U2 Can Be President 

Picking a theme song is serious business for today's politicians.

Everybody knows Rep. Dick Gephardt is running for president, but judging by the song he recently chose to introduce himself, the Missouri Democrat also wants to hide. He apparently might even "tear down the walls that hold [him] inside."

Those were the words that blared out from loudspeakers as he took the stage to address some 300 delegates who had gathered for a Democratic National Committee meeting in Washington.

"Where the Streets Have No Name," U2's 1987 hit, was an eyebrow-raising choice for a man who definitely, positively wants to move to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

But Gephardt was not the only Democrat to take a page from Bill Clinton's playbook. All seven candidates who spoke used contemporary rock in an overt appeal to the party's urban and suburban base and to show they had their finger on America's cultural pulse.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman marched into the room to the tune of another -- more recent -- U2 song, "Elevation," one whose alternative lyrics convey the message that the former vice-presidential candidate will elevate the debate to a higher plane, according to his spokesman, Jano Cabrera.

Sen. John Kerry campaigns to the beat of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty -- two aging city slickers whose songs "No Surrender" and "Won't Back Down" will no doubt remind voters of the Massachusetts senator's life story as a war-veteran-turned-antiwar-protester.

"John Kerry is a long-time Springsteen fan," said his spokeswoman, Kelly Benander. "'No Surrender' speaks to John Kerry's fighting spirit in his life and in this campaign. This is a man who knows something about 'making a promise never to surrender,' and he lives by that code."

The defiant beat of John Cougar Mellencamp's classic hit "Small Town" jazzed up the audience as Sen. John Edwards took the podium. Born in Seneca, South Carolina, to a mill worker and a post office clerk, the pop song plays to the North Carolina Democrat's rural appeal and his somewhat contrived regular-guy image.

Meanwhile, Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich chose Neil Diamond to set his antiwar message to music, a somewhat unexpected choice for the diminutive peacenik. Images of the gold-chained crooner with chest hair careening out of an unbuttoned gold lamÇ shirt came to mind as the pint-sized man with a global vision strutted to the podium to the proud beat of "America."

Elvis beckoned for "A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please," as Howard Dean took the stage, transforming the King's sensual ballad into political propaganda that portends his outspoken attacks on the Bush administration.

Political handlers have apparently taken a page from Clinton's songbook, putting together a mix of songs that, like Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop," connote an optimistic, future-oriented message, Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, noted.

Darrell West, a political science professor at Brown University, agreed. "Fleetwood Mac conveyed the idea that Clinton was younger and that a new generation of leaders was taking center stage," he said.

And appearances suggest modern rock will continue to set the tone for the 2004 Democratic pageant in Boston -- music that will likely come as a strong contrast to President Bush's folksier melodies.

That's especially true if Bush chooses anything like the country-western song he used in the 2000 campaign. "We the People" tapped into the Republican's rural base through lyrics that sung the praises of farmers, truckers, and factory workers and blasted Washington insiders.

"Democrats tend to pick rock, and Republicans are more likely to pick country," West said. "Democrats like to portray themselves as activists, so they want music with a beat that conveys energy. And Republicans often have positioned themselves around the idea of stability, so country music and other songs that have a slower beat are more appropriate for that party."

While the selection of a theme song plays a key role in branding a candidate, history shows it almost always plays an inconsequential role in elections. A few songs, such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt's selection of "Happy Days Are Here Again" to energize Americans disheartened by the Great Depression, have influenced elections. Most campaign songs, however, energize the base but do not necessarily get voters to the polls.

Allison Stevens writes for The Hill, where this article first appeared.

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