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Thursday, April 21, 2011

President Obama Douses S.F. Crowd with Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America" -- a Republican Favorite

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2011 at 11:38 AM

iPhone photo of President Obama in S.F., taken from outer space.
  • iPhone photo of President Obama in S.F., taken from outer space.

It was all pretty Blue State in San Francisco last night: President Obama flew to the fundraiser from a gathering at Facebook. He got a ride in Marine 1, the presidential helicopter, and commented to the assembled masses at Nob Hill Masonic Center about the beauty of flying by the Golden Gate Bridge. He talked about clean energy, and technology, and health care, and education, and his re-election campaign. The crowd was pretty much ecstatic. Before the president spoke, Oakland songstress Goapele performed covering "A Change is Gonna Come," and a few of her own hits, including "Closer." She wore a radiant blue dress -- and very, very short hair.

But after Obama's speech, things took a turn straight for middle America: the President walked offstage to Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America" -- a song he not only used toward the end of the '08 campaign, but also swiped from the Republicans. "Only in America," as writer Chris Willman has capably explained, is a Republican favorite. Last night, the song landed in the middle of the auditorium like a rare porterhouse at a vegan barbecue.

But, er, in a good way. It's hard to imagine a more friendly place for Obama than S.F. (You should have seen the elated reception Nancy Pelosi got.) But you don't hear Brooks and Dunn a lot in San Francisco. Hearing a country anthem like "Only in America" -- a sort of we're-all-in-this-together tune whose message is pretty apolitical -- felt like a strong, cold, and useful reminder that the guy has a lot more people to win over than a bunch of young urbanites. 

But "Only in America" isn't blind patriotism; even thought it become a staple after Sept. 11, the song doesn't exactly present the U.S. in a perfect light. Also it's kinda good:


Brooks & Dunn played it at the Bush inauguration in 2000. At the 2004 GOP convention, Dick Cheney used it as his exit music after his speech. And President Bush frequently used it on the campaign trail four years ago, even asking Brooks & Dunn to come out and play it live at rallies in the final week of the race. So you have to think its sudden repurposing served two purposes for the Democrats. Number one, it told millions of Americans that Obama is heartland-friendly enough to use a country smash rather than a ditty to cap off perhaps the most critical moment of his career to date. And number two, for anyone aware of the tune's political history, it was also a subtle, funny, knowing tweak -- too benign to really count as an old-school dirty trick, but almost in that risible spirit.
Last night it kind of felt like a backwards trick: Obama was reminding his supporters in San Francisco that, while they may be upset about gay marriage, the Dream Act, and a whole host of other unfulfilled desires, his political future is going to require their support -- and the support of lots of Americans who hear Brooks & Dunn a lot more often than most of us San Franciscans do.

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