song was “unity” yet his administration practices precisely the opposite—division, class warfare, groupthink, racially-charged rhetoric and brazen attempts at censorship.

Love him or hate him or anywhere in between, Donald Trump acted more faithfully to the spirit of his 2016 song, Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It, than Biden did to his.

In his 1992 campaign, independent and eccentric presidential contender Ross Perot made an unconventional choice for a campaign song: Patsy Cline’s Crazy.

Forty-one years ago—in 1982—I was a major party nominee in a general election for a seat in Congress. I didn’t have an official campaign song, and I lost to the incumbent. Maybe there was a connection. If I were running today, I think I would choose the inspirational hit from the 2012 film, Les Miserables, “Do You Hear the People Sing?”.

If my opponent was a socialist or “progressive” (Is there a difference?), I would love to choose a song for his campaign. He (or she) would certainly object but I’m pretty sure that a 1966 tune from the Beatles called “Taxman” would fit perfectly.

The context in which George Harrison wrote the lyrics to “Taxman” is central to the song’s message. In 1966, worldwide fame thrust the Beatles suddenly into the British welfare state’s top income tax bracket, 90 percent. The new Labour Party Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, added a further 5 percent super-tax, which meant that the young musicians owed all but a nickel of every dollar they earned to an outfit that had almost nothing to do with creating their music.

The Fab Four got a good taste of their comrade John Lennon’s imagined world of “no possessions.” Because of Wilson’s outrageous taxes, they narrowly escaped bankruptcy. Paul, John, George and Ringo were warned by their accountant, “Two of you are close to being bankrupt, and the other two could soon be.” You can understand why they penned these lyrics:

Let me tell you how it will be.

There’s one for you, nineteen for me,

‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman.

Should five per cent appear too small,

Be thankful I don’t take it all,

‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman.

If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street,

If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.

If you get too cold, I’ll tax the heat.

If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet.

Don’t ask me what I want it for

If you don’t want to pay some more,

‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman.

Now my advice for those who die:

Declare the pennies on your eyes!

‘Cause I’m the taxman, yeah, I’m the taxman.

And you’re working for no one but me.

Not until the tenure of Margaret Thatcher did high earners see a substantial reduction in confiscatory tax rates. She cut those rates in half, which helped transform Britain from “the sick man of Europe” under “democratic socialism” to an engine of economic growth once again.

Campaign songs are part of the political process but even with a good tune, I still find it difficult to sing about government. Given the way government often behaves and the inherent evils associated with concentrated power, I find it more natural to gag. But here’s one song about government I could sing like a bird.

For Additional Information, See:

John Lennon Was Actually an Awful Role Model by Lawrence W. Reed

The Best and Worst Political Campaign Songs by Haley Sweetland Edwards

This article was adapted from an issue of the FEE Daily email newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free-market news and analysis like this in your inbox every weekday.

(A version of this essay originally appeared at ElAmerican.com.)

Content syndicated from Fee.org (FEE) under Creative Commons license.

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