I know what you're thinking: why must there be only three?
The 2004 presidential debates are over, and after what has been largely perceived as a John Kerry three-peat it seems that the world is a much happier place. Democrats are starting to leave the house again after a two-month crying jag following the DNC, and Republicans get to exercise their beloved denial of reality by spinning a Bush victory out of the wreckage. Everybody wins.
But now, with the election almost upon us, we may find ourselves looking back at the last few weeks as the turning point in the campaign; either the moment when President Kerry locked in his victory, or the last giddy rush of hope before four years of depression and exile to Canada. And as we grow nostalgic, there's no better way to relive the past than that instant flashback generator, the mixtape.
Below is a suggested mixtape of songs which best reflect the stand-out moments of the 2004 presidential debates.
Track 1: R.E.M.—"World Leader Pretend"
"I recognize the weapons, I used them well / This is my mistake, let me make it good"
Bush's dismal failure in the first debate stemmed from the same reliance on over-optimistic assumptions that led to his dismal failure in Iraq. Rove and Co. apparently figured they'd have Kerry on the defensive, droning on and on about wonkish minutiae, and Dubya could just trot out his "flip-flopper vs. strong-and-resolute leader" soundbites and take the whole thing in a walk. When Kerry proved far more disciplined than anyone expected, the President was thrown for a loop…
l Track 2: Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band—"Frownland"
"My smile is stuck / I cannot go back t'yer Frownland"
…especially since he apparently learned nothing from Al Gore in the 2000 debates. Bush scowled where Gore sighed, but the effect was the same; he looked irritated and grumpy next to Kerry's stately (if a tad wooden) poise.
Track 3: John Cage—"4'33""
Combine that with the President's endless pauses (which probably only seemed to last as long as Cage's infamous exercise in silence), and he seemed tired and unprepared.
Track 4: Merle Haggard—"Workin' Man Blues"
"I keep my nose on the grindstone / I work hard every day"
I suppose harping on the presidency being "hard work" was meant to prove that Bush recognizes that maybe, just maybe, Iraq isn't all sunbeams and butterflies, but it came across as petulant whining.
Track 5: Ruins—"Grubandgo"
"Gorrtho gorrtho grubango"
Actually, anything by the Ruins will do, since like the President they speak some crazy made-up language and I have no idea what the fuck they're talking about. Yeah, maybe it's a cheap shot to pick on the Pres for mangling the English language, but "mexed missages?" Only G-Dub can turn a simple linguistic stumble into self-parody so effectively.
Track 6: XTC—"Generals and Majors"
"Generals and majors ah ah / they're never too far / away from men who made the grade"
No matter how much fun it is to say "John Shalikashvili" (try it five times fast), Kerry showed alarming signs of running off on one of his endless tangents when he started naming military men who support him. And he did it again in the second debate. Though I must admit it was cute the way, every time a new country was mentioned, Bush trotted out his phonetic pronunciation of its leader's name. Looks like someone's been using that World-Leader-a-Day desk calendar that Condi bought him for Xmas!
Track 7: The Beatles—"Fixing a Hole"
"It really doesn't matter if I'm wrong I'm right / where I belong I'm right / where I belong"
The second debate was more evenly matched than the first, as the format played more to the President's strengths (he got to wheel around and wink at audience members after his answers). But a weak moment for both candidates came when Bush was asked to name three mistakes he had made during his administration; he refused to name even one. But Kerry failed to take advantage of the opening in his rebuttal, where a simple enumeration of Bush's failings would have been far more damning than merely repeating his charges about "rushing to war" and "gut-checks."
Tracks 8 & 9: Phil Ochs—"Love Me, I'm a Liberal" / "Cops of the World"
"I read New Republic and Nation / I've learned to take every view… / But I've grown older and wiser / and that's why I'm turning you in / Love me, love me, love me / I'm a liberal"
"We'll spit through the streets of the cities we wreck / and we'll find you a leader that you can't elect / those treaties we signed were a pain in the neck / 'cause we're the cops of the world"
AKA The Bush Attack Plan Medley: Liberal! Global test! Naïve and dangerous!
Track 10: Monty Python—"Lumberjack Song"
"I'm a lumberjack / and I'm OK"
The strangest moment in the second debate came when Kerry squeezed an incomprehensible mention of the President's timber holdings into the last few seconds of his answer, leading Dubya to hop up and deny the charge with a smirking "Need some wood?" Not exactly worthy of Cicero.
Track 11: Charles Mingus—"Don't be Afraid, the Clown's Afraid Too"
You could almost see the flop sweat on Dubya's brow during the third debate. Presenting a cheery, laughing alternative to his dour first performance, Bush started every response with a desperate-sounding joke, though alienating your host by disparaging his recently-discredited network with a crack about the news media may be the wrong tactic. And the image of the President enjoying a hearty chuckle while his opponent talked about Americans losing their jobs on the other side of the screen seemed a tad inappropriate. Kerry's Tony Soprano reference may not have been funny, but at least it wasn't crass.
Track 12: God Is My Co-Pilot—"Straight Not"
"Experiencing some kind of umm / Same gender attraction or something"
Though his reference to Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter was crass, whether a gratuitous low-blow or a sly pander to the homophobic right.
Track 13: Public Enemy—"Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man"
"I can't do nuttin' for ya man / I'm busy tryin' to do for me"
Shockingly, Bush failed to capitalize on his greatest advantage – his sense of common-man faux-empathy – when asked to respond to a worker whose job had been outsourced. Not only did he fail to show any compassion whatsoever, he completely switched topics, to…
Track 14: Dizzy Gillespie—"School Days"
…No Child Left Behind, which seemed to be his default answer for everything that night. Don't have a job? We'll educate your kids, and they can support you in twenty years. No health insurance? No problem—we'll educate your kids!
Track 15: Yo La Tengo—"The Lie and How We Told It"
"Talking words, angry words / hang in the air, we don't dare"
Various charges of misrepresentation and deceit were leveled by both sides throughout the debate, but the best came when Kerry quoted Bush as saying that he was "not concerned"
; about Osama bin Laden. Bush laughed off the accusation, calling it an "exaggeration," but unfortunately the exact quote that Kerry used was on videotape for the world to see. Twice. Oops.
Which brings us to our closing arguments…
Track 16: Alice Cooper—"Elected"
"I'm your top prime cut of meat, I'm your choice / I wanna be elected / I'm your yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls Royce / I wanna be elected"
Happy November 2nd. Good luck.
And for those of you burning onto CD:
Bonus Track: The Monkees—"Words"
"Strange voices in my ears… / But all I can hear are those / Words that never were true / Spoken to help nobody but you"
C'mon, George – what the hell is that bulge?!?