Print Story God Save George Washington
By Christopher Robin was Murdered (Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 11:41:11 AM EST) (all tags)
What's Wrong with America™ and what you, yes, you (but, well, no, not you slozo), can do about it. Revised Edition: Now with Nixon-y goodness.

With a election less than a year away it is time for all good Americans to drop whatever you're doing, find the nearest captive audience, and tell everybody What's Wrong with America™! Like all red-blooded Americans I have a theory about What's Wrong with America™.

It goes like this:

The story of America is a simple one: money grubbers, religious fanatics, and a couple of utopian visionaries (I'm looking at you Georgia) get together and despite being little more than a half-assed collection of tax-dodging kooks, we manage to throw off the yoke of British subjection. (The lesson is that monarchist traditions only get you one thing: oppression; but when you're good and crazy, baby, the sky is the freakin' limit!) Not bad for a half-assed collection of kooks, right? Sure there are some missteps here and there – the whole Civil War thing and such – but we've had a hell of a run. At least, we did until the Great Depression. In that grim chapter of our nation's history FDR instituted a new policy that pretty much destroys the spirit of this once great nation. That's right, I'm talking about his decision to use an un-original tune as his campaign song, specifically his choice to use the insipid, cloying, and at the time utterly false "Happy Days Are Here Again." This more than his Supreme Court packing schemes, his financial experimentalism, and his utter disregard for traditional term limits is truly the sign of his complete disregard for American political traditions.

Even George Washington, a man who could have run against Jesus and beat him (twice), felt it was important to have an original campaign song. Because there was no real native tradition to pull from and because George wasn't that inventive his "original" song was maybe not as original as it could have been. Issued in 1780, "God Save George Washington" is basically "God Save the King" with George Washington inserted somewhat clumsily wherever "the king" used to be. One could argue that this was, in some sense, metaphorically appropriate; many at the time remarked on what was believed to be a crypto-monarchist tendency on the part of His Excellency, the first President of the United States. Still, it was nominally an original tune and it started a tradition as fine as Washington's lesser traditional contribution: the two-term limit.

Because this is an American political tradition, it went into the gutter almost immediately. In 1824, John Quincy Adams brought the tradition to an all-time low with his vicious "Little Know Ye Who's Coming." One of the weirdest campaign songs ever committed to paper, "Little Know Ye" paints a picture of the apocalypse that will descend on the United States if Adams doesn't win the election. The song predicts that violence will break out, warns that plagues and famine will sweep the land, and warns that Satan will stride the nation. All this will "be comin' if John Quincy not be comin'." It is, by far, the single most fucked up tune in our political history and, as a treat, you can clickee here and find a cover that got updated for the Bush/Kerry election. Some might find this curiously accurate.

Perhaps the fullest flowering of the tradition came during the election of 1840. Martin "the Little Wizard" Van Buren, snappy dresser and first native born US prez, was smarting from a dismissal economic crisis. Utter lack of precedent left Van Buren helpless: it was simply not clear in his time if presidents could or should take action during financial meltdowns. Either way, he was screwed and his opponent, war hero William Henry Harrison, made full use of political campaign song to take the incumbent down. Political supporters of Harrison could actually purchase an entire song book, The Tippicanoe Songbook, full of odes to their favorite Whig. The big chart topper from this irresistible collection of hits was "Tip and Tye," a short single with music and lyrics credited to the anonymous "A Member of the Fifth Ward Club." More than Washington's strange homage to the former colonial masters of the land, this tune was the explosive start of a strong tradition of original campaign tunes.

By clicking on this very link you will magically be transported to a video that, inexplicably, plays They Might Be Giants playing "Tip and Tye" as a person with a camcorder aimlessly wanders about the grounds of rather unimpressive Salt Lake City apartment building. Yeah. I know. What did we do before YouTube? Nothing I guess. Sat around, I reckon, wondering when YouTube would happen.

After Harrison thrashed Van Buren, campaign songs became too essential to be left to "A Member of the Fifth Ward Club" or other anonymous amateurs. Stephen Foster – the one man Tin Pan Alley behind "Camptown Races," "My Old Kentucky Home," "Beautiful Dreamer," "Oh, Susanna," "Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair," and "Old Folks at Home (Swanne River)" – produced the music and lyrics to a pro-George McClellan campaign song called "Little Mac! Little Mac! You're the Very Man." McClellan had managed secure the Democratic nomination despite the party's disorganization after losing a majority of its members to the Confederacy. Little Mac went up against his former Commander-and-Chief, running on a firm appeasement platform. What makes this song a particularly stellar artifact in the history of the Donkey Party is its outright racism. Next time somebody suggests that Lincoln was a slavery supporter, one might do well to consider what his Northern Democratic opponents called him and the members of his administration even prior to the Emancipation Proclamation:

"Dem-o-crats, Dem-o-crats, do it up brown
Lincoln and his Nigger heads won't go down
Greeley and Summer and all that crew,
We must beat Lincoln and Johnson too."

Now I'm not blaming Stephen Foster's race baiting lyrics, but we wouldn't have another Democratic president until 1884: elected by a cross-party coalition of Democrats and dissident Republicans – then called what is surely the most wonderful term in the American political lexicon: "Mugwumps" – Grover Cleveland managed to beat James G. Blaine, the so-called "Plumed Knight of Maine." (That's another sad tradition that's lost – our knack for creative political nicknames seems to have left us.)  Cleveland was, like Harrison, a prolific source of musical inspiration – he had the campaign song "Hurrah! Hurrah! For Cleve and Steve" (VP Adlai Stevenson) and an Inaugural March – curiously dedicated to "His Excellency" still, a Washingtonian touch.

The least helpful campaign song in history may be William Whelan's "William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska," campaign song of three-time loser Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Though it clearly didn't do a thing to help Bryan, it is a shockingly blunt song for a piece of campaign propaganda. With its overt economic populism, strong anti-colonial sentiments, and fire and brimstone imagery the song seems, even today, more forceful than most candidates would allow.

There's a silver lion rampant
in the wild and wooly west;
You will know him by the silver stars
that gleam upon his crest;

You will know him by the cross and crown
he bears upon his breast;
As William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska!

He is coming, boys, coming,
and he's coming here to stay,
The people are a-waiting
for his coming light and day

The trusts and combinations
too had better clear the way,
for William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska!

With the stars and stripes above him,
he will sweep this country through,
He will leave a trail of fire behind
that nothing can subdue;

As a leader of the people,
he is fearless, staunch and true;
Is William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska!

[Repeat chorus]

As the glorious incarnation
of the democratic creed,
As the friend of law and order
and the foe of selfish greed;

With the courage of a leader
who is not afraid to lead;
Stands William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska!

[Repeat chorus]

Pro-claim from ev'ry mountain crag,
on ev'ry land and sea:
The Constitution and the Flag
shall still united be;

They must stand or fall together
as the guardians of the free
With William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska!

[Repeat chorus]

They may starve the Puerto Ricans,
they may crush the Phillipines;
But the people will arouse them
from those proud, imperial dreams;

And democracy shall conquer,
when its bannered light'ning gleams,
O'er William Jennings Bryan of Nebraska!

[Repeat chorus]

William "Tons of Fun" Taft would have the only campaign song that was a waltz: 1908's "Good and Honest Taft," with music and lyrics by Annie R. Waln Bassett, one of the few females composers to contribute to the tradition. The title is unintentionally ironic considering that Taft once joking explained his own political success as the product of the fact that he had his "plate the right side up when offices were falling." Wilson would appeal to white ethnic minorities by sliding a bagpipe solo into his 1912 "Wilson – That's All." That same year, Theodore Roosevelt would give third parties their first major campaign song with "We're Ready for Teddy Again." This is certainly a better option than the self-fulfilling prophecy third-party candidate Ross Perot picked as his campaign theme: Patsy Cline's "Crazy."

The last significant campaign song in US Presidential history would be Warren Harding's fox-trot influenced "President Harding March."

Uncle Sam You have chosen a real live man
For he is the best, stood the test,
he's a regular American

Tragically, FDR would kill the tradition by picking up, whole cloth, an already established tune. Truman would follow suit by picking "I'm Just Wild About Harry." Eisenhower attempted to reverse the trend with "I Like Ike," but the damage was done. Some reworked tunes in the spirit of "God Bless George Washington" would appear from time to time. Gershwin would rework his "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Love Is Sweeping the Country" for candidate Adlai Stevenson (II). Nixon would take an obscure ballad titled "Buckle Down, Winsocki" and rework in the delightfully goofy "Buckle Down with Nixon." Through the magic of YouTube, you can watch a gent play Nixon's battle cry on the accordion. But these original flourishes would become increasingly few and far between. After Carter, no candidate would use an original tune for their official song.

(As an aside Gershwin wrote a spoof campaign song for a fictional candidate named John P. Wintergreen. The song, "A Vote for Wintergreen is a Vote for Wintergreen," contained only four lines:
Wintergreen for president!
Wintergreen for president!
He's the man the people choose,
Loves the Irish and the Jews.

