Songs used in Presidential Campaigns: A Quick History and Other Musical Thoughts

Some campaign songs are worth listening to, and they are a part of the democratic process.

Franklin Roosevelt ran for president for the first time in 1932. His campaign song was a catchy tune called "Happy Days are Here Again!" In the middle of the Great Depression, when the song was very popular, it helped him win by a huge margin. Unfortunately, his "New Deal" made the Depression last for another seven years, and "happy days" didn't come until 1945, when FDR was dead and World War II was over. (For more information, see Great Depression Myths).

A campaign song is never a candidate's political program, a documentary, or even a good way to predict what they will do if they win. It's marketing fluff, which is a fun way to spread lies. Its goal is to make you feel good about voting for a certain candidate, not to teach or inform you. For example, Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq, picked Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" as his official song when he ran for re-election in 2002.

During the 2020 campaign, when Joe Biden wasn't hiding out in his Delaware basement, he often walked on stage to the Staple Singers' song "We the People." The theme of the song was "unity," but his government does the exact opposite: it promotes division, class warfare, groupthink, racially charged rhetoric, and brazen attempts to censor.

Love him or hate him, or feel something in between, Trump was more true to the spirit of his 2016 song, "We're Not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister, than Biden was to his.

Ross Perot, an independent and oddball presidential candidate in 1992, chose Patsy Cline's song "Crazy" as his campaign song.

In 1982, when I was 41 years old, I ran for a seat in Congress as a candidate for a big party. I didn't have a campaign song, so I lost to the person who was already in office. There might have been a link. If I were running today, I think I would choose "Do You Hear the People Sing?" from the 2012 movie Les Miserables.

If my opponent was a leftist or "progressive" (Is there a difference? ), I would love to pick a song for his campaign. He or she would probably disagree, but I'm pretty sure that the Beatles song "Taxman" from 1966 would be great.

The setting in which George Harrison wrote the words to "Taxman" is very important to the meaning of the song. In 1966, when the Beatles became famous all over the world, they were suddenly put into the top income tax rate in Britain, which was 90%. Harold Wilson, the new Labour Party Prime Minister, added another 5% super-tax. This meant that the young artists owed almost all of the money they made to an organization that had almost nothing to do with making music.

The Fab Four got a good idea of what John Lennon meant when he talked about a world with "no possessions." They almost went broke because Wilson's taxes were so high. Paul, John, George, and Ringo's accountant told them, "Two of you are close to being bankrupt, and the other two could soon be." It's clear why they wrote 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.

High-income people didn't see a big drop in their tax rates until Margaret Thatcher was in office. She cut those rates in half, which helped turn Britain from "the sick man of Europe" under "democratic socialism" back into an economic growth engine.

Campaign songs are a part of politics, but I still find it hard to sing about government, even if the tune is catchy. Given how the government usually acts and all the bad things that come with having a lot of power, I find it more normal to gag. But I could sing this song about government like a bird.

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