J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer & Jefferson Pitcher strike a pose for their ‘Mortal Men’ project
Whether you pulled a lever or pressed a screen at your local polling place this afternoon, one simple question may have crossed your mind in the months leading up to today’s historical election: What if I was president? Not Obama, the Mac Attack or Nader–me, the guy or gal that can’t figure out what to wear in the morning, let alone solutions to our mounting financial meltdown.
That’s what we asked J. Matthew Gerken, Christian Kiefer and Jefferson Pitcher, the songwriting team behind Of Great and Mortal Men: 43 Songs for 43 U.S. Presidencies. Originally conceived as an entry in “February Album Writing Month“–a call for people to write 14 cuts in 28 days–the three-disc set tackles every administration in song form with the help of such esteemed guests as Califone, Rosie Thomas, Bill Callahan (Smog), Alan Sparhawk (Low), Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon), Marla Hansen (Sufjan Stevens), Vince DiFiore (Cake), James Jackson Toth (Wooden Wand), and Tom Carter (Charalambides).
Given the trio’s answers, and the additional two-cents of their many collaborators, the following provides more pointed policies than all of the presidential debates combined …
Believe me, you don’t want to know. I’d be 20-percent Teddy Roosevelt, 5-percent William F. Buckley and 75-percent Ron Paul. And I’d pass a law restricting copious amounts of reverb on vocals.
If I reached it, if I got that far, if my achievement(s) allowed me to, let’s say, appear from a dark place, a green room, thru the slit of a curtain, lead by guards down a length of red carpet, up steps to a lectern and a crowd of signs, streamers, confetti, and supporters, shit!
Let’s assume some things first. For starters, I remained incorruptible; I had a good team, the kind who kept clean records and believed in the cause. I had the right kind of advisors, the kind who’d warn, “Watch out there, Sir! Watch out for that pothole!” I wasn’t all too jaded from the past, from all the times people said, “No,” or “Not today,” or “No thanks,” or “I’m going with the other guy. I had good and diverse celebrities, like Springsteen, Opera, John Stewart, Martha Stewart, that actor from Independence Day who worries so much he calls his mother, Kid Rock, Lou Diamond Phillips, Russel Means, James Woods, Tiger Woods, Paris, Portia, Ellen, Cruise, Madonna, Shaq, Lindsey, Maya Angelou, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Madsen, Fiona Apple, Wynonna Judd, Judd Nelson, John Cameron Mitchell, and Denzel. I had the elderly; I was in the service, or at least had a good reason why not. I had the right hair and the right clothes and the right look, that women loved me, and men weren’t threatened. I could summon Twain when needed, summon Lincoln, summon Ellison, summon Robert Bly, Sam Shepard, Mel Brooks, Shakespeare, Margaret Mead, etc. I had a strong supportive wife who could be quick-tongued and witty, charming, elegant, beautiful, graceful, unafraid, and seen as a First Lady not standing in the way of anything by the rest of the administration.
Main points? Who needs main points!
The immediate balkanization of the United States of America. (I’d even move back to Cascadia.)
Jesse Elliott of These United States
A rainbow for every child! Mark Twain as Secretary of State! Families eat free on Tuesdays at Ben’s Chili Bowl! War is to be waged via vigorous Shakespeare quotationing! First one to the tip-top of Alaska wins the governorship of a state of their choice for one month! Laughter! Eyes! Empathy! Etc!
Get out of Iraq; stop all subsides to oil corporations, increase funding for alternative energy research by 100 fold, excluding ethanol which, of course, is a scam; find Bin Laden and string him up by his balls; institute nationalized health care; slow down economic globalization; a greater commitment to preserving the environment and preventing habitat loss; election reform: one person, one vote; make hand guns illegal; legalize marijuana; and attempt to convince the world that we’re not really the jack-asses we appear to be.
J. Matthew Gerken
- Internalize all externalities of land market exchanges. If you are going to live in a drivable suburban environment, that’s fine, but you get to pay your share of the roads (construction and maintenance), air pollutant mitigation including carbon dioxide offsets, agricultural land loss, and so forth. Federal legislation directs local governments to so distribute costs in the local entitlement process. Could partly be implemented through a substantial increase in gas tax.
- Bring the US into the 20th century (and then the 21st century) with respect to high-speed rail and public transportation. There is no need for inter-regional air travel and certainly not driving. The federal government can make great strides toward providing the infrastructure that will get us the roughly 40 to 50-percent shift in trips away from the single occupant vehicle and toward public transportation. Transportation funding will be tied to regional progress toward 25-percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and 80-percent cut by 2050 (or some similar established goal).
- Restructure our approach to national defense by permanently shifting some huge amount of resources away from the DOD and toward establishing a UN-based peacekeeping force not bent on protecting the interests of western oil companies but rather the interests of humankind.
- Rename Reagan National Airport to anything else … Robert F. Kennedy Airport, something else … The actions during this administration were absolutely abominable and only our general disinterest and lack of engagement prevents riots in the streets over any favorable public tribute to this disaster of a presidency.
- Abolish sign trucks. (Hee hee!)
