Hillary's Tone-Deaf Campaign

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The Los Angeles Times

Hillary's Tone-Deaf Campaign

by
Rosa Brooks

AFTER MUCH trumped-up suspense, Hillary Clinton's campaign announced this week — via a YouTube spoof of the last episode of "The Sopranos" — that the votes are in.

No, sorry, not those votes. You'll have to endure another year of stilted YouTube spots before the last presidential primary votes are cast.

I mean the votes from the Clinton campaign's YouTube "pick our theme song" contest. And, in case you missed this major national event, the winning song was "You and I," by Celine Dion.

Clinton staffers have declared the "pick our theme song" contest a resounding success. And who knows what her wacky campaign will do next? Maybe Clinton will soon have YouTube viewers select her campaign's strategy for ending Iraq's civil war or reducing greenhouse gases. If she's going to base her decisions on the lowest common denominator, Clinton could just eliminate her cadre of overcompensated consultants and pollsters and go straight to YouTube for all her policy needs.

And Celine Dion really is the lowest common denominator. If the SAT's analogies section tested politics and pop culture, even the dimmest teenager would agree that "Hillary Clinton: Politics = Celine Dion: Music." Both Clinton and Dion have enjoyed astounding career success. Both showed early talent but are now widely accused of being sellouts. Dion's interesting, edgy early songs were replaced, during her bid for superstardom, by trite and formulaic crowd pleasers; Clinton's interesting, edgy early policy positions were replaced, during her bid for elected office, by trite and formulaic crowd pleasers.

Selecting "You and I" may ultimately come to seem like a Clinton campaign blunder. For one thing, Dion's name summons up, unbidden, thoughts of other major Dion hits, such as the "Titanic" theme song and the title track from Disney's "Beauty and the Beast." Neither suggests helpful associations.

In any case, "You and I" is not exactly in its first run as a theme song. It has already been used by Air Canada. Not just "used": Air Canada commissioned the song, and the airline's advertising consultant wrote the lyrics. (Art at its purest, it ain't.) This isn't the first time a presidential campaign has relied on a song that's basically an advertising jingle, but I think it's the first time a campaign has relied on someone else's advertising jingle.

That the "someone else" is a foreign country's national airline doesn't help. The Canadian-born Dion released "You and I" at an Air Canada event in October 2004. "Wearing a stylish new Air Canada uniform," an Air Canada news release gushed, Dion sang with "a chorus of Air Canada employees," telling the admiring crowd, "[It's] an honor … to promote Air Canada and this great country around the world…. We are all ambassadors for Canada." Oy.

Speaking for myself, having an "ambassador for Canada" run for president might not be the worst thing in the world — Canada's been looking good to me lately. (Though I can't call Air Canada uniforms "stylish.") Clinton's critics, however, were quick to pounce: Clinton's so unpatriotic that she outsourced her campaign song! To a Canadian! Who speaks French!

This misses the point. The real problem with "You and I" isn't that it was sung by a French Canadian — the real problem is that, like most of Dion's oeuvre, it's just a crummy song. Superficially, it sounds like "music," but it isn't really. It's just the product of a well-paid advertising agency's successful formula for producing persuasive — and mildly sedative — background noise.

"You and I" is suitable as elevator music and as the soundtrack for visits to the dentist, but that's about it. And its selection as campaign theme song may ultimately underscore what Clinton's critics have long charged: that her policy platform offers more pablum than principle, more formula than inspiration.

Not that this will necessarily matter. As Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz noted Tuesday, it increasingly appears as if "Hillary Clinton is inevitable." Well … so are death and taxes, but I don't have to like them. (I'm more in sync — politically, not musically — with YouTube's Obama Girl.)

We'll probably end up with Hillary Clinton leading the Democratic ticket. And inevitably, sooner or later we'll all find ourselves in the dentist's chair, numbed by Novocain, listening glumly to piped-in Muzak by Celine Dion.

rbrooks@latimescolumnists.com

© 2007 The Los Angeles Times

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