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Jewish World Review August 21, 2000 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5760

Philip Terzian

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The beat goes awry -- AFTER LISTENING to his convention speech the other evening, I can't tell you whether Al Gore struck out, hit a home run, or walloped a grand slam out of the ball park, to use the preferred metaphor. For that, you will need to consult the usual analysts and read the polls. (Hint: Democrats thought highly of the speech, Republicans less so.) To me, it was standard Democratic boiler-plate, delectable to those who like that sort of thing.

For my problem, in coming to grips with prospects for the Gore-Lieberman ticket, is that I was distracted by the music of the Democratic National Convention, and not the rhetoric. That is a curious impression to take away from a political gathering, but there you are.

In the annals of Democratic kitsch, the sight of Tipper Gore boogeying across the podium to the rhythm of a trio of multicultural drummers was a first in my experience. And in hers, I expect, as well. The fact that the Vice President's wife resembled Dana Carvey's Church Lady in action merely added to the surreal quality of the spectacle. It was as if Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1936, had grabbed John Nance Garner for a quick newsreel jitterbug.

So having watched Tipper Gore rock out solo before an audience of millions, we should be prepared for anything. But in the meantime I conclude that either Democrats have a tin ear for pop music, or no one pays attention to the lyrics of rock songs.

My puzzlement began at the gigantic Democratic National Committee fund-raiser put on by Terry McAuliffe and friends at the Washington Convention Center. When I tuned into C-SPAN to savor the festivities, there was Lenny Kravitz on stage jamming with his bandmates while McAuliffe raked in the cash. But Kravitz was not performing any old stanard for the Democrats' diversion; he was playing "American Woman" by the Guess Who.

For those too young to remember, or too old to have noticed, "American Woman" begins on a note of early '70s romanticism: "American woman/Stay away from me/American woman/Mama, let me be/Don't come a-hangin' around my door/I don't wanna see your face no more/I got more important things to do/Than spend my time growin' old with you." But then, since the Guess Who were Canadian, a note of antipathy toward Canada's neighbor to the south is introduced, not so subtly: "I don't need your war machines/I don't need your ghetto scenes/Colored lights can hypnotize/Sparkle someone else's eyes."

An interesting lyric, certainly emblematic of its time. But how appropriate for a gathering of American citizens soliciting votes for their next president?

Then there was the cinematic tribute to Jimmy Carter at the convention in Los Angeles. While the gauzy camera lens focused on the former president and Rosalynn Carter monitoring elections, hammering nails, fondling grandchildren and welcoming pilgrims to the Carter Center in Atlanta, the sound track played an easy-listening version of John Lennon's mournful "Imagine."

Another anthem of the 1970s, it is possible that thousands of renditions of "Imagine" in elevators, at wedding receptions and on television commercials have diluted its impact. But the words are curiously discordant as background music for America's only born-again Baptist -- "Imagine there's no Heaven/It's easy if you try/No Hell below us/Above us only sky" -- who served in the White House: "Imagine there's no countries/It isn't hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion, too."

To be sure, Republicans aren't immune to the problem: In 1984, some of them mistook Bruce Springsteen's discontented "Born in the USA" for a patriotic tune. And even detractors of George W. Bush must be thankful for the fact that he kept renditions of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" to a minium in Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, the beat goes on. The convention revealed that the official Gore-Lieberman campaign song will be Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." The Democratic devotion to Canadian hits of the 1970s is revealing, in its way. But it will be fun to watch Joseph Lieberman, scourge of rap and heavy metal, deconstruct these lyrics: "I met a devil woman/She took my heart away/She said, I had it comin' to me/But I wanted it that way/I think that any love is good lovin'/And so I took what I could get."

Better suited to the incumbent president, one might think, than his anointed successor. But how far the Democrats have come from 1956: "Stevenson, Stevenson/If you vote for Stevenson/He will be/Easily/President next year/Help him win/Get him in/Now's the time to fight/Gotta be, gotta be/Gotta be, gotta be/It's Steven-/It's Steven-/It's Stevenson."

JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.


08/17/00: The unwelcome democrat

© 2000, Philip Terzian