The Best and Worst Political Campaign Songs (But Mostly the Worst)

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With presidential campaigns already gearing up for 2020, candidates are beginning to rally their bases, retool their talking points, and select their campaign songs—those upbeat little ditties that play at rallies, speeches and pretty much whenever a candidate walks on stage.

The art of choosing the right campaign song is not as straightforward as it may seem. For hundreds of years now, U.S. presidential candidates, world leaders, and even a few dictators have found themselves flummoxed, mocked, and, more often than you’d think, sued for selecting the wrong tune.

Here’s a list of a few of the most notable, scandalous, ridiculous, or downright brilliant campaign songs ever used.

1. Saddam Hussein: "I Will Always Love You"

Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s selection of Whitney Houston’s "I Will Always Love You" for his sham campaign in 2002 is perhaps the most wonderful, if nonsensical, choice of a campaign song in political history. Syrian pop star Mayyada Bselees’ Arabic cover of the soaring love ballad (written and originally performed by Dolly Parton) was broadcast on dawn-to-dusk radio spots from Baghdad to Basra endorsing the mustachioed autocrat—just before the U.S.-led bombing campaign began in 2003.

2. Ronald Reagan: "Born in the U.S.A."

When Ronald Reagan chose Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” as his campaign song in 1984, a collective gasp echoed across the nation. Anyone who has actually listened to the lyrics knows it’s a seething anti-war anthem, delineating, among other things, U.S. military failures in Vietnam: “I had a buddy at Khe Sahn/Fighting off the Viet Cong/They’re still there, he’s all gone.”

3. Hillary Clinton: "Captain Jack"

Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn’t had much better luck choosing her campaign ditties. In 2000, she used Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” at a rally—a song her opponent, Rudy Giuliani, gleefully pointed out is about things like getting high and masturbating.

Eight years later, during the Democratic presidential primary, Clinton let her fans go online and vote on her campaign song—a nice, democratic idea that turned into a bit of a debacle when conservative pundits began offering their own suggestions. David Brooks of The New York Times offered Hall & Oates’ “Maneater.” Jon Sanders of Townhall.com suggested R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” and Rush Limbaugh struck below the belt with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s booty-lovin’ “Baby Got Back.”

Clinton ended up going with Celine Dion’s travel-themed love song, “You and I."

4. Silvio Berlusconi: "Thank Goodness for Silvio"

For nearly a decade, Italy’s playboy-president, Silvio Berlusconi, had been campaigning to an original tune, the title of which loosely translates to “Thank Goodness for Silvio.” Anyone familiar with Berlusconi’s Bunga Bunga debacle won’t be surprised to find out that “Thank Goodness for Silvio” comes with a series of campaign music videos, which have played regularly over the years on Italian television, and feature beautiful women hanging out in beauty salons, walking on treadmills, and performing water aerobics, while singing longingly into the camera about how great Il Cavalere really is.

5. John Quincy Adams: "Little Know Ye Who's Coming"

George Washington also went with an original tune, “God Save Great Washington,“ a rather thinly veiled knock-off of “God Save the Queen”—an interesting choice for the Redcoat-vanquishing general. But Washington’s vaguely pro-royalist jam is nothing compared to John Quincy Adams’ campaign song a few decades later, which unlike most campaign songs that try for a more positive approach, actively threatened voters if they didn’t vote for him: "Fire's a-comin', swords a-comin'/pistols, guns and knives are comin'/...if John Quincy not be comin'," the singer crooned. Despite the threats, Adams lost the 1828 race to Andrew Jackson.

6. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "Happy Days Are Here Again"

It wasn’t until 1932, during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential campaign, that a pre-existing campaign song was used—and it happened rather by accident. At a campaign rally one day, the man charged with introducing Roosevelt did such a terrible job, the soon-to-be president’s advisors wanted to play something—anything—to get the bad taste out of the audience’s mouth before FDR took the stage. The chirpy ditty, “Happy Days Are Here Again,” from the 1930 musical Chasing Rainbows, just happened to be lying around. The jangly tune was such a hit, Democratic candidates used it for the next few decades, forever associating it with the party.

