When will politicians figure out that they should never mix rock ‘n’ roll with their campaigns?
Sure, it makes them seem cool at first. But ultimately, it makes them look clueless.
The latest example is an Irish vs. Irish affair involving Wisconsin Republican big wig Jeff Fitzgerald and rabble rousing, left-leaning Irish punk band the Dropkick Murphys.
The band is best known for its rollicking tune “Shipping Up to Boston,” which was used in the Martin Scorsese movie The Departed.
Fitzgerald took a liking to the song and started using it at campaign events.
As the Wisconsin State Journal eventually noted, “After the Irish American punk band from Massachusetts heard about Fitzgerald's song choice, the rockers promptly posted a scathing statement on the band's Facebook page.”
The posting read, "We just got word that Wisconsin State Rep. and Speaker of the State Assembly Jeff Fitzgerald used 'Shipping Up to Boston' as his walk-on song at the Wisconsin GOP convention in Green Bay. The stupidity and irony of this is laughable.
“A Wisconsin Republican U.S. Senate candidate -- and crony of anti-union Gov. Scott Walker -- using a Dropkick Murphys song as an intro is like a white supremacist coming out to gangsta rap! Fitzgerald: if you and your staff can't even figure out your music you might wanna give up on the politics!!!!! We stand beside our union and labor brothers and sisters and their families in Wisconsin and all over the U.S!"
Fitzgerald, to his credit, later said he would stop using the song. Of course, he’s not doing that because he’s a nice guy.
The last thing Fitzgerald needs is his Republican pals taking a closer look at some of the more radical lyrics by Dropkick Murphys. If they did, they might dropkick Fitzgerald out of the state and out of the Republican Party.
The most famous example of an Irish American politician being out of tune with a famous musician, of course, was Ronald Reagan. Back when the Gipper was running things, he tried to harness the popularity of a certain crooner from New Jersey named Bruce Springsteen.
As you might recall, Springsteen released a mega-smash album during the Regan years entitled Born in the U.S.A. The title track is a rousing anthem, one that certainly compels the listener to feel a certain kind of patriotism. Just not the patriotism Reagan had in mind.
“Born down in a dead man’s town / the first kick I took was when I hit the ground / End up like a dog that’s been beat too much / Til you spend half your life just to cover it up.”
And that’s just the first few lines of the Springsteen song. Not exactly “Morning in America,” the sunny vision Reagan was selling at the time.
Look, this stuff is complicated. I vividly remember hearing that Springsteen song when it was first released and welling up with feelings of patriotism. The chorus is a thunderclap and was made to be shouted, chanted, bellowed.
Here’s the thing -- I was 13 years old when I felt that way. It wasn’t long before I was old enough to see that the song is a lot more complex.
Which is not to say it is unpatriotic. Far from it.
But it just asks us to take an honest look at some hard problems. That, generally, is not the game politicians are into, whether we are talking about Ronald Reagan or Jeff Fitzgerald.
There is, of course, a broader issue here about the Irish in America.
Generally, this kind of conflict occurs between a right wing politician and left leaning artist.
This simply reflects an ongoing split amongst the Irish in America. There are those who believe the Irish have survived great trauma in the U.S. and should be allowed to revel in their hard-earned middle-class status. These folks are generally Republican, Catholic, law-and-order types.
And then there are those who believe the only way the Irish obtained that status was by comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. So they continue a more radical strain of Irish activism.
Surely, this debate will continue. And, yes, it can get ugly.
But, if nothing else, we’ve learned one thing over the centuries: Politicians – stay away from rock ‘n’ roll!