President Barack Obama is currently living the second-term curse. With his most recent Gallup poll showing his approval rating hovering around 43%, the magical optimism of his early days is waning or gone.
But back in the glory days of his 2012 campaign, a more carefree Obama released a playlist of his favorite songs, featuring an eclectic mix of soul, gospel, funk, classic rock, indie rock and a surprising amount of country. It was a damn good playlist — but there's more to it than that. The songs were released for political attention, and together they form an interesting sort of political philosophy.
It seems the president would do well with some close listening. Taken together, 14 of these tracks amount to some pretty great political advice.
1. "Let's Stay Together" by Al Green
I just can't deceive
You'd ... never do that to me ... (would you, baby?)
In his silky smooth, soulful masterpiece, Al Green proves that only deception can destroy true love. Even love with Al Green.
He probably wasn't thinking about politics when he wrote that, but nobody really could have anticipated the intense infatuation of American liberals with Obama. They also couldn't really anticipate the complete lack of trust the American people, like many a deceived lover before them, now harbor towards the government. Americans' trust in government is running pretty low these days, and that needs to change before anything else can get better.
2. "Mr. Blue Sky" by The Electric Light Orchestra
At first listen it seems such a happy song, but the last verse has some sinister undertones:
Mr. Blue you did it right,
But soon comes Mr. Night,
Creepin' over, now his
Hand is on your shoulder,
Nevermind, I'll remember you this way.
One of the biggest criticisms of Obama throughout his presidency is that he often comes off as an equivocal, professorial (translation: even-handed and reasonable) downer in his speeches. His first debate with Mitt Romney in the 2012 election was a prime example. He lost that debate because he couldn't match Romney's enthusiasm.
People have always responded to Obama's optimism — his hope for a brighter future and insistence that this country can change is what got him elected in the first place. He has to keep this enthusiasm high despite the difficulties he faces in Congress, or he's only going to be remembered as the pretty face on the "Hope" poster who thought we could and then couldn't.
3. "Roll With the Changes" by REO Speedwagon
So, if you're tired of the same old story, oh, turn some pages
I will be here when you are ready to roll with the changes
The fact that Obama chose an REO Speedwagon song to promise a progressive second term maybe should have raised some red flags. But the persistence the song stands for is more valid now than ever — six years in, graying like hell, Obama is epitomizing the song's chorus. He's got to stay in a holding pattern (and force some hands) to get the opposition to roll with the changes.
4. "Learn To Live" by Darius Rucker
You gotta make some stances and take some chances
There is a plethora of issues that the Obama administration have not yet taken firm stances on: marriage inequality, the Keystone XL pipeline, immigration reform, Internet surveillance and the closing of Guantanamo Bay.
But even if Obama can't get any laws passed on any of these matters, it's still worth taking a firm stand on them. At the very least we'll get to see where our elected leaders in Congress also stand on the issue and what the negotiations might look like.
5. "Got To Get You Into My Life" by Earth, Wind, and Fire
I was alone, I took a ride, I didn't know what I would find there
Another road where maybe I could see another kind of mind there
Originally written by The Beatles, this song is, first and foremost, about taking psychedelic drugs. Weed and psychedelics did wonders for The Beatles' music (mostly by helping them kick their speed and cocaine habits) and weed will likely do wonders for our country's debt problem if more states go forward with legalization.
Marijuana legalization could be a serious legacy-maker for Obama. Who knows — maybe if he partook he could reintroduce some of the "Mr. Blue Sky" vibe to his presidency.
6. "Different People" by No Doubt
All the different people
And all their different minds
And different ways
It would take a lifetime to explain
America's diversity has made this nation the constantly inspired, vivacious and polyglot superpower it is today. And all you need to do is read Dreams From My Father to know Obama is a full believer in how important diversity is to our country.
Now that the health care battle is nearing an end, Obama should consider tackling those immigration reforms he promised six years ago actually to support this diversity.
7. "Volare" by Gipsy Kings
This is sort of the odd man out on Obama's list and the lyrics are definitely in Spanish. But it raises, yet again, the question of his immigration loyalties. Obama spends a lot of time in interviews deflecting questions about his stance on the issue, but he's still being characterized as "deporter-in-chief" by many of his previous supporters.
8. "Keep On Pushin'" by The Impressions
Look a yonder
What's that I see?
A great big stone wall
Stands there ahead of me.
But I've got my pride
And I'll move the wall aside
And keep on pushin'
It's true that Republicans have said time and time again that they will do everything in their power to stonewall Obama on immigration reform (and health care, obviously) but Obama's continued and loud insistence is the only thing that will make get these issues across — it isn't a question of reflecting and strategizing, it's a question of force. Keep immigration reform as a part of the cultural conversation and, one day, change will come.
9. "Whip My Hair" by Willow Smith
Obama was likely logging a favor for campaign donor Will Smith when he added this to his campaign playlist. She's a quality singer, sure, but we aren't going to encourage him to rely on her wisdom too much.
10. "Wavin' Flag" by K'Naan
So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
This song's inclusion on the list has become cruelly ironic. So many of the abuses of power that K'Naan cites throughout the lyrics are things Obama has been accused of on numerous occasions. He continues to seek war in Syria against the wishes of Congress and the American people, he's ramped up drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan in spite of protests from foreign politicians (leading some to criticize him for normalizing the wartime state) and he has yet to achieve the job numbers he promised on his campaign trail.
11. "Treat 'Em Right" by Chubb Rock
In your hearts and minds never forget Yusef Hawkins
Chubb Rock raps in a pretty inoffensive, hippity-hop style, but this song still has some heavy subject matter. Namely, Rock raps about the death of Yusef Hawkins, a high-profile racially motivated killing, reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin case.
We can only hope Obama is still working on the vague plan to prevent similar tragedies he said he was "bouncing around with [his] staff" around the time of the Martin tragedy. But Rock's Hawkins line is a cruel reminder that, too often, these cases do fade from memory.
Just because gun violence and racial profiling haven't made the news of late does not mean the people don't want — and need — progress on these fronts.
12. "Get Right" by Jennifer Lopez
I'm about to sign you up, we can get right
Before the night is up, we can get
get riiiiiiiight get riiiiiiight
This is the first of two songs on the playlist that feature "sign up" puns. Obama clearly took note here on his recent Between Two Ferns appearance. J-Lo can get people to sign up for anything — pop culture holds an almighty sway.
But let this be a warning to the president: Don't let your advertising plugs for Healthcare.gov get as obnoxious as this bleating horn sample.
13. "We Used To Wait" by Arcade Fire
We used to wait
We used to waste hours just walking around
Some things — such as economic recovery, for one — take time. And waiting for them builds character, just like waiting for a letter (at least according to Wyn Butler). Economic recovery and job creation do not happen at a breakneck pace. He has two years, but he — and we — needs to stay patient.
14. "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" by Stevie Wonder
Oo, baby, here I am, signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours!
Another sign-up song, but there's a deeper meaning here. During his first inauguration, Obama looked completely carefree dancing to this song as Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Jamie Foxx and Mariah Carey serenaded him. There's always room for joy — and self-care — in a life. And the nation's leader should still put himself first every so often.