7. George W. Bush and Others: "Right Now"

For a few years, beginning in 2006, Van Halen’s rousing jam “Right Now” became the unofficial theme song of the Republican party, with George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and John McCain all rocking out to the hit that was MTV's 1992 Video of the Year. That is, until someone pointed out that the song comes from an album entitled For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which refers to criminal sodomy, and features a not-so-family-values acronym. The video laments, "Right now oil companies and old men are in control."

The Van Halen kerfuffle was just one of many problems Republican candidates in the U.S. have faced in recent years. In 2008, for instance, John Mellencamp, Boston, Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, Heart, and a composer named Christopher Lennertz all asked the McCain/Palin campaign to stop grooving to their tunes. In 2012, Tom Petty asked GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann to quit blasting “American Girl.” (He also balked when George W. Bush co-opted his defiant anthem, “I Won’t Back Down,” in 2004.)

8. Angela Merkel: "Angie"

German chancellor Angela Merkel ran into similar trouble in her reelection campaign in 2005, when she chose the Rolling Stones’ break-up song, “Angie,” as her theme song—without the band’s permission, and apparently without actually listening to the lyrics, which aren’t ideal for an incumbent: “With no loving in our souls, and no money in our coats/You can’t say we’re satisfied … /All the dreams we held so close seemed to all go up in smoke/…Ain’t it time we said goodbye?”

9. Bob Dole: "I'm a Dole Man"

In 1996, Republican presidential hopeful Bob Dole also went with the name-related theme, changing the lyrics to the 1960s classic “I’m a Soul Man” to “I’m a Dole Man.” A representative for the original song, which was written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, performed by Sam & Dave, and at the top of the charts in 1967, demanded that the Dole campaign pay $100,000 in damages for every time the song was played on the campaign trail. A settlement was later reached—and Dole never played that song again.

10: Barack Obama: "Hold On, I'm Comin'"

When Barack Obama's campaign used Sam & Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'" in 2008, the Sam half of the R&B duo (Sam Moore) told them to stop because he had not endorsed the candidate. As the Washington Post reported at the time, Moore had other problems with the use of the tune: "When the song was first recorded by Dave and myself, it was pulled off the market because it had such sexual orientations. I don't want to get graphic with this, but how do you take a song about getting girls and turn it into a political thing? Somebody's really desperate!"

11: Hugo Chavez: Impromptu Hillary Clinton ditty

The melodramatic former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, didn’t have a campaign song, exactly, but he did interrupt one of his own speeches to sing a little ditty to Hillary Clinton. “I’m not much loved by Hillary Clinton,” he crooned. “And I don’t love her either, lada da da!” The song was short, but it was a crowd-pleaser—the assembled students cheered him on for several minutes afterward.

25 Things You Might Not Know About Thomas Jefferson

iStock
iStock

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), the third president of the United States, penned one of the greatest documents of the modern world in the Declaration of Independence. While that’s certainly a career highlight, it’s far from the only interesting thing about him. For more on Jefferson’s life, accomplishments, and controversies, take a look at this assembly of 25 facts.

1. He was addicted to learning.

Born April 13 (April 2 on the pre-Gregorian calendar), 1743 at his father’s Shadwell plantation in Virginia, Jefferson was one of 10 children (eight of whom survived to adulthood). While he attended the College of William and Mary (he graduated in 1762), he was said to have studied for 15 hours daily on top of violin practice. The hard work paid off: Jefferson moved into law studies before becoming a lawyer in 1767. Two years later, he became a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, the Virginia legislature. His autodidact ways continued throughout his life: Jefferson could speak four languages (English, Italian, French, Latin) and read two more (Greek and Spanish).

2. His greatest work was a study in contradiction.

As a member of the Second Continental Congress and the “Committee of Five” (a group consisting of John Adams, Roger Sherman, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Thomas Jefferson brought together for this purpose), Jefferson was tasked with writing the Declaration of Independence, an argument against the 13 colonies being held under British rule. While the Declaration insisted that all men are created equal and that their right to liberty is inherent at birth, Jefferson’s plantation origins meant that he embraced the institution of slavery. In any given year, Jefferson supervised up to 200 slaves, with roughly half under the age of 16. He perpetuated acts of cruelty, sometimes selling slaves and having them relocated away from their families as punishment. Yet in a book titled Notes on the State of Virginia (which he began writing during his stint as governor and published in 1785), Jefferson wrote that he believed the practice was unjust and “tremble[d]” at the idea of God exacting vengeance on those who perpetuated it. Though Jefferson acknowledged slavery as morally repugnant—and also criticized the slave trade in a passage that was cut from the Declaration of Independence "in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia”—he offered no hesitation in benefiting personally from it, a hypocrisy that would haunt his legacy through the present day.

