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Gary Silverman: "Let's Stay Together"

Gary Silverman

America, I’m so in love with you: Mr Romney is a bona fide senior citizen – three years older than Dwight Eisenhower was when the former general was first elected president…. [T]he Romney campaign displayed a cultural sensibility that recalled the times in this country when the only way a Little Richard song could get on mainstream radio was to have Pat Boone sing it…. Mr Romney counter-attacked with a commercial… [that] concluded with the president singing “I’m so in love with you”, a line from the old Al Green hit “Let’s Stay Together”…. Viewed from a tactical standpoint, I was surprised that the Romney camp used Mr Obama’s performance. I could see why Mr Obama featured Mr Romney in his commercial; the Republican’s warbling suggested a lack of harmony between his rhetoric and his record in government and the private equity business. But unlike Mr Romney, Mr Obama sang quite well, raising the question of why the opposition would show him off to his advantage, even in this limited sense.

One of the better answers I have found comes from a well-known supporter of Mr Romney – Suzy Welch, former editor in chief of the Harvard Business Review, and wife of Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric. In an appearance on CNN with her husband, Mrs Welch suggested that Mr Obama’s personal style and choice of musical material define him as a member of a “different America”. I would imagine this is why Mr Romney’s campaign included the snippet of Mr Obama singing “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. They hoped it would convey his otherness. “It’s the difference between the songs that they’re singing,” Mrs Welch said. “Mitt Romney didn’t exactly do a beautiful job on that song, but think about what he’s singing, OK? I mean it’s that patriotic song and he goes all the way through it. Then you’ve got the very cool Barack Obama singing Al Green. That is the two different Americas. Isn’t it?”

Putting aside the question of what this kind of thinking means for America (I’ll stick to the singular), I think it spells trouble for Mr Romney’s strategic effort because you have to be really old – or, I guess, spend a lot of time with someone really old – to hear “Let’s Stay Together” and think of it as a symbol of a “different America”. Al Green’s song topped the US pop charts more than four decades ago, in 1972…. The song – a paean to monogamy, whether times “are good or bad, happy or sad” – is so middle-of-the-road it has become part of that canon of 1960s and 1970s hits…