The GOP's False Note

Photography by NewsHour

Two weeks ago, eyebrows were raised on both sides of the Atlantic by the GOP’s musical choice for its 40th National Convention.
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The event had already commanded much news coverage on account of Clint Eastwood’s unusual speech that some folks backstage thought was in danger, at least for a while, of upstaging Romney’s own performance. Unquestionably an all-American icon, the 83 year-old Eastwood held a conversation with an empty chair in which, according to his routine, an imaginary President Barack Obama was sitting.

Dismissed by some as rambling and semi coherent, some just thought Eastwood was taking all the time he needed to compensate for the confusion that arose during the February 2012 Super Bowl Party in Chicago, an event which had received massive TV coverage. In the advertisement break, Eastwood had fronted a patriotic General Motors advert in which, with a gravelly whisper he asserted that America had come back from the brink because America “knows how to come from behind to win.”

Some commentators even assumed that Eastwood had shifted his allegiance from the GOP to the Democrats due to the Obama Administration’s generous subsidies which had done much to ensure that GM did not actually go under. The next day Eastwood dismissed this outright, issuing a statement that it was just a coincidence of timing and that people were jumping to inaccurate and inappropriate conclusions.

Even before Clint's empty chair routine, the choice of the Thin Lizzy 1976 rock hit ‘The Boys are Back in Town,’ which had been chosen as the musical backdrop for the Convention, had drawn condemnation, most notably from the 81 year old mother of Phil Lynott, the band’s frontman. Lynott's last years were dogged by drug and alcohol dependency, leading to his death in 1986. Speaking in Dublin, Phyllis Lynott told the Irish music magazine Hot Press that she was upset that one of her son's most famous rock songs was used by the Republicans to endorse Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan.

Lynott's mother said the Thin Lizzy singer would have opposed the Republican anti-gay and pro-rich policies: "Neither would Philip have supported his policy of taxing the poor and offering tax cuts to the rich, which Paul Ryan is advocating. There is certainly no way that I would want the Lynott name to be associated with any of those ideas.”

Instead she believed her son would have backed Barack Obama: "There is a black President of America, which to me – as it would have been to Philip, as a proud, black Irishman – is wonderfully symbolic. I have a lot of time for Barack Obama, so to hear 'The Boys Are Back in Town' being appropriated by Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in their campaign against him is deeply upsetting."

In campaign years, both of the main US parties rely heavily on the support of celebrities from the world of film and popular music. Blue-collar rock hero Bruce Springsteen stumped for Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004, but has indicated he won’t be on the campaign trail this time, adding that he is “not a professional campaigner.”

Springsteen has said he still supports Obama but has publicly expressed disappointment in the President’s handling of the job market and home foreclosures. He has also publicly disapproved of the attention he says Obama paid to corporations rather than the middle class.

Meanwhile, Lizzy fans and back-catalogue experts were pondering whether this year’s Republican National Convention organizers might have been better off choosing something else from the band’s considerable discography. The US released single ‘Cowboy Song’ conjures up visions of a suitably brave, big-country America - think of those Marlboro Man adverts that ran from 1954 to 1999. Meanwhile Democrat supporters have not been slow in coming forward with alternative suggestions. They say, if you want Lizzy and you want a hit single from 1976, look no further than the equally catchy rock anthem that got to number 12 in the UK charts that year - “Don’t Believe a Word”.

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Posted on September 13, 2012