"If a thing isn't worth saying, you sing it," the French playwright Beaumarchais once noted. But his heedless naïveté can be forgiven. Beaumarchais expired in 1799, well before the advent of today's endless presidential campaigns. Here, if everything that was not worth saying were sung, the political arena would sound like the high school cafeteria in Fame--one couldn't get down a sporkful of chipped beef without a musical number breaking out.
It used to be that campaign songs featured original lyrics that strove to mobilize supporters ("Get on a raft with Taft!") or to draw subtle policy distinctions between candidates, such as the William Henry Harrison ditty that educated voters about incumbent Martin Van Buren:
Who rules us with an iron rod
Who moves at Satan's beck and nod
Who heeds not man, who heeds not God?
In recent decades, things have grown considerably more milquetoast. Candidates today are most likely to pick an already existing pop song that exemplifies their ethos. For instance, Hillary Clinton made a perfect choice with "You and I," which is saccharine, turns on synthetic emotion, and is sung by Celine Dion, one of the few people with a voice more cloying than her own.
But the last two cycles, there's been a slight return to original compositions. Four years ago in these pages, I explored the songcraft of the Howard Deaniacs. While many voters now have trouble even remembering the Dean campaign beyond the "I Have a Scream" speech, the songs still remain on songsfordean.com. To this day, I can't watch Dean without thinking of the lyric: "We're gonna need a doctor to fix us up quick / We need to remove our Bush and our Dick."
Despite their prodigious output, however, Deaniacs were positively slothful compared with those called everything from Paulheads to Paultards to Ronulans--the supporters of Ron Paul. On the Bands4RonPaul MySpace page, there are 16 artists listed who've written original Paul songs, with 181 more bands who support Ron Paul listed beneath them: everyone from Larry's Broken Biscuits to Bloody Holly to White Trash and the Catholics to Fresh Cut Salads. So long is the line to throw one's musical backing to Paul that bands like MouthRot, Crash Martinez, and Clown Vomit posted demands to be included. And this page represents just a tiny fraction of the original Paul songs available on YouTube. Good luck finding them all.
To give an idea of Paul's viral velocity, if you hit "Rudy Giuliani" or "Mitt Romney" into YouTube's search engine, you'll turn up about 3,700 hits apiece. Do the same with "Ron Paul," and you'll be wading through 63,000 offerings. Coupled with the fact that Paul holds the one-day record for online fundraising ($4.2 million) and that money is pouring in from all sorts of unpredicted sectors (more active-duty military have given to Paul than to any other candidate), it's small wonder Paul's followers insist that they are underrepresented by conventional polling.
A requisite for being a Ronulan is incessantly complaining that journalists ignore your man. A YouTube satirist named Pudgenet, who himself wrote a song called "You Forgot Ron Paul!," even posted an outtakes reel in which he pinches Johnny Cash's "Sam Hall," singing:
My name it is Ron Paul
And I hate you one and all
I hate you one and all
Damn your eyes.
As for this journalist, I'll eliminate Paultard paranoia by putting my cards on the table: By all accounts, Ron Paul is decent, principled, smart, and honest (John McCain once said he was "the most honest man in Congress"). Of all the candidates, he's the one I'd most trust to hold my purse if I had to use the Jiffy John at a Paulapalooza festival (a proposition his musical backers are considering). While I don't fully agree with him, I enjoy his underdog tenacity and his unslick tetchiness. His laissez-faire libertarianism and old-style limited-government conservatism make me nostalgic for a more innocent time--let's call it "1993"--when Republicans could talk about pruning the long branches of government without laugh-snorting Diet Coke from their nostrils. All this is to say, I like Ron Paul. Or I thought I did, before seeing how much atrocious music he's inspired.
There is nothing wrong with white rappers, except that they're white, and they're rappers. The Paul movement seems to have attracted an unfortunate number of them. The worst of the worst is Digital Funtown's "Ron Paul Rap," in which a dancing pizza slice attempts to elucidate Paul's positions with rhymes like
Every pizza likes to dance
Ron Paul says no to immigrants . . .
Tomato sauce, provolone
Ron Paul says leave your fetus alone.
Paul himself is not a conspiracy theorist. And suggesting all his musical supporters are would be unfair--about as unfair as the government blowing the levees in New Orleans, and imploding the World Trade Center so that Dick Cheney and his Halliburton cronies could get free ExxonMobil gas cards. In actuality, only about 70 percent of Paulheads are conspiracy nuts. Paul is the enchanter of the disenchanted. Drag him through a college campus, and he's like a human lint roller, picking up cat-hair covered pamphleteers from all sides of the political spectrum.
There's the group A-Bomb, whose rhymes sound like distress signals from Planet Caucasian. I'm not really sure what their Ron Paul song says. Once on their website, I was too distracted by links such as "Understanding chemtrails," "Bilderberg Watch," "Preparing for Invasion," and songs such as "FEMA Camp" in which Norman Mineta gets blamed for the "inside job" which was 9/11.
