Judging Presidential Candidates on What Really Matters—Their Taste in Popular Culture

This week finally sees an end to the presidential primaries in Pennsylvania—hallelujah! With so much time, so many similarities between the candidates (at least on the Democrat side), and so little to do between primary contests, people have started complaining that the focus of the presidential campaigns has moved away from the real issues and towards more superficial matters. But while we’re judging the candidates on inconsequential things, why not take a look at their tastes in popular culture?

We’ll start with the home team, and do the Chappaqua resident first:

Hillary Clinton

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Favorite Movies:
Usually in interviews, Clinton gives the short answer of Casablanca when you ask for her favorite film. However, she does go into more detail on her
Facebook profile, adding to the list Out of Africa and The Wizard of Oz, because “I just loved imagining myself being there with Dorothy and being part of that great adventure she had.”

Favorite Books:
Clinton delves into her favorite books in
O, the Oprah Magazine, and her list is thorough and varied: Little Women, The Poisonwood Bible, The Color Purple, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Wild Swans, West with the Night, and The Joy Luck Club. Her MySpace page lists Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin as her most recently read book.

Favorite TV Shows:
Uh-oh, someone’s a McDreamy fan. Hillary told
Essence that Grey’s Anatomy is her favorite show. She also admitted to TV Guide that she has a soft spot for HGTV makeover shows (perhaps she’s planning renovations for her Chappaqua estate—or the White House), and she also watches Antiques Roadshow, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars. Her favorite TV program of all-time is The Ed Sullivan Show.

Favorite Music/Campaign Song:
While her Facebook page lists Carly Simon as a recent purchase and Aretha Franklin, the Rolling Stones, and U2 as faves, when it came time to pick a campaign song, she left it up to her supporters. According to
MSNBC.com, the pool of possible songs included U2’s “City of Blinding Lights,” KT Tunstall’s “Suddenly I See,” Smash Mouth’s “I’m a Believer,” the Temptations’s “Get Ready,” the Dixie Chicks’ “Ready to Run” (a gutsy move considering the Dixie Chicks’s run-in with Bush), Shania Twain’s “Rock This Country,” U2’s “Beautiful Day,” Jesus Jones’s “Right Here, Right Now,” and The Staple Singers’s “I’ll Take You There.” The winner was declared: “You and I” by Celine Dion (a Canadian who presumably can’t vote in the election). Later, however, Clinton tired of the Las Vegas show-woman and took to entering events to “Blue Sky” by Big Head Todd and the Monsters, at least according to ABC News.

Up next, Obama:

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Barack Obama

Favorite Movies:
It seems Obama and Clinton agree on more than the need for universal healthcare. Both list Casablanca as their favorite movie. In addition, Obama’s
Facebook profile rounds out his top five with The Godfather I & II, Lawrence of Arabia, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Favorite Books:
Obama seems to favor the big literary heavyweights, listing Song of Solomon, Moby Dick, Shakespeare’s tragedies, Parting the Waters, Gilead, Self-Reliance, the Bible, and Lincoln’s collected writings as some of his favorite reading matter.

Favorite TV Shows:
The candidate told TV Guide that he enjoys Monday Night Football, SportsCenter, M*A*S*H, and even SpongeBob SquarePants, which he watches with his daughter. But nothing made a bigger splash than his admission that he’s a fan of The Wire. After mentioning that his favorite character is the less-than-lawful Omar, Obama had to make sure that the
Las Vegas Sun wrote: “That’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character.”

