Monday, August 8, 2016

Musical Monday - What the World Needs Now Is Love by the Singers at the Democratic National Convention

Last week I used the version of Fight Song recorded under Elizabeth Banks' direction by a collection of Hollywood celebrities as my Musical Monday selection. That was not the only large group musical performance at the Democratic National Convention - a collection stars including a number of Broadway performers also turned up to perform a rendition of the Burt Bacharach song What the World Needs Now Is Love that they had originally recorded as a fundraiser following the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

While Fight Song is a fun recording, and has served the Clinton campaign well as a campaign anthem, What the World Needs Now Is Love seems to me to be a more topical commentary on the state of politics in the United States. As I noted before, the song was written by Burt Bacharach, and originally recorded by Jackie DeShannon in 1965 and by Dionne Warwick in 1966, making it an artifact of the Baby Boom era from right in the heart of the tumultuous 1960s. There is some poetry in the fact that Hillary Clinton is likely to be the next President of the nation: In 1992, her husband Bill became the first Baby Boomer to be elected to the position. If she wins the upcoming election, Hillary will be sixty-nine years old when she is sworn in as the nation's chief executive, and if she serves two terms in office (and I believe she will) will almost certainly be the last member of the Baby Boom generation to serve in that post. It is almost ironic that Bill and Hillary Clinton will likely be the bookends for their generation as far as the Presidency is concerned.

But this song's connection to the 1960s highlights what I believe to be a larger truth about current American politics, and how the experiences of the Baby Boom generation during that era have shaped them. During the latter half of the 1960s, the anti-war movement became more and more vocal, and as both sides of the debate became more and more firmly entrenched in their positions, they set the tone for American politics, which have become more and more polarized over the last few decades, a process that has accelerated as Baby Boomers have moved into positions where they control the levers of power. This era also saw the rise of using both civil disobedience to challenge unjust laws as part of the civil rights movement, and the use of the legal process to target political enemies, such as the ultimately unsuccessful prosecution of the "Chicago Seven". We see the reverberations of the cultural war fought in this era down to today, with absolutist language used regarding issues ranging from abortion to tax policy to confirmation of appointees, and investigations targeting political enemies used on a regular basis. Although there was a time when one could credibly say "both sides" took similarly contrarian positions, the use of tactics drawn from and building upon the playbook established in the 1960s has increasingly become an asymmetrical pattern as the Republican Party, initially under the guidance of Newt Gingrich, has slowly replaced governing with intransigence and political disagreement with witch hunts disguised as Congressional hearings. There is some irony to this, as the reactionary right of the 2010s has adopted the language and tactics originally pioneered by the anti-war left in the 1960s.

An even greater irony is that the G.O.P. appears to be killing itself as a result of adopting these tactics, lurching further and further to the right and alienating the bulk of the electorate by taking more and more extreme and absolutist positions. Even the "alternative" party that appeals to many conservatives, the Libertarian Party, is characterized by its adherence to absolutist and in many instances, extreme positions. Conversely, the Democratic Party seems to have taken a step back from that ledge, and may well be positioned to enjoy almost unchallenged dominance over national politics for the foreseeable future.

Singers at the Democratic National Convention     Musical Monday     Home

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