Another day, another Republican politician caught using a popular rock anthem without the artist’s permission and to that artist’s great displeasure: Wisconsin governor Scott Walker entered this weekend’s Iowa Freedom Summit to the strains of The Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping up to Boston, prompting the Murphys to gently remind Walker that “we literally hate you.”
This is not the first time a Republican candidate has been chastised for using a musician’s work without permission; it is not even the first time a Wisconsin Republican has been chastised for using The Dropkick Murphys’ Shipping up to Boston without permission. Way back in 2012, Republican Assemblyman Jeff Fitzgerald (a close Walker ally) used it for his walk-on at the Wisconsin Republican Convention, which the Murphys described as “like a white supremacist coming out to gangsta rap.”
It happens all the time, all over America, with responses in varying degrees of legal severity from the artists: Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen have fired off cease-and-desists, Survivor sued Newt Gingrich for his use of Eye of the Tiger; Jackson Browne took John McCain to court for using Running on Empty in an attack ad (the McCain campaign eventually settled).
Beyond the surface-level absurdity of anti-labor politicians using explicitly pro-labor music in their campaigns — which is, don’t get me wrong, entertaining, and makes for a good two-second clickbait — there’s actually a lot we can unpack from this frequent and ongoing phenomenon.
The first take-away is, obviously, that any bullshit coming out of the mouths of these assholes about private property, hard earned money, and free enterprise is so much smoke up your ass. Most of us knew that already, but for the few that didn’t, yeah: these are not people who are interested in paying a fair price for the labor of others. Left-leaning politicians who are already openly skeptical about intellectual property rights might be able to spin stealing a song as a gesture of principle; the capitalist blowhards of the right, never. They’re just hypocrites. Hopefully you already knew that.
But hey, while we’re talking capitalism, let’s look at the other big takeaway here, which is an issue of supply and demand. Why is it that it’s always Republicans ripping off music from aggressively pro-labor artists?
It’s because there aren’t any popular, inspiring anthems written from a right-wing perspective.
Sure, there’s openly jingoist shit like God Bless the USA, and that works fine for whipping up the base into a frenzy of red-meat-chumming landsharks, but it doesn’t exactly speak to the human condition. Music or lyrics that really get deep down into people’s souls require a certain degree of empathy to produce, and people with significant levels of empathy don’t, as a general rule, vote Republican.
We can argue about whether the popular works by Springsteen, Survivor, the Murphys, etc. are any good, musically, but no one can deny that they have a powerful and broad-based appeal. It’s hard to find someone in a crowd that can’t get something out of those songs.
People who are just in it for themselves — who think everyone should start life with a handgun and a kick in the ass and be told to go out there and get theirs, and fuck anyone who gets in the way, which is pretty much the Republican party platform these days — can’t write those songs. You have to think about the lives of other human beings to touch the lives of other human beings.
We’re never going to see the great Republican Bruce Springsteen because a Republican can’t write Bruce Springsteen’s songs. The closest thing the dedicated right wing has is Ted Nugent, and that’s probably enough said for all of us.