It would be nice to think that we choose our political heroes more soberly and less trendily than we choose our musical heroes, but it would be wrong.
Bono’s speech to the Labour conference this week, where he deftly conflated Lennon and McCartney into Brown and Blair, spoke volumes about the thin, membranous line between pop and politics. “I’m fond of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown,” said Bono. “They are kind of the John and Paul of the global development stage, in my opinion. But the point is, Lennon and McCartney changed my interior world — Blair and Brown can change the real world.”
The U.S. contest for the presidency presents an even bolder example of the rock ‘n’ roll subtext that lies barely beneath the surface of the voters’ perceptions of the two candidates.
Forget Vietnam, this is really about the dichotomy between the Mersey Beat and the London Blues. Kerry vs. Bush is a Swinging ’60s dustup deja vu, a 21st-century re-enactment of the crucial matchup of that era: Beatles vs. Stones.
That tussle was, without overstating it by a single mohair: cuddly vs. dangerous, “bigger than Jesus” (to borrow Lennon’s phrase) vs. (in the words of the Stones’ anthem) “Sympathy for the Devil.”
The side one took in that great competition defined everything in life; clothes, attitude, recreational (uh-huh) pastimes, spiritual beliefs and yes, politics. The same applies today when Americans young and old decide who will lead the country: Will it be the Beatles-esque John Kerry or the Stones-ish George W. Bush?
Consider: Kerry is a deft blend of Paul McCartney’s pacifistic pop musings and John Lennon’s shaggy idealism.
Dubya combines Mick Jagger’s leather-boy leanings with Keith Richard’s (now-reformed) party-animal instincts.
Still not convinced? Let’s take a song-by-song look:
Kerry: Did you see his water-taxi arrival at the Democratic National Convention, surrounded by his 1960s-era mates?
Song: “We all live in a yellow submarine…”
Bush: Did you hear his speech about terrorism? He said, “See, you can’t talk sense to the terrorists. You can’t hope for the best. You can’t negotiate with them….”
Song: “What can a poor boy do?…There’s just no place for a street-fighting man…”
Kerry: In his acceptance speech, Kerry noted, “I don’t want to claim that God is on our side. I want to pray humbly that we are on God’s side.”
Song: “Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be…”
Bush: W. recently told a gathering of soldiers, “There is no hole or cave deep enough to hide from American justice.”
Song: “So if you ever meet the midnight rambler … I’m gonna smash down all your plate glass windows, put a fist through your steel-plate door.”
Keep your radios tuned in to hear how this battle of the Beltway bands plays out on Nov. 2. Will it be a day of Dubya’s “Satisfaction,” or will Kerry’s “Long and Winding Road” finally lead to the White House?
As always, the fans from Louisville to London will decide which one is No. 1.