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Golden oldies and politics
Charles Biebauer
Cleveland got me thinking about campaigns past. Or perhaps it was just the music; The Coasters, The Drifters, The Four Seasons, The Four Tops.
The conference I was at had a reception at Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Who could resist? Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis. The Big Bopper.
Toe tapping back through the 1980s, 70s, 60s and beyond for some reason also reminded me of past campaigns I’d covered, more for their vintage than any hall of fame claim. I recalled linking up with Gary Hart’s campaign in Cleveland in 1984, or was it 1988?
Surely I must have been through Cleveland with Ohioan John Glenn, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, the elder, of course. “W” is not yet eligible for hall of fame consideration. After all, rock and rollers are not considered for induction into their hall until 25 years after the release of their first record; Chuck Berry, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Bessie Smith.
Some candidates or their surrogates turned out for the Labor Day parades in the small towns of South Carolina. In the good old days of politics, Labor Day was the campaign’s opening act. Now it’s deep into the elaborate orchestration.
Fred Thompson’s formal announcement this past week is either a throwback to more sensible times or a risky miscalculation. Too little, too late? Or as Walter Mondale asked of Gary Hart back in 1984, where’s the beef?
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened two years later; Ray Charles, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Little Richard.
Twenty years later, rock and roll sounds a lot different. Trust me, I have a teenager. Twenty years later, politics looks a lot different; Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton.
The greatest differences may be the way the campaigns play out their protracted gigs. Just as there are musicians who shine in recording studios and others who soar on tour, there are politicians who gleam in a well-cut campaign ad and others who stand out in a debate crowd.
Retail politics is vanishing like old 45 rpm records. The Internet is now a significant factor. Thompson announced his candidacy on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. Bill Clinton’s campaign theme song was “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” by 1998 Hall of Fame inductee Fleetwood Mac.
Yet in some ways, it now becomes the same — a test of political skills and organization. If we’re lucky, with a hint of purpose. It’s September and, by old standards at least, time to start sorting them out. We’ve already seen perhaps a dozen candidate debates; Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Duncan Hunter, Mike Huckabee.
In less than four months, assuming the states come to terms with their bizarre “me first” jockeying for position on the calendar, we’ll start primary voting. In 1984, Hart vaulted to the front with a strong showing in Iowa and a victory over Mondale in New Hampshire. The pair divided the Super Tuesday states, and Mondale eventually outspent and outlasted Hart. (Hart’s self-destruction over a bit of monkey business came in 1988, but that’s another story.)
As lengthy as this campaign cycle has been, it promises to end in a frenzy; Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Super Duper Tuesday, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Grateful Dead all on one stage.
All reminiscence, however, has an element of delusion. It’s not 1988. It’s September of 2007, six years since 9/11, five years into a deadly and divisive war, nearly seven years into an increasingly unpopular administration. Iraq is not Vietnam. In fact, Iraq’s long-term consequences could be more dramatic than Vietnam’s.
Vietnam, despite all else, inspired some Hall of Fame performances, Jimi Hendrix’ Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock.
The 2008 campaign is still waiting for a chart topper and a Hall of Fame candidate.

Bierbauer followed the campaign beat for CNN through five presidential elections from 1984 to 2000.
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