3. He didn't like being rewritten.

After drafting the Declaration, Jefferson waited as Congress poured over his document for two days. When they broke session, Jefferson was annoyed to find that they were calling for extensive changes and revisions. He disliked the fact the passage criticizing the slave trade was to be omitted, along with some of his harsh words against British rule. Benjamin Franklin soothed his irritation, and the finished Declaration was adopted July 4, 1776, spreading via horseback and ship throughout that summer.

4. He recorded everything.

After inheriting his family’s Shadwell estate, Jefferson began constructing a new brick mansion on the property he dubbed Monticello, which means “little mountain” in Italian. For operations at Monticello and the properties he would acquire later in life, Jefferson was preoccupied with recording the minutiae of his daily routine, jotting down journal entries about the weather, his expansive garden, and the behavior of animals on his property. He kept a running tally of the hogs killed in a given year, mused about crop rotations, and noted the diet of his slaves.

5. He doubled the size of the country.

Jefferson’s greatest feat as president, an office he held from 1801 to 1809, was the Louisiana Purchase, a treaty-slash-transaction with France that effectively doubled the size of the United States. The deal took careful diplomacy, as Jefferson knew that France controlling the Mississippi River would have huge ramifications on trade movements. Fortunately, Napoleon Bonaparte was in the mood to deal, hoping the sale of the 830,000 square miles would help finance his armed advances on Europe. Bonaparte wanted $22 million; he settled for $15 million. Jefferson was elated, though some critics alleged the Constitution didn’t strictly allow for a president to purchase foreign soil.

6. He fought pirates.

Another instance where Jefferson pushed the limits of his Constitutional power was his fierce response to Barbary pirates, a roving band of plunderers from North Africa who frequently targeted supply ships in the Mediterranean and held them for ransom. Under Jefferson’s orders, American warships were dispatched to confront the pirates directly rather than capitulate to their demands. The initial Navy push was successful, but the pirates were able to capture a massive American frigate—which an American raiding party subsequently set fire to so the ship couldn't be used against them. A treaty was declared in 1805, although tensions resumed in what was known as the Second Barbary War in 1815. Again, Naval ships forced Algerian ships to retreat.

7. He helped popularize ice cream in the U.S.

Jefferson spent time in France in the 1700s as a diplomat, and that’s where he was likely introduced to the dessert delicacy known as ice cream. While not the first to port over recipes to the United States, his frequent serving of it during his time as president contributed to increased awareness. Jefferson was so fond of ice cream that he had special molds and tools imported from France to help his staff prepare it; because there was no refrigeration at the time, the confections were typically kept in ice houses and brought out to the amusement of guests, who were surprised by a frozen dish during summer parties. He also left behind what may be the first ice cream recipe in America: six egg yolks, a half-pound of sugar, two bottles of cream, and one vanilla bean.

8. He bribed a reporter.

Presidential scandals and dogged newspaper reporters are not strictly a 20th or 21st century dynamic. In the 1790s, a reporter named James Callender ran articles condemning several politicians—including Alexander Hamilton and John Adams—for various indiscretions. In 1801, he turned his attention to Jefferson, whom he alleged was having an affair with one of his slaves, a woman named Sally Hemings. Callender went to Jefferson and demanded he receive $200 and a job as a postmaster in exchange for his silence. Disgusted, Jefferson gave him $50. Callender eventually broke the news that Hemings and Jefferson had been involved, a relationship that resulted in several children. Jefferson supporters ignored the story—which modern-day DNA testing later corroborated—but Callender was never in a position to gather more evidence: He drowned in the James River in 1803.

9. He had a pet mockingbird.

Even before the Revolution, Jefferson had taken a liking to mockingbirds, and he brought this affection to the White House, which they filled with melodious song. (And, presumably, bird poop.) But he was singularly affectionate toward one mockingbird he named Dick. The bird was allowed to roam Jefferson’s office or perch on the president’s shoulder. When Jefferson played his violin, Dick would accompany with vocals. Dick and his colleagues followed Jefferson back to Monticello when he was finished with his second term in 1809.

