It was bad enough when the London Times compared Hillary Clinton — whose most ambitious project in American politics has been to push for socialized medicine — to Margaret Thatcher, the great privatizer. And it has been disquieting to see Hillary calculatedly adopt centrist postures on abortion, religion, and the Iraq war. But now she has made her most brazen, preposterous grab yet for center-right credibility, claiming as her own an anti-Communist symbol almost as precious as Thatcher: Hillary will reportedly use “Right Here, Right Now” by the early-90s alternative rock band Jesus Jones as one of her campaign songs.
It may sound like danceable synthesizer fluff, but — shamefully for Western civilization — “Right Here, Right Now,” released in 1990, was the only prominent rock song to properly celebrate the collapse of European Communism: “I saw the decade end / And saw the world could change in the blink of an eye…I was alive and I waited for this…Right here, right now / Watching the world wake up from history.”
The obvious objection is that the phrase “wake up from history” is just a variation on James Joyce’s line (in Ulysses) “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” and that the concept is thus not the exclusive property of conservative Francis Fukuyama, who celebrated the collapse of Communism as “the end of history.” Any doubt, though, about whether Jesus Jones was referring to the end of the Cold War is thoroughly erased by the video for the song, which revels in images of Reagan, Gorbachev, dismantled border checkpoints, and the fall of the Berlin Wall (disturbingly, and rather Orwellianly, there also exists a politically sanitized version of the video that does not include most of those images — the market provides for all tastes, even anti-market tastes).
The video, like the song, is unmistakably a celebration, not just a chronicling of events. Indeed, in retrospect, it’s interesting how much the video, and the images from Central Europe in 1989, resembles the prophetic pre-collapse video for the 1984 song “New Moon on Monday” by Duran Duran, a self-consciously libertarian band (they dedicated their album Liberty to Ayn Rand). Sadly, on another Orwellian note, “New Moon on Monday” — with its youthful counter-revolutionaries spreading anti-authoritarian propaganda, dodging commissars, and finally dancing in narrow Continental streets — is the one significant video omitted from Duran Duran’s compilation video, Decade (the song itself, I should note, has absolutely nothing to do with combating Communism — and, alas, probably wasn’t meant to refer to Robert Heinlein’s novel about a libertarian revolution, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress — but rather is a love song to the moon).
So “Right Here, Right Now” is one of the few rock songs/videos that clearly celebrates the failure of socialism and the resistance to central government authority. This is not a just another case of wishful thinking or subjective interpretation, as with so many songs on National Review’s recent list of 100 best conservative rock songs. (Fun though that was, reading some of those songs as “conservative” was a bit of a stretch. I am second to no man in my love of the progressive rock / New Wave band the Fixx, but simply singing about the Cold War in “Red Skies” does not change the fact that the band is socialist and Luddite-green — their song “Less Cities, More Moving People,” for example, was a literal call for a return to nomadic existence.)
While my own philosophy is a sort of “conservatism for punks,” friendly to both the aesthetically radical and fiscally conservative, I am under no illusions that most rock songs are conservative. I would not even claim that “Right Here, Right Now” is conservative in any sense other than being anti-Communist — but anti-Communist it is. Why, then, should it be a campaign song for America’s latter-day version of a Fabian socialist, Hillary Clinton? A century ago, the Fabian Society — including such prestigious but mind-bogglingly arrogant writers as Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells — encouraged the gradual adoption of socialism to avoid spooking the masses, and surely Hillary’s talk-like-a-centrist / seize-control-of-a-seventh-of-the-economy agenda is the contemporary analogue. This is creeping bureaucratic control, not rock’n’roll rebellion.
There is no shortage of left-wing bands Hillary could have picked. Why not the Clash, who may be the cleverest musical propagandists of all time? Why not Bob Dylan or Tracy Chapman, who are both mentioned disparagingly in the Jesus Jones song (Dylan by name, Chapman as that “woman on the radio [who] talked about revolution when it’s already passed her by”). How about the covertly Marxist yet thoroughly fluffy Top 40 band Scritti Politti, who sang “[I’ve got a] Perfect Way” — and who probably do think that one perfect, centralized health care plan is exactly the way to go? Why not use that pro-wealth-distribution song “Hunger Strike” that Chris Cornell and Eddie Vedder sang back in the ’90s?
The Left has so many rock’n’ roll songs to choose from, it’s a crime to take one of the few that belongs to the Right — to the extent that it is not simply the treasured inheritance of free people everywhere.
I can’t pretend I’m surprised to see a left-leaning politician co-opting a cool rock song, of course. I first knew George H.W. Bush had no chance for re-election when he began insulting U2 (who’d met with Bush’s campaign rival, Bill Clinton) in his speeches, seemingly oblivious to the fact that America loves U2 (as it loved The Simpsons, whom Bush also denounced). Meanwhile, Bill Clinton was appearing on MTV and looking moderately hip. Someday soon, when Bono is running the U.N. — and having meetings with Bill Clinton and the younger Bush but excluding the elder Bush — the mistakes of the ’92 campaign will become apparent.
Luckily, from a strategic perspective, the Left also makes pop-culture mistakes. Witness the notorious incident in which a Hillary senatorial campaign staffer was nearly reduced to tears when she suddenly realized that the Billy Joel song “Captain Jack,” being played at a Hillary rally, contained lines about prostitution and masturbation. Or notice the ineptitude with which Sen. Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) — whose existence is probably noticed only by people like me who grew up in Connecticut in the 1980s and remember him being on the other side of the Sandinista issue — embarrassingly and self-aggrandizingly chose as his campaign songs for ’08 the classics “Get Ready (’Cause Here I Come)” by the Temptations and “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” by the Four Tops (the latter mistakenly attributed to the Temptations in an Associated Press article — and if the AP can’t tell the difference between the Temptations and the Four Tops, this may be the worst case of soft racism in the campaign season since Biden called Obama “clean” [Obama has no campaign song, incidentally]).
Hillary, who famously and falsely claimed to be named after Sir Edmund Hillary, may yet make some strategic misstep — such as giving a speech in which she mixes up Jesus Jones with the band EMF or Pop Will Eat Itself — but barring the unexpected, I fear she will be blaring Jesus Jones all the way to the White House. As her less-ideological back-up campaign song (by Bachman-Turner Overdrive) says, “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.”
As for me, I think it’s time to purchase one of those anti-Hillary t-shirts that says “Re-Defeat Communism in 2008” and see what happens if I wear it to a concert.
– Todd Seavey edits HealthFactsAndFears.com and will host a debate on climate change on Feb. 7 at 8pm at Lolita Bar in Manhattan.