Too Unhip to Be Prez

The big plus about Wes Clark is his military record, which will make him virtually immune to potential Bush attacks on national security issues. Not to mention the fact that he's a Rhodes Scholar (it's usually a good thing when the leader of the free world is capable of intelligent thought). But while Clark may be smart, his taste in music leaves much to be desired.

"I like Journey," Clark was quoted as saying, singling out "Don't Stop Believin'" as his preferred choice for a campaign song. How does he justify such a choice? "It's the music I remember," says Clark. Is that really the best tune he can recall? Clark is clearly not hip. Who still listens to Journey: the band which came up with some of the most annoyingly sappy songs in the history of music?

But if Clark isn't hip, who is? Howard Dean is usually thought of as the candidate who is most "with it." But do such claims about the former governor's hip-ness actually withstand careful scrutiny? During a debate sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus in September, in front of a predominantly African-American crowd, former ABC News correspondent Farai Chideya asked Dean what his favorite song was. "One you've never heard of, Wyclef Jean's 'Jaspora,'" was Dean's response. Well, Howard Dean was right -- I have never heard of that song before (it turns out it's off Jean's 1997 album "Carnival").

In writing this article, I decided I might as well see what this "Jaspora" business was all about. I gave the song a quick listen. And I have to say that it is a rather catchy song, although that's pretty much all one can say about it because it's sung in Haitian Creole. Luckily for us, conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan found a translation and posted it on his blog. The song is something of a social commentary, dealing with the issue of Haitian identity in the diaspora. Sullivan, trying to find a way to make something out of nothing, faults Dean for liking a song that "reads like a screed against assimilating Haitian immigrants" and that "threatens violence against those who assimilate a little too thoroughly." Somehow, I doubt that Dean has ever looked up the translation to "Jaspora." Moreover, Dean isn't exactly known for his fiery, passionate stances on issues relating to Haitian immigration.

In the end, was Dean pandering to a particular demographic? Maybe. Is it working? Perhaps. Dean did after all receive the coveted endorsement of Wyclef Jean himself. According to the New York Daily News, Jean said, "Yo, yo I'm gonna vote for Howard Dean."

Dean has for a while now been going out of his way to present himself as the only candidate willing to address controversial racial issues. Nevertheless, I always find it somewhat comical (and occasionally suspicious) when old white guys running for office try to sound like they're down with the hip-hop scene. But you got to give Dean credit.

His choice was a lot more original then the other candidates' incredibly predictable picks. John Edward's favorite song is "Small Town." Talk about scripted, John, enough already! We know by now that you're from a small town. We know that you're the son of a mill worker (because you mention it in every speech). Carol Mosely Braun's favorite is "You Gotta Be." John Kerry likes Springsteen's "Never Surrender" while Lieberman cited Frank Sinatra's "My Way." Kucinich chose "Imagine." No surprises there.

Maybe Al Gore was stiff, but at least he had the originality to pick the relatively obscure blues-master John Mayall as one of his favorite musicians. Gephardt also seems like the kind of guy who would like Mayall. But, to our surprise, we find, according to MSNBC, that Gephardt is an Eminem fan and apparently "raved about" 8 Mile on the campaign trail. Not to be done in the realm of hip-hop hipness, Kucinich has an "outreach project" aptly called the "Representin' Tour." Ummm, ok.

Moving on to a more important subject -- who are the candidates' favorite Beatles? Here's the breakdown: Kerry, Kucinich, and Moseley Braun picked John. Edwards picked Paul. Dean and Gephardt picked George and Sharpton, not surprisingly, opted for Ringo. What to make of this ? "The favorite Beatle is a good Rorschach test," says Blender editor Craig Marks. "If you pick Paul you're a romantic; if you pick John you're a rebel, and if you pick George, like Howard Dean, you're kind of a weirdo. Sharpton picked Ringo, kind of the good-time Charlie choice. That one hardly ever comes up."

Wesley Clark's Beatle preferences will, unfortunately for us, remain a mystery. The general failed to make the Blender's deadline. But at least he didn't sink to Joe Lieberman's level, who declined to take part in the Blender interview altogether. Now that's unhip.

Shadi Hamid is a columnist at PopMatters.com.

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