Waiting On The World To Change No More: Obama Support As Self-Promotion

Though it seems like authenticity only matters in music, it’s a frequent subject in politics, too. One way of arguing about it involves discussing the importance of “informed voters.” One side, stressing the need for citizens to be fully informed about the issues and candidates if they are to truly represent their interests through voting, argues that political preferences based on less rational things like appearance, group affiliation, likability, or character (what fancypants political scientists call affective qualities) are bad for democracy. The other side–which I suspect may be made up of only me–thinks that being fully informed is not only an impossibility but a undesirable state of affairs, that picking a party and sticking with it is fine, and that affective qualities are a perfectly legitimate way to pick a candidate. As irrational as non-fully-informed vote choices may seem, they often end up at the same place a more considered choice would have anyway, and so in the end there’s not much practical difference. But there is a difference in the authenticity of your vote, and this matters to some folks. For them, politics is only truly “real” when it is the outgrowth of a philosophical journey, rather than an expression of base and quickly considered self-interest. What would these people make, then, of all the musical events of late supposedly designed to support Barack Obama?

Because, man, there sure are a lot of them. Certainly some are genuine (if arguably misguided) efforts to get more people to vote for the Democratic candidate. But other seem less in the spirit of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” than the motivations behind releasing “Pac-Man Fever.” Here’s a brief and incomplete list of the pro-Obama efforts of musicians:

Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement, a “historic compilation CD inspired by Barack Obama’s groundbreaking presidential campaign.”
  • Obama – The Worldbeat Album, “a sampling of some of the tastiest worldbeat music currently being produced as tributes to the hope Barack Obama is bringing to people everywhere.”
  • 5 For Obama, an album by Indian musician Thomas Easaw. (“Easaw is also the owner of the deepest voice and had brought out a socio-political music album earlier, called Don’t Start the Last World War, the title song of which, named ‘The Request’ is the most relevant video in YouTube for your search for ‘antiwar songs’.”)
  • The Decemberists were wholly responsible for the 75,000 people who turned out for an Obama rally in Portland; also, they play the Russian national anthem!
  • “National Anthem,” a fairly normal classical concert for which you bought tickets by donating to the Obama campaign.
  • “Broadway for Obama,” a benefit concert at the State Theater Center for the Arts in Easton, Pa., featuring “local high school ‘rising stars’!”
  • “Rock Obama Concert,” a show featuring legends like “Elephone,” all coming together to encourage people to vote, and to take a $10 cover that will not be donated to the campaign.

    You get the idea. Yeah, “Yes We Can” and the Decemberists probably (mostly) did it for the big O, but other efforts in the above list seem a bit more self-promotional than anything else. While I’m sure that everyone involved in these had some desire to see Barack Obama win, putting on a concert or putting out an album that may have helped only insofar as it had Obama’s name attached to it doesn’t reflect the actions of a well-informed voter who’s fully aware of the efficacy of their actions. But is that a problem?

    Here we get into the problem of clashing civic virtues. On the one hand, these folks are engaging in an even higher activity than voting by actually engaging in political participation, which is supposed to be a good thing. On the other hand, the underlying motive is base, even if the outward effect is basically the same as from a sincere effort. Ultimately, though, politics is about results, whereas music is about process. In the heat of an election that’s activated your partisan feelings, you’re probably willing to countenance anything that helps, even a little, your candidate win. Once the election is over, we feel we have the luxury of taste again, and we can condemn such things as uncouth and ill-informed. Of course, support is pretty critical once the governance starts, too, but that’s a post for another time.

    Yes We Can: Voices of a Grassroots Movement CD [BarackObama.com]

  • Tags: