TCS Daily

For Those About to Rock the Vote...

By Allan A. Guldberg - August 26, 2004 12:00 AM

US President George W. Bush has an uphill struggle to keep the White House in November -- especially now that he is being subjected to a barrage of... music from electric guitars. Naturally there has been a lot of media attention paid to the "Vote for Change" tour, which will roll through nine swing states, with concerts at different venues, starting in October. The tour is being headlined by such rock legends as Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, REM and Pearl Jam.

However, type the words "Rock Against Bush" into a Google search and you find a lot of other similar efforts. A company called Fat Wreck Records, run by NOFX guitarist Fat Mike, is publishing a series of compilation CDs with the title Rock Against Bush. This initiative will also culminate in a tour, with such leading lights in modern punk as Green Day, The Offspring and Fat Mike's own NOFX. Then there is something called Bands Against Bush, which started last year and includes a range of lesser known local bands.

So is Bush really going to be rocked out of office? Don't bet your skateboard on it.

The music channel MTV launched the Rock The Vote campaign in 1992, in an (almost) non-partisan effort to get young people to register and do their democratic duty. This is not in itself a bad idea, yet according to Fat Mike, who also runs the site, the problem is that "They do not tell people what to vote". In his opinion young people are a well-informed group of undecided voters who simply choose not to cast their ballots. They just need to be told what to think and do.

Democrats do tend to lead among first-time voters, and young people. In 2000 the 18-29-year-old vote section was split evenly, but first time voters went 52-43 percent for Al Gore. But with only 29 percent of that age group voting at all, one wonders if they will truly make history.

Have all of these musicians set out to endorse John Kerry? Well, not exactly. Their effort seems not to be so much an endorsement of the Democrats, as it is yet another part of the global anti-Bush campaign. If they really want to make an impact, the musicians behind Vote For Change should have more to say on the issue positively than just...Change. Yet that seems to be the only message they can come up with. Oh, and also they want a government that is open, rational, just and progressive -- as if these concepts were givens that do not need to be explained. Surely the lyrical likes of Dave Matthews, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Eddie Vedder can come up with something better than that?

And if they cannot, where does that leave them? Where we usually expect to find rock musicians, and have done for the last 30 years. On the easy, uncritically thinking, left (which is somehow associated with progress and protest) side of things. Nothing new there. Except of course, that now they are getting involved to heap abuses and insults (check out the song titles for the Rock Against Bush compilations here), on the president.

Sure, musicians would like to see themselves and their fans as having a central role in political life. But the evidence suggests they do not. They might tour the swing states, and might even get a couple of thousand young new voters lured into following them like the sheep Fat Mike wants them to be. Yet, for young people to make history, and actually swing the overall results? Hardly. The numbers are too small for that, and some people registering might actually resent being told what to think. Plus they have chosen a decidedly un-hip candidate to endorse. Which is maybe why they prefer not to mention him.

So enjoy the shows. I am sure they are going to be great. But if people keep their wits about them, they are only going to Rock the Night, not the Vote...

The Writer is a Dane who lives in Tel-Aviv and is a fellow of the Markedscentret think tank, Denmark. He freely admits that all bands mentioned in this article make regular appearances on his own CD-player


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