by Michael Medved | USA TODAY
As the echos of the boisterous political conventions finally die down, there's a moment to reflect on a key difference between this year's somber presidential race and the historic campaign of 2008: This time, we won't hear the stirring music of hope and change.
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Four years ago, the Obama campaign marched to victory with the accompaniment of a series of songs composed by big stars or unknown school children that emphasized the singular significance of that barrier-busting election. In 2012, the Democrats have once again turned to music to try to rally their largely defensive and beleaguered troops, but the results have seemed nasty rather than hopeful, apologetic more than uplifting.
During the first Obama campaign, nearly 1 million Americans watched a YouTube video of 22 kids in Venice, Calif., performing original anthems in the candidate's honor, and featuring We're Gonna Change the World by 9-year-old Lily Campbell. Introduced with an unaccompanied solo in a pure childish voice of touching sincerity, the hymn promised:
We're gonna spread happiness
We're gonna spread freedom
Obama's gonna change it
Obama's gonna lead 'em.
We're gonna change it
And rearrange it
We're gonna change the world.
Even for those of us who found something eerie, excessive and creepy about the cult worship of nominee Obama, it's sad to look back on soaring expectations that seem to belong to another era entirely, not just another election.
In that seemingly distant epoch, celebrities also lined up to create a series of music videos featuring dreamy, ecstatic tunes, punctuated by declarative statements by major stars ("I would like to see us in a world without fear"; "He's almost like a revival for a lot of people's souls"; "Yes we can heal this nation! Yes we can repair this world!") and excerpts from Obama speeches. A later video on the theme "be the change" featured an even more impressive galaxy of stars giving their own form of a pledge of allegiance:
I pledge to be of service to Barack Obama
I pledge to change how I live.
To be a better person.
To never stop learning and growing each and every day. Every day!
I pledge to be a servant to our president and all mankind.
Because together we can. Together we are. And together we will be the change that we seek.
And after four years of that epic change, with Obama "like a revival for a lot of people's souls," his true believers offer a different sort of campaign ballad, this one by the one-hit wonder New Wave punk-rock band Devo. Just before the GOP convention, they delivered Don't Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed) to tell the story of the 1983 Romney family road trip (just three years after Devo's incomprehensible hit Whip It) with their Irish setter riding on the roof of the station wagon.
The song pleadingly intones:
Seamus, Seamus please come back
Your former master is on the attack
If he was honest and told the truth
He'd go to jail for what he did to you
Seamus, why did he make you ride outside?
This follows up the previous release Romney Girl (based on the deathless ditty Barbie Girl) as performed by the horse-faced Miss Swiss Bank Account, and featuring subtle lyrics such as:
He is rich
You are poor
If he wins
This might produce gratified chuckles among Democratic loyalists, but it's a far cry from the rousing messages in Obama songs of four years ago that mobilized masses of previously cynical voters. Then, even the teasingly seductive "Obama Girl" seemed fresh and novel with her smash hit I've Got a Crush on Obama:
You tell the truth
Unlike the right
You can love
But you can fight
You can Barack me tonight
I've got a crush on Obama!
This year the real-life Obama Girl, Amber Lee Ettinger, tellingly declares that she's undecided on how she will vote.
On the other side of the partisan divide, Republicans have made no attempt to replicate the visionary lyrics that rallied the Democrats the last time: They view Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan as technocratic turnaround artists, not messianic deliverers. It's tough to provide quasi-religious anthems for hard-headed numbers guys.
And for the Democrats, they can hardly go back to Hope & Change's Greatest Hits because to do so would only highlight the grand canyon between Obama's promise and his performance. "Obama's gonna change the world" would have a wistful air of implied rebuke. Instead, we can expect more ditties about Romney's vulnerabilities and the purportedly scary plans of his running mate. Look for variations of "Lyin' Ryan" rather than new verses for "We Can Be the Change."
Of course, negative campaigning can be effective, but it highlights the president's dilemma when his followers lift their voices in recollection of his opponent's long-deceased dog rather than celebrate the incumbent's inspiring achievements. The music of hope and change has become the music of cringe and rage.
Talk radio host Michael Medved, a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors, is author ofthe new e-book The Odds Against Obama: Why History and Logic make the President a Likely Loser.