John Mellencamp, campaign music, and champagne socialism

Hey, did you know we have an election coming up in a few months? And yes, it promises to be a real mess. (We could get a whole bunch of blog posts from that, and I expect we will.)

One of the minor controversies from this year, though, involves the Trump campaign and rock music. Various musical artists, including Neil Young, Elton John, Rihanna, and some group called Panic!At the Disco have either objected to Trump playing their music at campaign events, or issued actual cease-and-desist orders.

Brendon Urie, the frontman of Panic! At The Disco, wrote in a tweet:

“Dear Trump Campaign, F— you. You’re not invited. Stop playing my song. No thanks, Brendon Urie, Panic! At The Disco & company.”

Come on, Brendan, quit beating around the bush. Tell us how you really feel.

This is not a new controversy. It didn’t begin with Donald Trump, who is (whether you love him, hate him, or accept him with reservations) an undeniably polarizing politician. Almost no one is neutral about Donald Trump.

Most celebrity musicians, like the rest of the Hollywood/entertainment jet set, are millionaires who fancy themselves socialists. Taylor Swift has a net worth of $360~$400 million. (It fluctuates with the market value of her immense portfolio.) Taylor Swift is the ultimate “one-percenter”, to use Bernie Sanders’s term. And yet, Taylor Swift has recently come out as a vocal proponent of the Democratic Party.

Back in 2008, John McCain was the GOP nominee. McCain got into hot water with his campaign music, too. McCain made the mistake of playing several songs belonging to John Mellencamp, a rocker whose popularity peaked in the 1980s.

Mellencamp objected, and issued a cease-and-desist order of his own. Speaking through a publicist, Mellencamp said:

“If [McCain is] such a true conservative, why [is he] playing songs that have a very populist pro-labor message written by a guy who would find no argument if you characterized him as an ardent leftist?”

A few points to unpack here. First of all, it is rather foolish for GOP candidates to use the music of elite musicians who probably hate their guts.

Consider, for example, the aforementioned Neil Young. Neil Young has moonlighted as a left-of-center activist since the 1960s. Neil Young also has a net worth of $65 million.

Even fellow musicians, the members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, recognized Neil Young’s hypocrisy long ago. They openly rebuked him in their 1974 classic, “Sweet Home Alabama”.

That said, Donald Trump should have known better than to use a Neil Young song at a campaign event. What was he expecting?

John McCain should have known better than to use a John Mellencamp song in 2008, too. Mellencamp, who spent the early years of the 1970s immersed in the drug-addled counterculture, has long distinguished himself as being left-of-center. The signposts have been out there for years. Mellencamp has never been shy about expressing his views, such as they are.

I’m too young to care much about Neil Young, and too old to care about Taylor Swift. I hadn’t even heard of Panic! At The Disco until just the other day. I’ve maybe heard of Rihanna, but I couldn’t name one of her songs to save my life.

I do remember John Mellencamp, though. His breakout album, American Fool, was released in 1982. I was then entering high school, and the heart of my teenage years. John Mellencamp was never one of my favorite artists; but a few of his songs I genuinely liked, and still listen to from time-to-time.

That said, I have to call Mr. Mellencamp out on his self-description as an “ardent leftist”. Mellencamp has a net worth of $25 million. That makes him a pauper by Taylor Swift standards. He’s pretty poor compared to Neil Young, too. Nevertheless, with a net worth of $25 million, John Mellencamp more than qualifies as a one-percenter.

Here’s the way I see it: If you want to call yourself “an ardent leftist”, then act the part. Give away your fortune to help the less fortunate—or to fund the revolution. Move into communal housing in the inner city, or perhaps a dingy cubbyhole of an apartment. Eat rice and beans for dinner every night.

But if you have $25 million in the bank—and you keep it—then you don’t get to call yourself an “ardent leftist”. And no, you don’t get to simply “identify” as a leftist, either. This isn’t like sex reassignment surgery. All Mellencamp (or Neil Young, or Taylor Swift) would have to do is give away their vast sums of wealth. Then they’ll be “ardent leftists” in name as well as deed. Until then, they’re Republicans in denial.

Actress Cynthia Nixon, known for her roles in Sex and the City and The Pelican Brief, tried to retool herself as a progressive politician a few years ago. Her plan, so far as anyone can tell, was to run against Governor Andrew Cuomo from the left. At one point, Nixon referred to herself as a “democratic socialist”. (This is basically socialism without the gulags and firing squads (at first, anyway).)

Nixon, however, has a net worth of $25 million. This makes her about as rich as John Mellencamp.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but a “democratic socialist” with $25 million is just as much of an oxymoron as an “ardent leftist” with $25 million. Some things go together, and other things don’t. The Pope, or so I’ve been told, must be a Roman Catholic. The Pope can’t be a Muslim, a Jehovah’s Witness, or an atheist. A proper Marxist, likewise, can’t be filthy rich. 

I would issue the following challenge to Cynthia Nixon, John Mellencamp, and other “champagne socialists” out there: Socialism, like charity, starts at home. If you want to impose socialist economic policies on everyone else, start by giving away all your excess millions, beyond the bare amount you need to live. Redistribute your own wealth first. Give it all away! Then you can talk to us about redistributing everyone else’s wealth.