Wintergreen wins, but loses his re-election to a man whose song goes:
Tweedledee for president!
Tweedledee for president!
He's the man the country seeks!
Loves the Turks and the Greeks!

In a way, FDR's selection would be the perfect archetype for all future pre-fab campaign themes. Increasingly, they'd become more about a nebulous feeling. Gone are the specific allusions to the campaign context and to important issues of day. They are replaced with generic sentiments. "But the people will arouse them from those proud, imperial dreams" is replaced by "Happy days are here again/The skies above are clear again/So, Let's sing a song of cheer again." This reductive tendency would reach its absurd limit when Reagan selected Bruce Springsteen's "Born on the USA," a song about the inability of Vietnam vets to reintegrate into the economically depressed America they came home too, as the sonic complement to his "Morning in America" slogan. (Eventually Springsteen put a stop to the Reagan campaign's use of the song.) George H. W. Bush at least had the common sense to remove the line about ignoring private property when he took "This Land is Your Land" as his campaign tune.

There's been one sterling exception to this trend. Republican candidate Bob Dole chose the refreshingly bizarre "I'm a Dole Man," a weird novelty song reworking of Sam and Dave's soul classic "Soul Man." Where Dole came up with this curious and totally un-Dole-like song is beyond me, but he gets points for trying. Compare this to the vapid insincerity of Bill Clinton's choice that year: Fleetwood Mac's generically hopeful "Don't Stop." Sure Dole's tune was just as dumb and insincere, but it was flamboyantly dumb and personally insincere to the point of nearly being a parody of campaign songs in general. Eventually, Dole switched his song to the Rocky theme song – actually titled "Gonna Fly Now." It is generally held among professional campaigners that the theme from Rocky is good luck. It didn't work for Dole, but it gave Ted Kennedy a comeback in 1980 when Copeland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" wasn't getting it done.

In the current campaign, the closest we've come to an outpouring of original campaign songs is the burst of candidate-specific tunes that came in the wake of the cheese R&B jam "I've Got a Crush on Obama." Sadly, the candidates have been either indifferent or openly hostile to these. Instead, like FDR, they've relied on canned tunes. Despite holding an online vote to select her campaign song – with options ranging from U2's "City of Blinding Lights" to Smashmouth's cover of the Monkee's "I'm a Believer" – Hillary Clinton dumped the online poll and is going with Celine Dion's "You and I."

That's right. Go listen to "Little Know Ye Who's Coming" again and then think about any Celine Dion song. You can now see what's wrong with America.

But we don't have to allow this! Sure, there's a lot of crap we Americans do have to put up with – taxes, bad television, the Writer's Strike, the decline of the written word as an important medium of communication, the existence of Europe – but this isn't one o' those things! I urge each and every American citizen, regardless of their political persuasion, to write an email to the candidate of their choice and urge them to come up with an original campaign song. We can save America and restore her to greatness. Together, we turn this nation around. Now I know that some of you are Canadian and others are Brits. The Canadians are excused from this. This isn't your fault. But you Brits . . . in a way it was your obsessive need for colonies that started this nation and got us all in this crap in the first place. You're just as much to blame for this as anybody so I expect you to do the honorable thing and help out.

Thank you. God bless America and God bless a free Iraq.

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God Save George Washington | 34 comments (34 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
VS2FP by garlic (4.00 / 1) #1 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:04:28 PM EST
Where's the vote story to New York Times button?

Aw shucks. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:13:43 PM EST
But these days we're saving the front page mostly for conspiracy theories and the like. Still, it is a kind thought.

[ Parent ]
that's bullshit, and you know it -- by garlic (2.00 / 0) #28 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 08:27:09 AM EST
 the front page is for *FCs.

[ Parent ]
Sure, sheep. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #29 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 08:40:43 AM EST
You just go on believing that.

[ Parent ]
i will not! by garlic (2.00 / 0) #31 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 10:58:35 PM EST
and you can't make me. i think.

[ Parent ]
You, sir, are a real American! by atreides (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:04:31 PM EST
Do you even have a newsletter I can subscribe to?

He sails from world to world in a flying tomb, serving gods who eat hope.

Less subscribing . . . by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #5 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:15:06 PM EST
More email writing.

You're the freakin' emperor and stuff, can't you get something done about this?

[ Parent ]
Man by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #3 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:05:12 PM EST
You are totally disregarding the power of FDR's canned tune. 