10. He invented a few things.

Not one to sit idle, Jefferson used his available free time to consider solutions to some of the problems that followed him at his Monticello farming endeavors. Anxious to till soil more efficiently, he and his son-in-law, Thomas Mann Randolph, conceived of a plow that could navigate hills. He also tinkered with a way of improving a dumbwaiter, the elevator typically used to deliver food and other goods from one floor to another.

11. His wife had a curious connection to his mistress.

Jefferson was married for just 10 years before his wife, Martha Wayles, died in 1782 at age 33 of unknown causes. Curiously, Jefferson’s involvement with his slave, Sally Hemings, was part of Martha's convoluted family tree. Martha’s father, John Wayles, had an affair with Sally’s mother, Elizabeth Hemings—meaning most historians think Sally and Martha were half-sisters.

12. He's credited with creating a catchphrase.

During his second term as president, Jefferson was said to have run into a man on horseback near his Monticello estate who proceeded to engage him in a lengthy complaint of everything wrong in Washington. Reportedly, the man had no idea he was speaking to the commander-in-chief until Jefferson introduced himself. The man, deeply embarrassed, quickly spouted “my name is Haines” and then galloped away. True or not, Jefferson is credited with originating the resulting catchphrase that was popular in the 1800s, with people saying “my name is Haines” whenever they wanted to feign embarrassment or were forced to leave abruptly.

13. He was served with a subpoena.

Long before Richard Nixon landed in hot water, Thomas Jefferson resisted attempts to compel him to testify in court. The matter unraveled in 1807, when James Wilkinson insisted he had sent Jefferson a letter informing him of Aaron Burr’s plot to invade Mexico. Government attorneys wanted Jefferson to appear with the letter, but the president—who said that the country would be left without leadership if he traveled to Richmond to answer the subpoena—refused to appear, an act of executive willpower that was never challenged in court.

14. He had a secret retreat.

Though Monticello remained Jefferson’s pride and joy, he had another residence for times when he wanted to be alone. Poplar Forest, located near Lynchburg, Virginia, was an octagonal home that he had built to exacting detail: The windows were measured so they would bring in only Jefferson’s preferred amount of sunlight. The home took years to construct and was nearly ready by the time he left office in 1809. It’s now open to the public.

15. He was a shabby dresser.

After taking office, Jefferson offended some in Washington who believed the president should be an impeccably-dressed and polished social host. While many of his stature would opt for a carriage, Jefferson rode a horse and dressed in plain and comfortable clothing. He acknowledged only two official White House celebrations annually: the 4th of July and New Year’s Day.

16. He was an early wine connoisseur.

Centuries before wine appreciation became a national pastime, Jefferson was busy accumulating an eclectic wine cellar. His love for the drink coincided with his trip to France, where he was introduced to the various tastes and textures. He kept a well-stocked collection at Monticello and also tried growing his own European grapes, but was never successful.

17. He shocked people by eating a tomato.

Jefferson’s multitudes of crops included what were, for their time, unique and sometimes puzzling additions. He grew tomatoes when their consumption in Virginia was uncommon, and, according to one account from 1900, Jefferson reportedly appalled some onlookers when he would consume one in front of witnesses.

18. He probably had a fear of public speaking.

Without today’s methods of addressing the public—radio, television, and Twitter—Jefferson was largely free to succumb to his reported phobia of speaking in public. While working as a lawyer, he found himself unable to deliver orated arguments as eloquently as he could write them. When he did speak, it was apparently with a meek disposition. One listener to his inaugural address in 1801 described Jefferson’s speech as being in “so low a tone that few heard it.”

19. He harvested opium.

At Monticello’s sprawling vegetable and plant gardens, Jefferson grew over 300 different kinds of crops, flowers, and other sprouts. Among them were Papaver somniferum, the poppy seed that can be used to create opioid drugs. Common in Jefferson’s time, the plant is now under much closer scrutiny and the estate was forced to pull up their remaining crop in 1991.

