It began in 1984, when the Reagan reelection apparatus made the mistake of thinking that Bruce Spring-steen’s song “Born in the USA” would make a suitable anthem for the campaign. “America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts,” President Reagan told a Hammonton, New Jersey, audience. “It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen.”
The trouble, of course, was that “Born in the USA” contained not a message of hope but of despair, which the left-wing Springsteen was quick to explain publicly. Whereupon the Democratic nominee that year, Walter Mondale, piled on: “Bruce Springsteen may have been born to run,” he exulted, “but he wasn’t born yesterday.” And then claimed that the Boss had endorsed him, not Reagan. (To his credit, Springsteen denied any such Mondale endorsement—but went on to a career of performing for Democratic candidates, up to and including Barack Obama.)
And so the pattern was set: In every subsequent presidential campaign, if any band played any popular song at any venue in conjunction with any Republican candidate, the composer or performer or arranger or lyricist would issue a swift, uncompromising, legal-sounding order to cease and desist, followed by a caustic/sarcastic commentary: “As anyone who actually knows and loves my music would be aware, the values expressed in my extraordinary songs are thoroughly at odds with the offensive views of Candidate X.”
The reductio ad absurdum of this wearisome trend came swiftly—in 1988, when musician Bobby McFerrin commanded, in especially vehement terms, that the George H. W. Bush presidential campaign stop using his novelty hit (“Don’t Worry, Be Happy”) as its “official” song. Which, of course, it had not: It was, in fact, a left-wing talking point of the political season that “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” ought to be the Bush anthem—poor Mr. McFerrin seems to have gotten confused.
Not that the press would bother to clarify such things, or fail to cover, in lavish detail, these perennial attention-getting interludes at the expense of GOP candidates. That is how The Scrapbook learned that surviving members of the heavy metal ensemble Twisted Sister had demanded that the Romney campaign stop playing their composition—“We’re Not Gonna Take It”—at rallies. It is also how we learned that Mitt Romney’s favorite inspirational catch-phrase—“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” from a television series called Friday Night Lights—had catapulted the self-described “creator” of the show, Peter Berg, into high dudgeon: “Your politics and campaign,” he wrote to Romney, “are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series.”
Alas, The Scrapbook, never having seen Friday Night Lights, is in no position to judge the merits of this dispute. At the same time, however, we’re not sure that the occasional use of an uncopyrighted catchphrase or brief quotation in politics—sock it to me, we must love one another or die, where’s the beef?—is quite the same as broadcasting a published song over the P.A. system at public events.
Our suspicion is that Mr. Berg just wanted an excuse to reassure everyone in Televisionland that he’s not thinking any heretical thoughts this year—unlike, say, Buzz Bissinger, the 2008 Obama supporter who wrote the 1991 book Friday Night Lights, on which the TV series is based.
Bissinger’s for Romney.