I can remember being at one of his campaign rallys, when that song would play.  It brings back the memories and even now my foot taps in time with the music.

It was a simpler time, when unsafe automobiles kept the population to a reasonable level and insured that morons would get much of a chance to breed if they got a car.  This song was the backdrop to my young career with the WPA and the TVA.

I can feel my left nut swelling at the memory now.

"It is virtually impossible to effectively aim a jellyfish, a creature created by God almost solely for the purpose of not flying."- CRwM

I'm no expert . . . by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 2) #6 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:17:56 PM EST
But what you're describing sounds less like nostalgic pride and more like orchitis. You should have that left nut looked at. I mean, by a medical professional, not just looked at by any ol' dude you can convince to look at it.

[ Parent ]
Are you crazy? by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #9 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 01:27:48 PM EST
Doctors charge you (by which I mean 'God-fearing Murricans', rather than my own feeble sucking-on-the-teat-of-the-state degenerate overprivileged-by-having-the-health-service-pay-for-all-my-drugs-(and-come-to-think-of-it,-salary) self) money to look at your balls, but the right people will pay you handsomely.

Come to think of it, though, Ged's left nut might be swelling because it's actually his right nut, but with a little torsion applied. It is a sad state of affairs when left and right are hard to distinguish. Thank goodness Huckabee keeps that clear. At least America only has two testiclespolitical parties, unlike those degenerate polygonadic European types whose lack of analagous structure between nobs and their constitutions shows in a lack of masculine drive to their politics.

[ Parent ]
His "look for a buck" policies . . . by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #10 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 01:34:04 PM EST
Are what got him into this mess in the first place.

Though, to be honest, I'm more interested in your genital structure/party structure theories. So, do like Italian dudes have some 9,000 testicles, none particularly functional, and all of 'em bound up in red tape?

[ Parent ]
If that's what you want them to have, by ambrosen (2.00 / 0) #12 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:13:57 PM EST
Then far be it from me to tear down your cherished ideas.

[ Parent ]
Thanks. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #20 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 03:04:16 PM EST
These days it seems like sometimes dreams of Italian hyper-gonadism are all a man's got to keep him going.

[ Parent ]
It could very well be by Gedvondur (2.00 / 0) #30 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 09:02:55 AM EST
That the meds are just causing me to hallucinate.

On the plus side, my nut seems to have returned to normal size.  Yay nuts!

"It is virtually impossible to effectively aim a jellyfish, a creature created by God almost solely for the purpose of not flying."- CRwM

[ Parent ]
George Washington doesn't scan by herbert (2.00 / 0) #7 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:27:38 PM EST
You have to give him a two-syllable nickname for the short lines, perhaps "the Wash":

God save George Washington,
Long live George Washington,
God save the Wash.
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign prez over us,
God save the Wash.

They're are multiple versions. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #8 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 12:42:26 PM EST
The 1788 version I've seen goes:

God save George Washington,
Long live George Washington,
The Great, the Good.
Send him victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us,
The Great, the Good.

Different versions change it more or less.

[ Parent ]
Well.. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #11 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 01:51:10 PM EST
we manage to throw off the yoke of British subjection.

I notice that yet again, a USian ignores the effect of the French on the founding of the USian rebellion.

Good catch. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 2) #15 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:46:53 PM EST
I also forgot to mention the War of 1812, the XYZ Affair, the Scopes Monkey Trial, Palmerism, the Battle of Blair Mountain, the Great Boston Molasses Disaster, and the release of Stevie Wonder's two-disc "Musiquarium: Part 1" album.

Gee whiz. Looking back on it now, my sketch of American history is so bare as to almost be a joke or something. Thank God you were here with some of that famed British "humor" set things straight.

[ Parent ]
To you by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #17 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:58:48 PM EST
That's "humour".


[ Parent ]
Touche. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #19 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 03:01:56 PM EST
The battle of wits is won. You take the field, sir.

[ Parent ]
If I didn't know by sasquatchan (2.00 / 0) #13 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:34:05 PM EST
that you'd been going through presidential bios (how's that going now ? Through them all ?), I'd think your contracting work is starting to get to you, and you're finding new and creative ways to pass the time between jobs..

The bios. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #18 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:59:31 PM EST
I didn't do all of them. I stopped at Ike on the theory that anybody more recent then that would still be too politically live to have entered the realm of calm and reasoned historical scrutiny. Turns out I was a bit of a wide-eyed innocent about that. The McKinley bio I read was a revisionist love letter to the Republican Party and I don't think it is possible to discuss the most basic aspects of FDR's legacy without getting mired down in contemporary politics.