20. Abraham Lincoln was not a fan.

Though they weren’t contemporaries, Abraham Lincoln sometimes seethed with animosity toward Jefferson. William Henry Herndon, Lincoln’s onetime law partner, wrote that Lincoln “hated” Jefferson both for his moral shortcomings and his political views. But Lincoln also recognized the potency of the Declaration, citing its words as proof of equality among the population. “All honor to Jefferson,” he said, for making the document a “stumbling block” for anyone arguing in favor of tyranny. But he still never liked the guy.

21. He sold a lot of books to the Library of Congress.

Jefferson, a voracious reader, was dismayed when the War of 1812 resulted in British forces burning the Capitol in Washington and reducing its 3000-volume library of books to ashes. To repopulate the repository of knowledge, Jefferson sold Congress his entire personal library of 6707 titles for $23,950. The sale was finalized in 1815, and the books were sent via wagon from Virginia to Washington.

22. He helped found the University of Virginia.

A fierce advocate of education, Jefferson used his later years to propagate an institution of higher learning. Jefferson began planning the resources for a Virginia state university during his presidential term, writing to the Virginia House of Delegates that a college should not be solely a house but a “village.” In the proceeding years, Jefferson arranged funding, contributed design ideas, and helped shepherd the University of Virginia toward its formal opening in March 1825. Known as the “founding father” of the school, his influence has not always been welcomed. In April 2018, protesting students spray-painted the words rapist (in reference to his controversial relationship with slave Sally Hemings) and racist on a campus statue.

23. He was always in debt.

Status, salary, and opportunities should collude to make sure presidents are in solid financial shape during and after their tenure in office. Jefferson was an exception. Despite inheriting his father’s estate, he was plagued by debt for most of his life. He often spent beyond his means, expanding his property and making additions and renovations with little regard for the cost involved. His father-in-law, John Wayles, carried debt, which Jefferson became responsible for when Wayles died in 1774. Jefferson himself died owing $107,000, or roughly $2 million today.

24. His onetime nemesis dies on the same day.

Before Jefferson passed away on July 4, 1826, he had finally made amends with John Adams, the president who preceded him in office and for whom Jefferson had acted as vice-president. The two men, once on the same side, had grown to resent the other’s approach to diplomacy and politics, with Jefferson lamenting Adams’s preference for centralized and meddlesome government—though according to Jefferson, the major issue was the so-called “Midnight Judges,” appointments that Jefferson felt “were from among [his] most ardent political enemies.”

Strangely, Adams passed away the same day as Jefferson, just five hours later. The date, July 4, was also the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence being adopted.

25. He wrote his own epitaph.

Jefferson wasn’t willing to leave his final resting place in the hands of others. He was exacting in how he wanted his grave marker to look and how his epitaph should read. He also directed the marker be made of inexpensive materials to dissuade vandals from bothering it. Following his death in 1826, several people chipped away at his grave in Monticello as souvenirs. Congress funded a new monument in 1882, which is still toured by visitors to the estate today. The engraving reads:

Here was buried

Thomas Jefferson

Author of the Declaration of American Independence

of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom

& Father of the University of Virginia

This time, no one had the temerity to rewrite him.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming Is Poised to Become the Best-Selling Autobiography in History

Scott Olson, Getty Images
Scott Olson, Getty Images

Michelle Obama might not be running for president in 2020, but the former First Lady of the United States is still taking the world by storm. According to NBC News, her autobiography, Becoming, could ultimately be named the best-selling autobiography of all time.

The 426-page memoir was released by Bertelsmann's Penguin Random House on November 13, 2018. In a little over four months, this candid account of Michelle Obama’s childhood, relationship with Barack, and life in the White House has sold more than 10 million copies.

"That makes it our most notable creative success of last year," Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe said in a press conference. "We believe this could become the most successful memoir ever."

She might get a little competition from her hubby, though. Barack Obama has also signed a deal with Penguin Random House to publish his first memoir focused on his time in the Oval Office. According to Bertelsmann, that book could be released this year, but no specific date has been set.

Meanwhile, the Obamas signed a deal last year to produce films—both scripted and unscripted—for Netflix. Their production studio, Higher Ground, recently named its first executives.

As for the former FLOTUS, she will travel around Europe in April for her speaking tour, “Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama.” She will return to North America on May 3, with events scheduled in Montreal and Toronto, Canada; Sunrise, Florida; Atlanta, Georgia; and Nashville, Tennessee so far.

[h/t NBC]

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