Favorite Music/Campaign Song:
Obama lists his favorites as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johann Sebastian Bach (cello suites), and the Fugees. Yet the real story here could be how much musicians love him.
CNN reported that Obama has been name-checked by hip-hop artists like Talib Kweli, Common, and an Asian-American rapper named Jin. “Jin’s song is so popular online that the Obama campaign is offering it as a free cell phone ring-tone on its Web site,” they wrote. As for Obama, CNN reports he says he’s “old school, so generally, generally, I’m more of a jazz guy, a Miles Davis, a John Coltrane guy, more of a Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder kind of guy. But having said that, I’m current enough that on my iPod I’ve got a little bit of Jay-Z. I’ve got a little Beyonce.” Yet when it came time to pick a campaign song, Obama left the Coltrane behind for the Bob the Builder-esque “Yes We Can,” written by Andy Fraser of the band Free.

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My $0.02
Judging purely by pop-culture preferences and not by politics or policies, I’d say this round goes to Obama. Clinton has been accused of “triangulating,” and I can see a same process at work in her entertainment tastes. American Idol and Grey’s Anatomy are two of the most popular programs on television, so there’s no risk in getting behind them. And notice how her favorite books cross almost every major voting demo? On the other hand, Obama’s quote about Omar from The Wire shows that he realizes your pop-culture preferences don’t have to reflect your personal politics—it’s just entertainment.

This opinion reverses when it comes to the candidates’ campaign songs. Obama has really cool taste in music; I wish he had picked a better, jazzier, less market-tested-up-with-people campaign song. Clinton on the other hand tried to find a song that would appeal to a wide swath of Americans by using her Web 2.0 voting scheme—and when the song got annoying, she ditched it for another by a band few people have heard of. Way to go, Clinton.

Don’t think the Republicans are going to escape my scruntiny:

John McCain

Favorite Movies:
McCain actually seems like a bit of a movie buff. His favorite film is Viva Zapata with Marlon Brando, but he told
SlashFilm that he recently enjoyed “The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Identity, Mission: Impossible (‘I like those kinds of things, the car chases’), The Departed (‘It’s pretty rough, but I kind of liked it. Nicholson plays too much Nicholson’), and Syriana (‘I enjoyed Syriana, although a lot of people didn’t’).” In addition to action flicks, he digs political films. That’s not a huge shock, but what did surprise me is that he’s apparently seen both versions of The Manchurian Candidate. “I enjoyed both versions of The Manchurian Candidate, but in the first version Angela Lansbury was just phenomenal,” he told Variety V Life (via Monsters and Critics). In that same interview, he says “My other favorite political film is All the King’s Men because I think that Huey Long was a larger-than-life figure in American politics.”

Favorite Books:
It’s hard to find more about McCain’s favorite books than what’s listed on his
Facebook profile (For Whom the Bell Tolls favorite book, Hemingway, favorite author), but the Chicago Tribune managed to break the news that he’s currently reading Einstein, His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson.

Favorite TV Shows:
McCain told TV Guide that his favorite show of all time is I, Claudius, and his current faves are “24, Lost, Damages, The Daily Show, The Tonight Show, Late Show, The Sopranos—and Prison Break, ‘because as a fellow prisoner, I always dreamed and plotted how I would break out of the Hanoi Hilton.'” Yet he didn’t make the gossip pages of celebrity magazines until he got an unlikely endorsement from Heidi Montag, one of the teen stars of The Hills. John McCain told
Time magazine’s Swampland, “I’m honored to have Heidi’s support and I want to assure her that I never miss an episode of The Hills, especially since the new season started.”

Favorite Music/Campaign Song:
McCain doesn’t even list his favorite music on his Facebook profile, and, when pushed, he just says “Fifties and Sixties rock ’n’ roll,” according to the
Washingtonian. (They also report that his favorite song is “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” and his favorite album is Songs for Swingin’ Lovers! by Frank Sinatra, neither of which is very rock ‘n’ roll.) As for a campaign song, once Edwards dropped out of the race, McCain swiped John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” and “Our Country” to use as entrance music—until, as Rolling Stone reports, Mellencamp complained (he’s an Edwards supporter). Maybe next time, McCain can get some advice about music from his daughter Meghan, a music blogger at www.McCainBloggette.com.

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