A dizzying array of Democratic presidential candidates — 19 in total — took the stage this weekend at the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame, offering a program of five-minute lightning talks that sounds to me like TEDxNinthCircleofHell. And each one had a different walk-off song, the implications of which the political media has been gleefully dissecting in response.
But their choices were all wrong.
I should assure you that in a world where a Twitter blue checkmark can lend a false sense of expertise to anyone who claims they know anything about a particular topic, I am an actual expert on walk-off songs. Back in 2005 I was in charge of putting together the walk-off song playlist for an annual charity ‘bachelor auction’ at my university and had to diffuse an argument because multiple young gentlemen wanted to use Big & Rich’s ‘Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy.’
So I’ve chosen a new walk-off for each candidate who was present at the Iowa event (from which Joe Biden was conspicuously absent). Shall we proceed?
Cory Booker, senator from New Jersey
What he used: ‘Lovely Day,’ Bill Withers
What he should be using: ‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ Bon Jovi
Why he should be using it: Speaking as a native of the Garden State, the guy from New Jersey has to use either a Bon Jovi or a Springsteen song, so that then his constituents can roll their eyes at him. Sorry — I don’t make the rules.
Eric Swalwell, representative from California’s 15th congressional district
What he used: ‘Caught Up in the Country,’ Rodney Atkins
What he should be using: ‘California Love,’ Tupac
Why he should be using it: Swalwell has to somehow be a little more exciting, and it is his home state, so…I guess it’ll do? Does anyone really care?
Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont
What he used: ‘Power to the People,’ John Lennon
What he should be using: ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire,’ Billy Joel
Why he should be using it: As a nod to the fact that Sanders still brands himself as a political outsider in spite of the fact he’s been in Congress since roughly around the same time this song was released.
Tulsi Gabbard, representative from Hawaii’s 2nd congressional district
What she used: ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,’ Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
What she should be using: ‘Livin’ On The Edge,’ Aerosmith
Why she should be using it: Because critics argue that many of Gabbard’s political decisions of the past few years are livin’ on the edge (of sanity).
Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend
What he used: ‘Never Giving Up,’ Batchelor
What he should be using: ‘Oxford Comma,’ Vampire Weekend
Why he should be using it: The man is a walking Vampire Weekend song…and I bet he has an opinion on Oxford commas, anyway. I mean, look at him.
Kamala Harris, senator from California
What she used: ‘Work That,’ Mary J. Blige
What she should be using: ‘Gin & Juice,’ Snoop Dogg
Why she should be using it: As a sly nod to her gaffe about listening to Snoop Dogg while smoking weed, as well as to shed off a bit of that hardline prosecutor image. Just a bit.
John Delaney, former representative from Maryland’s 6th congressional district
What he used: ‘I’ve Been Everywhere,’ Johnny Cash
What he should be using: ‘Once In A Lifetime,’ Talking Heads
Why he should be using it: ‘You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack / You may find yourself in another part of the world / You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile / And you may find yourself running for president even though no one has any idea who the hell you are / And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”’
Jay Inslee, governor of Washington
What he used: ‘Mr Blue Sky,’ Electric Light Orchestra
What he should be using: ‘Better Man,’ Pearl Jam
Why he should be using it: Because the only way he’s going to win the nomination is if Democratic voters legitimately can’t find a better man…and besides, Pearl Jam’s from Seattle.
Kirsten Gillibrand, senator from New York
What she used: ‘Good As Hell,’ Lizzo
What she should be using: ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,’ Cyndi Lauper
Why she should be using it: The most prominent piece of media I have seen recently about Gillibrand’s slow-to-gain-traction campaign was a video of her partying at a Pride celebration wielding a shot glass, so this seems on-brand.
Tim Ryan, representative from Ohio’s 13th congressional district
What he used: ‘Old Town Road,’ Lil Nas X
What he should be using: ‘Pretty Fly (For A White Guy),’ The Offspring
Why he should be using it: Literally the only thing I could tell you about Tim Ryan is that he’s a white guy. I don’t know how fly he is, for the record.
Andrew Yang, tech entrepreneur
What he used: ‘Return of the Mack,’ Mark Morrison
What he should be using: ‘Never Gonna Give You Up,’ Rick Astley
Why he should be using it: The mild-mannered, meme-famous Yang still suffers from low name recognition, so if he ‘Rickrolled’ everybody, it wouldn’t just be on-brand, it could get him some new headlines.
Marianne Williamson, author and spiritual guru
What she used: ‘Higher Ground,’ Stevie Wonder
What she should be using: ‘I Put A Spell On You,’ Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
Why she should be using it: She’s into that stuff, right?
Elizabeth Warren, senator from Massachusetts
What she used: ‘9 to 5,’ Dolly Parton
What she should be using: ‘Work Bitch,’ Britney Spears
Why she should be using it: ‘9 to 5’ is admittedly a good choice. But ‘Work Bitch’ gets across the same message while offering a set of lyrics that could help her get further in her attempts to convince voters she’s not a socialist.
John Hickenlooper, former governor of Colorado
What he used: ‘Good Life,’ OneRepublic
What he should be using: ‘Lose Yourself,’ Eminem
Why he should be using it: It’s pretty undoubtable that Eminem would have a lot of fun rhyming John Hickenlooper’s name into a song. Besides, based on polling, Hickenlooper is likely to lose (the primaries) himself.
Amy Klobuchar, senator from Minnesota
What she used: ‘Bullpen,’ Dessa
What she should be using: ‘Bitch,’ Meredith Brooks
Why she should be using it: Klobuchar can and should be using the rumors that she’s cut-throat and hard-edged to her advantage. Plus, this one is an easy karaoke song in case she wants to lighten things up a bit.
Steve Bullock, governor of Montana
What he used: ‘Small Town,’ John Mellencamp
What he should be using: ‘Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy,’ Big & Rich
Why he should be using it: Trust me, no walk-off playlist is complete without somebody using it, so it may as well be the guy from Montana.
Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City
What he used: ‘Rudie Can’t Fail,’ The Clash
What he should be using: ‘Rockstar,’ Nickelback
Why he should be using it: Because the best way Bill de Blasio could irritate people even more with his presidential campaign while simultaneously showing off his thirst for higher office would be to use this earworm of a Nickelback song. Watch out — he might actually use it.
Michael Bennet, senator from Colorado
What he used: ‘The Rising,’ Bruce Springsteen
What he should be using: ‘Bulls On Parade,’ Rage Against The Machine
Why he should be using it: I have read recently that Bennet’s brand is all about being the really angry guy. The uplifting ‘The Rising’ seems more on-brand for Cory Booker (also, the whole Jersey thing).
Beto O’Rourke, former representative from Texas’ 16th congressional district
What he used: ‘Clampdown,’ The Clash
What he should be using: ‘Epic,’ Faith No More
Why he should be using it: This generationally appropriate song contains the Beto-appropriate chorus of, ‘You want it all but you can’t have it / It’s in your face but you can’t grab it.’