Then there's a group called Griffenz, whose "Money Bombs" is an anthem for the upcoming "Tea Party" in which Paul supporters are striving to achieve a record $10 million donation day. Most rappers boast about the size of their tire rims or the extensiveness of their firearms collection. Griffenz boasts:
Yo we're having a tea party on December 16th
Ron Paul taught us all revolution hits deep . . .
If you wanna holla at us
Hit up the Daily Paul . . .
It's our blog war weapon
Boston tea party revolution keeps on steppin
Note to white political rappers: Name-checking former transportation secretaries and boasting of your blogging prowess isn't the best way to build street-cred in the hip-hop community.
But not all Paul singers are white rappers. There's the reggae group Three Shoes Posse, who seem to have some trouble distinguishing between subjective and objective pronouns, with songs such as "Can't Fool We." With a website that calls to "Let Jah Will Be Done," they'd also seem to be out of step with Paul, who is a Baptist by way of Lutheranism. Likewise, they feature a photo of him in his doctor's coat, administering defibrillator paddles to the Constitution. (As with Dean, the doctor theme is rampant throughout the songbook, though few want to recognize that Paul was actually an OB/GYN as it's rather hard to rhyme anything with adnexal torsion or Fallopian tube.)
They aren't all stone-cold nuts; some are charming eccentrics. There's Mark Thornton, an economist with the Ludwig von Mises Institute--Paul, who wishes to return to the gold standard, is a devotee of the Austrian School of economics--who's tailored the Beatles's "Revolution" into "The Ron Paul Revolution." Thornton sings more like Ringo than John, but he keeps the lyrics simple, knowing its really un-rock 'n' roll to go into the fine points of the Hayekian concept of intertemporal equilibrium. Thornton also does a cover of George Harrison's "Taxman"--"I Hate the Taxman"--with revised lyrics that change the voice of the song "to that of a Rothbardian tax protester." Paul disciples seem to like casually dropping "Rothbardian"--referring to libertarian economist Murray Rothbard--with no further explanation.
Then there's Rick Ellis, who used to front the Screamin' Sea Monkeys but, after meeting heartache and hearing In the Wee Small Hours, became a Frank Sinatra impersonator. He now plays Sinatra not only in real life, but in Second Life, the online fantasy world, where his avatar performs three nights a week in a virtual Playboy Club. Ellis says he had an epiphany when toying around with "New York, New York." Amended lyrics:
It's your right to choose
It's the American Way
The Constitutional heart of it
Ron Paul, Ron Paul.
Ellis attends the virtual Ron Paul meet-ups in Second Life. He's thinking about doing a virtual concert for the virtual Ron Paul. "I know it's crazy," he apologizes, "I shouldn't have mentioned it."
Perhaps the most talented Paul songwriter I've encountered is the Pittsburgh folkie named Daryl Fleming, of Daryl Fleming and the Public Domain. He sings with a pleasing tomcat rasp, and when reaching for the bigger notes, sounds like he should be twinning harmonies with The Band's Levon Helm. Fleming feels that limited government is underrepresented in rock and folk music. He's a far cry from dancing pizzas and seems a bit self-conscious about the company he's keeping. "I am not guilty by association," he emails of the grab bag of other Paul supporters. "The 9-11 Truthers, white supremacists, and assorted kooks (perhaps some of the other songwriters?) who support Ron Paul do not invalidate his message. Faulting RP (or me) for some of his non-sanctioned supporters is like blaming Jodie Foster for the shooting of Ronald Reagan."
If there is a Woody Guthrie of the Ronulan movement, he has to be Steve Dore, a San Jose-based blues musician and boogie-woogie piano enthusiast. He's been playing music since he was 6 years old, and came of age in the sixties. As a songwriter, he "had nothing to say." The melodies would pop into his head, but the words wouldn't come. Then he started reading up on economics and inflation (he cut a record called "Inflation Nation," which he calls "training wheels" for his current Ron Paul efforts), and went to see Paul at a hard assets conference in San Francisco, where he found himself standing on his chair numerous times, applauding Paul's fiscal sense. Ever since, the music won't stop flowing.
He's written so many Paul songs--everything from "Critical to Get Political" to "Fed Reserve Song"--that he's now releasing a full CD, called "Early Songs of the Great Ron Paul Revolution." The Paul family has preordered 50 copies. Dore would've given them freebies, "but they believe people should be paid for their labor." (In keeping with Paulian philosophy on currency, Dore will accept silver as payment, currently going for $14 an ounce. He'll take gold, but at $800 an ounce, you should plan on a bulk order.)
Dore explains that a long shot like Paul appeals to writers and artists, who are dreamers by nature. Quoting Oscar Wilde, he says, "A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."
It's a nice notion, but maybe the mounting appeal of Paul, a politician beloved by those who hate politicians, can be explained in more prosaic terms, articulated by a YouTube songwriter named Sporty4Harvey:
So here's why I'm voting for Dr. Ron Paul
I believe he's the best of all
The candidates we have seen
Not that it's been any voters dream
You gotta admit the field is uh, pretty lean.
Matt Labash is a senior writer at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.