Republicans rock at their own risk

Posted: August 21, 2012

By Alexandra Petri

Poor Paul Ryan. His erstwhile idols are turning on him.

First the president of the Ayn Rand Institute, Yaron Brook, said he thought Ryan was a fiscal moderate. And now Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine - a band whose music, if not its lyrics, Ryan has publicly stated his approval for - has penned a scathing diatribe against Ryan in Rolling Stone, calling him "the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades." Ouch.

At least Ryan is not alone in being spurned. Gov. Christie's unrequited passion for the Boss has long been a matter of public record. He has attended 129 concerts, where he dances exuberantly and sings his heart out, and has even gone so far as to ask Springsteen to perform at a casino opening. But nothing - not even a scathing letter to Rolling Stone. At least Ryan got some rage out of the equation.

Meanwhile, across the aisle, President Obama is taking the microphone from Mick Jagger and duetting with B.B. King.

Mitt Romney tries to play the Silversun Pickups' "Panic Switch," and suddenly he's getting cease-and-desist notes from the band, along with jibes from lead singer Brian Aubert, who said Romney "is inadvertently playing a song that describes his whole campaign." (A Romney spokeswoman noted, "As anyone who attends Governor Romney's events knows, this is not a song we would have played intentionally.")

It's not even safe to assume you can use a song with "America" in the title. Tom Petty wouldn't let Michele Bachmann use his "American Girl." Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" was a stumbling point for Ronald Reagan, who (like Ryan) enjoyed the music but paid less attention to the lyrics. And don't forget that incident in which Madonna compared McCain to Hitler in a video montage.

At the rate the ranks are dwindling, any song whose refrain does not involve releasing several eagles, standing up proudly, or keeping your eye on the Grand Old Flag will soon be off limits. No wonder my most vivid recollection of the campaign trail is hearing Toby Keith's "American Ride" play over and over while waiting for Newt Gingrich. ("Both ends of the ozone burning. / Funny how the world keeps turning.") That is where we are headed, and fast.

One occupational hazard of being a conservative politician is that periodically, bands you are fond of will denounce you. Play one of their songs, and they will beg you to stop with the fervor with which Abercrombie & Fitch begged a Jersey Shore cast member to stop wearing its apparel.

So what's a music-loving conservative to do? You can't very well spend your whole life listening to Pat Boone. You would rupture something. But show the slightest inclination to the even marginally hip, and suddenly everyone's recoiling from your touch - no matter how reputedly impressive your abs.

If you did not limit your idolization to actual Founding Fathers, you are bound to be a little disappointed by the fact that none of your idols wants to hang out with you later in life. If you dream of fraternizing with the stars, it's country music or nothing, and when it comes to celebrities, you have to resort to such desperate measures as pretending to be excited at the arrival of Jon Voight.

Of course, the bands would argue that it cuts both ways. Nothing like being known as the favorite artist of the wonk in the sensible button-down with a deep and abiding zeal for budget cuts to really sell your antiestablishment message to the kids. The establishment's best vengeance against the rebellious rockers is to publicize their enjoyment.

It is hard to crack an unwelcome association. As any parent can tell you, the best way to poison the well against the Terrible Music Kids Seem to Enjoy is to start enthusiastically listening to it yourself.

Alexandra Petri wrote this for the Washington Post.

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