Still, I worked my way up to Ike and have been debating what project to tackle next.

As for time between contracting, I actually work more now than I did in the office. I found out that being your own boss just means that you have to give yourself the orders you dreaded getting from others. I'll walk into the office/kitchen with a self-satisfied smirk and say, "So, looks like somebody is going to have to work late tonig . . . aw, dammit!"

As an aside, the whole project with the prez bios started as an effort to answer the question as to whether or not Bush was the worst president we've ever had. The results were inconclusive.

[ Parent ]
Inconclusive???? ARE YOU NUTS??? by MohammedNiyalSayeed (2.00 / 0) #21 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 04:18:35 PM EST

Obviously you didn't consult the blogtardosphere for their opinion. Or wikipedia. Like that's two separate groups. Anyway, I commend your dedication to knowledge, as well as your general awesomeness for writing this thing.

You can build the most elegant fountain in the world, but eventually a winged rat will be using it as a drinking bowl.
[ Parent ]
The answer is obvious by ucblockhead (4.00 / 1) #22 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 04:38:03 PM EST
The worst was William Henry Harrison. That idiot accomplished *nothing* during his presidency!
[ucblockhead is] useless and subhuman
[ Parent ]
Actually, he appointed one diplomat. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #23 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 06:15:44 PM EST
So he got one thing done.

[ Parent ]
There are those that would argue by nightflameblue (4.00 / 1) #25 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 05:18:20 AM EST
that accomplishing nothing at all is more impressive than having every accomplishment you achieve turn into a steaming, rotting heaping mass of disaster.

[ Parent ]
The Slavitt arguement. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #27 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 07:52:35 AM EST
That's the very argument of David R. Slavitt, the poet that wrote "William Henry Harrison" the epic poem that Harrison's administration deserves, nay, demands!

And Harrison would agree. He distrusted the office because he felt the concentration of power was dangerously corrupting. Harrison felt the president should exercise his powers as little as possible. The best president is the one that barely governs at all.

In a way, measured by the benchmarks of his own political philosophy, he's perhaps one of the most spectacularly successful presidents we've ever had.

[ Parent ]
I know, I know. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (4.00 / 1) #24 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 02:38:22 AM EST
I spent all that time among dead trees, "reading" these so-called books. Learning, is the term they used for it. Instead, I could have entered into a dynamic conversation with other citizens . . . sigh, when I think back on all the time I wasted . . .

[ Parent ]
+1, vs2fp by wiredog (2.00 / 0) #14 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:36:04 PM EST
This story needs to be on the front page so that everyone I'm about to send the link to can read it. 

Oh, and how's Drippy jr doing?

Earth First!
(We can strip mine the rest later.)

The ol' salt mine. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #16 Thu Jan 10, 2008 at 02:50:59 PM EST
I dared to live the American Dream and I walked out of cubeland going on, I think, three months now. I was there to see some old friends for lunch a couple weeks back and they still haven't replaced the martyred labor leader and fish. He's been replaced by a plant - in more ways than one, I'm certain that  fern is a spy for the uptown office. It has that sneaky look about it.

[ Parent ]
How about truth in music. by nightflameblue (4.00 / 2) #26 Fri Jan 11, 2008 at 05:19:28 AM EST
Give me a presidential candidate that chooses "Master of Puppets" as their campaign song, and I'll give them a vote. At least it'd be honest. And enjoyable.

Dave Grohl wrote songs in *response* to by Phil Urich (2.00 / 0) #32 Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 04:07:11 AM EST
having helped out on the Kerry campaign, but I guess he only started playing any of them afterwards and it was entirely his own initiative, so none ever approached the state of campaign songs.  Too bad, too; "In Your Honor" would make a kinda kick-ass campaign song, but I guess it would be more of a song for the kind of campaign many of us wish Kerry would have run, rather than the anemic and spineless one he actually did run.

Unofficial campaign songs. by Christopher Robin was Murdered (2.00 / 0) #33 Mon Jan 14, 2008 at 06:32:14 AM EST
There's a long history of unofficial tunes - either made by supporters or critics and circulated without the approval the candidate. I wasn't hip to the Grohl tunes though.

[ Parent ]
Understandable by Phil Urich (2.00 / 0) #34 Tue Jan 15, 2008 at 01:29:18 PM EST
I was in the right "mood" (if such a term can be applied to a general feeling covering several months of life) to fall into enjoying the tunes at the time the album originally leaked, and thus they have stuck with me.

[ Parent ]
God Save George Washington | 34 comments (34 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback