Running for office requires a diverse and eclectic set of talents. There are the obvious ones – public speaking, schmoozing, baby-holding, etc. – but there are also certain skills that come in handy out on the campaign trail that are typically more associated with American Idol. Namely, singing. A politician singing on camera for a few seconds gets more attention that a windy, hour-long policy address, and it seems that showing off one’s pipes, regardless of whether they’re any good, is just as much a part of a modern campaign as buying TV advertisements and disclosing tax returns.
With Dillo Day coming up, it seemed important – nay, crucial – to examine a history of the people ostensibly running our nation bursting into song. Let’s get to it.
It would be criminal to begin without mentioning President Barack Obama. By 2012, everyone knew the man could deliver a powerful speech, but one night in the Apollo Theater, he showed the nation that his golden voice didn’t just make him a great orator. All it took was a few lines of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and the media was hooked. It wasn’t his first time bursting into song, but it was a moment that bought his campaign airtime that no advertisements could. His "Sweet Home Chicago" isn't too bad either.
Not to be outdone (at least, not until Election Night), his rival for the Presidency at the time decided to give it a go as well, with less positive results. When Mitt Romney sang “America the Beautiful" at a rally, it became clear that he wasn’t the musical kind of Mormon that are apparently all over Uganda. His performance was rocky enough to later become the background music for an attack ad from the Obama team going after his record at Bain.
Obama's previous opponent had a penchant for song as well, but unlike Romney, he didn't always stick to the original lyrics. John McCain's transformation of the Beach Boys' classic "Barbara Ann" into "Bomb Iran" wasn't the sharpest move, and it too found its way into a liberal ad and even the debates.
John Ashcroft – George W. Bush’s first attorney general – doesn’t just sing, he writes! Here’s a video of him performing his own work, “Let the Eagle Soar.” In case you missed it, the eagle in the song is actually an analogy for America. It's some pretty profound stuff; I didn't get it the first time. Before going solo, Ashcroft was also a member of a band called "The Singing Senators" back in his Congressional days. It was an all-GOP quartet (although Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords would later leave the party to become an independent in true Vermont fashion) that sang classics like "Elvira."
But the departure of Ashcroft from the Hill didn't leave Congress without a resident old Republican singer-songwriter. After the death of Ted Kennedy, Kennedy’s longtime rival/partner Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah released this track in his memory, in lieu of the typical written statement. The two members of the Senate were usually fiercely opposed to one another ideologically, but came to respect each other as legislators and eventually as friends.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell probably delivered one of the strangest performances in politics, singing this song to the tune of “YMCA.” I can't imagine what was going through his mind at the time, but had he known that the clip would have made it online, he probably wouldn't have been quite so eager.
When your job involves wearing a suit and tie and dealing with lobbyists and diplomats and other politicians every day, you can’t be blamed for wanting to loosen up a little bit with some music. Sure, like most things in politics, these singing outbursts are largely planned and not spontaneous, but it still has to be a nice change of pace from the typical speech full of patriotic platitudes, and if done right, it can snag some nice news coverage to boot.
Hillary, take note.