The election is almost upon us, and candidates all over the nation are hustling for our vote. One of the most common ways to win the hearts of Americans is by associating yourself with something they already know and like – a song, for example, or a famous person. Sometimes this works, but other times it can backfire pretty hard. Here’s a quick rundown of ten times when a politician has tried to use a celebrity for political gain only to get shot down in flames.
Sarah Palin and Heart, 2008
The selection of Sarah Palin as John McCain’s Vice Presidential running mate was controversial, but it sure did give pundits a lot to talk about. The Alaska Governor had a lot of nicknames, but one of the most enduring was “Barracuda.” So it made sense for the Republicans to use the classic Heart song by the same name to introduce her after her nomination at the Republican National Convention, right? Nancy Wilson of Heart didn’t think so, composing a scathing response to the party that stated that Palin in no way represented their beliefs and demanding that she never use the song at a public appearance again.
Paul Ryan and Rage Against The Machine, 2012
Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan is a mystifying guy – it’s hard to figure out what’s going on inside his head. Beyond all of the fibs about marathon running and his body fat percentage, one of the strangest contradictions in Ryan-world is his love of Rage Against The Machine. The legendary 90s band takes a political stance in opposition to just about everything the Wisconsin congressman believes in, and guitarist Tom Morello took the time to write a vicious takedown in Rolling Stone. The gist? Paul Ryan is The Machine.
John McCain and Van Halen, 2008
John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign was rife with musicians getting pissed at his party for unauthorized song use. One of the most notable was classic hair metal band Van Halen, who erupted after McCain used their 90s hit “Right Now” to close a campaign rally, but McCain also had run-ins with myriad other artists, including Jackson Browne, Abba, the Foo Fighters and Bruce Springsteen, all of whom requested the Arizona Senator keep his hands off of their music for political gain.
Ronald Reagan and Bruce Springsteen, 1984
One of the most legendary political fails of all time came during Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign. At a stump speech in New Jersey, the Gipper referenced the “message of hope” in the songs of the state’s favorite son, Bruce Springsteen. Ronnie was referring, of course, to “Born in the U.S.A,” which is in reality a lament on how America was going down the crapper. Bruce was so baffled that somebody would misinterpret the song so badly that he decided to only play it acoustic from that point forward so people would actually listen to the lyrics.
Michelle Bachmann and Katrina & The Waves
Of all the political also-rans that have popped up on the landscape recently, none are quite as terrifying to liberals as Michelle Bachmann. The Minnesota Congresswoman brings a Tea Party mindset to legislating, working against equal rights for gays, against Obamacare and against financial regulation. But it was her quixotic Presidential run in 2011 that got her on this list. At several campaign stops, Bachmann’s party used “Walking On Sunshine,” the classic feel-good 1985 hit by Katrina & The Waves, to pump the crowd up. The band’s singer, Katrina Leskanich, fired back, stating that she doesn’t endorse the song’s usage, saying that it’s her job to defend it against situations that might tarnish its message.
Bryan Adams and David Duke, 1991
The general argument that most musicians have when they come after celebrities for using their songs without permission is that they fear that people will associate the music with the candidate’s beliefs. Never has that been more apparent than when Louisiana gubernatorial candidate David Duke used Canadian soft-rocker Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” as the soundtrack for his 1991 run. If you weren’t paying attention back then, Duke was formerly best known as the Grand Wizard of the KKK. Not the kind of personality you want record buyers thinking about. Adams got an injunction against Duke using his song and even petitioned to have it kept off Louisiana radio in toto until the election was over.
Mike Huckabee and Boston, 2008
This is a particularly sad one, because perennial also-ran Huckabee tried to go the extra mile when he used Boston’s AOR anthem “More Than A Feeling” as a campaign song during the 2008 primaries. In addition to blasting the syrupy song over the loudspeakers, Huck actually picked up his bass guitar and jammed out a version of the song along with one-time Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau. Huckabee even introduced him to crowds as “the guy who originally did it.” Only one problem here: Tom Scholz wrote and performed every guitar track on that song, and Goudreau had nothing to do with it. Needless to say, angry words were exchanged and Huckabee had to drop his performance.
George W. Bush and the Dixie Chicks, 2003
Country musicians have typically tacked towards the Republican end of the spectrum, but Texas trio the Dixie Chicks bucked that trend in 2003 and paid for it. After the Bush administration announced that we were going to war in Iraq based on fraudulent intelligence, singer Natalie Maines stated on-stage in London that she was ashamed that the President was from Texas. This is one of the few entries on this list where things worked out better for the politician – Bush was re-elected for a second term and radio stations throughout the South dropped the band from their playlists.
Mitt Romney and Peter Berg, 2012
Coming up with a good political slogan is a tough task. Campaigns pay writers big bucks to coin phrases that are instantly catchy and memorable. Or sometimes they just steal them, as was the case when Mitt Romney red-handedly appropriated “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” from Peter Berg’s TV series Friday Night Lights. The campaign thought they could get away with it until Berg wrote a scathing letter comparing Mitt to the show’s Buddy Garrity, a sleazy car salesman who turned his back on American car manufacturers to sell product from Japan instead. Well played, Berg. Romney didn’t listen, instead doubling down on his unauthorized use of the slogan.
Next: Halloween Costume Fails
Vladimir Putin and Pussy Riot, 2012
Russia may no longer be the evil empire, but they still have some problems with civil liberties. President Vladimir Putin has become the face of the corrupt oligarchy, and the nation’s young people aren’t standing for it. But it took a masked all-girl punk band to really put the heat on. When Pussy Riot strapped on their guitars at an anti-Kremlin demonstration in February and got arrested, hipsters around the world finally took notice. The resultant public outcry has severely blemished Putin’s international reputation as. Yes, two of the members of the band did get the bad end of the bargain, being shipped off to Russia’s worst prisons to serve sentences, but they sure got their licks in.