Monday, September 15th, 2008

Marvin Gaye On The 2008 Elections

In 1972, Marvin Gaye was coming off breakthrough success with What’s Going On. He moved to Los Angeles and turned his attention to the 1972 presidential election, which pitted Richard Nixon against George McGovern.

Nixon was trying to solidify what’s become known as the “Southern Strategy”, using racially coded language–crime, busing, welfare, radicalism–to mobilize a “Silent Majority” of white voters. McGovern, on the other hand, was depending on a coalition of anti-war progressives, young voters, and communities of color.

You can guess which side Marvin was on. His “You’re The Man” single ripped into Nixon for his lies.

Nixon went on to crush McGovern in the general in one of the most lopsided victories in recent memory. The Southern Strategy’s race-baiting politics is now one of the dominant electoral strategies in the country. It’s so ingrained in the fabric of post-civil rights electoral politics, we take it for granted.

If you have any doubt that the U.S. is far from “post-racial”, just check the latest mini-controversy prompted by Obama Waffles. The entrepreneurs behind these campaign products are so casually racist, it seems not much has changed among hard-line Republicans since 1972.

Many commentators have said that Obama’s coalition has many similarities to the McGovern campaign. But there is a key difference. Demographics have shifted strongly away from Nixonland. The rise of young voters and communities of color have completely changed the landscape of politics. In this context, Sarah Palin is an anomaly. Time itself is not on the side of the aging Nixonland electorate. But what happens in November remains to be seen.

Gaye cut another song in 1972, this time with the brilliant, largely unsung Mizell Brothers, called “Where Are We Going?” This one was much less angry–it was more of a mountaintop view of a turbulent and crucial season.

It ought to become the theme song for this historic election as well.

Thanks to O-Dub for the tech assist.

posted by @ 8:28 am | 5 Comments

5 Responses to “Marvin Gaye On The 2008 Elections”

  1. Anonymous says:

    so, the more things change, the more they stay the same, huh? actually, not sure i agree 100% with the parallel. Obama may be McGovern-esque, but McCain isnt exactly Nixonian, except in his propensity for being untruthful. also, you forget one key element here. Obama is the first hip-hop generation candidate. I shouldnt have to point this out to you, Jeff, but hip-hop didnt exist in 1972; the racial dynamic in this country was mainly black v. white; asians, latinos, gays, and hokey hockey moms (j/k) hadnt yet emerged as what mccain might call ‘special interest groups.’ also, the ‘war on drugs’ didnt exist yet; neither did the crack epidemic or the skyrocketing incarceration rates. white flight was still in full effect as well. ‘the wire’ hadnt been written nor conceived. There was no Internet. The point being that while race remains at the core of the GOP strategy, the issue itself has become more complex as America has become more consciously multicultural. Also the black vote isnt as pivotal as it once was — this year it could come down to women who respect their uteruses vs those who want to censor libraries on religious grounds. let’s hope there are more of the former. “You’re the Man” is a great song, but i’d take D Labrie’s “Vote for Barack” over it anyday for Obama. For MCain-Palin, their retro 50s shtick deservers something corny, like “yakety-yak (don’t talk back).”

  2. Zentronix says:

    are all yall anonymous posters the same person? i can’t please anyone these days. LOL.

  3. Anonymous says:


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  4. Zentronix says:

    Wow. Blog spam. I gets no respect!

  5. dlipkin says:

    Whoa. Asserting hip-hop’s birth year to Jeff Chang is like asserting to Carl Sagan that the surface temperatures on Venus are about 500 degree Celsius. You just don’t do it, friend.

    I’m just curious, Jeff (can I call you Jeff?): how many people with whom you speak consider the United States to be “post-racial?” That is a new term to me, and a laughable one, at that. It just implies so much that cannot be implied about our country, one that seems to be forever stuck within the quagmire of White Privilege and covert racism.

    And, speaking of White Privilege, you may have already read this, but I think this essay by Tim Wise really relates to your comments on the “Obama Waffles.” Pretty poignant, and even more important. I suppose conservatives reading it might react with the term “post-racial.”

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