Chris Grabau of Magnolia Summer
With the absolute nightmare we’ve endured over the last eight years, there seems to be so many things wrong that I’m not sure where to start. However, if I were to run for president, the main points of my presidential platform would be energy independence with an emphasis on sustainability and placing a focus on social justice while completely redirecting our military industrial complex to provide universal health care and education reform.
Dean Haakenson of Be Brave Bold Robot
- A general effort to get the nation to consume less, reuse more, stop driving gasoline vehicles, consisting loosely of a nationwide, fairly drastic, but reasonably gradual, capping of the amount of pollutants put out by manufacturing plants in the nation … with penalty taxes and subsequent regulatory enforcement for manufacturers who do not comply.
- An incentive program to urge automobile manufactures to cut down on the amount of gasoline engine vehicles produced, and to produce more renewable energy vehicles to compensate.
- All federally owned buildings to be outfitted with solar panels–transparent ones in the windows.
- A federal program wherein research and funding are provided to the most urban areas (to begin with) to promote and construct mass transit systems. Get America to realize that “a car for every person” is not perhaps the best philosophy.
- Absolute separation of church and state: Before it’s born (i.e. able to survive on its own, breathe air, other medical definitions I must research), a fetus is not a human being, as it pertains to the law.
- Let whoever the hell wants to get married, get married. Humans only.
- Start taxing professional sports organizations … heavily.
- Increased diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world’s nations in an effort to decrease war.
- Promote the idea that it costs way too much money for people to compete with wealthy established politicians in major political elections, and that it should be easier for “regular people” to run for offices–all sorts of offices, and perhaps more government public service announcements that fairly promote and examine each and every candidate, during heated election times.
- Heavily increased federal taxes on any personal and corporate income over a certain reasonable amount (say, $5 million personal).
Marla Hansen of My Brightest Diamond/Sufjan Stevens
Oh dear. This is hard cause I would never ever ever ever run for president. It’s an impossible job. Do you see how it ages people? But if I had to …
- Health care for everybody. Duh.
- Stop the war. Duh.
- Take the money from the war and put it towards education and the environment.
- Keep gas prices high. Unfortunately it’s the only way people will start to really try and conserve on a national scale.
- Sign any and all international treaties that support the environment right away. Duh.
- Lock up those idiots who sold all those high risk mortgages to poor people.
- Stop deciding we have to be afraid of a new country every six months.
Hmm, I tried to be straightforward and that was boring. Tried to be funny but bombed. Decided to take a typical Republican platform point and bend it to my will to try and show some parody. Stopped before I went to far overboard. So here’s my “Pro-Life” platform …
Whereas a pro-life stance inherently promotes the acknowledgment of the sanctity of life, an elevated quality of life and standard of living for not only Americans, but people of all nations, I hereby propose the following agenda:
- an advocation of policy that restricts preemptive military strikes and further limits rogue over-extension of executive power in matters of military action
- discontinuance of certain indiscriminate weaponry, i.e. carpet bombs and delayed fuse armaments
- use of scientific research to save lives w/o constrictions of religious beliefs
- gun restriction w/emphasis on types most often used in homicidal violence
- allowance for assisted suicide when quality of life falls to unacceptable levels due to disease process
- no government intervention in a woman’s reproductive rights
- no government intervention or restriction on the make-up of the family unit and/or unions between consenting adults other than to provide and apply universal benefits and legal protections
- placing high priority on the health of Americans by: promoting reliable and consistent government-sponsored health care for all citizens; mitigating environmental degradation that threatens human health and existence by increasing funding to alternative fuel/energy research and development and by increasing restrictions and tax-burdens on polluting entities; preventing and fighting disease internationally by providing higher quantities of low-cost vaccinations and treatments; contraception with low priority on marketplace implications and religious constricts
- advocation of a secure and safe home front by promoting effective diplomatic dialogue w/all willing nations and the development of broad-based consensus to confront international threats
I would try to engender an understanding that business should not and cannot be the de facto unit for all transactions, despite our adherence to capitalism. By this I mean: health care, health care, health care. I also believe that the military is important to America, but would like to heed Eisenhower’s warning about the military industrial complex. Let’s work for a military less beholden to big business and hence one utilized with better ethical and moral restraint. I’d also like to point out that Risk and Monopoly are fun games to play, but what America has been doing in the world is starting to feel more like Russian roulette. To that end, I’d bring Carter back into the government as my foreign policy advisor.
I find it rather depressing that my answer to these statements would not only keep me from winning, but would keep me from any chance at all. Nevertheless, I would have eight points for 2008.
- Media democracy: I would restructure our media, severely limiting the number of media outlets any one corporation can own and operate, and I would instill ways to reward media who report truthful and important matters.
- Corporations and political funding: I would remove all corporate funding from politics, and overturn the law that exempts corporations from accountability for their actions. I would severely cut advertising and put in place strict laws limiting billboards, print ads, places where ads may be displayed, etc.
- Farming: I would strongly subsidize small farmers.
- Health care: I would severely cut our defense budget spending and put that money into a socialized universal health care system.
- Education: I would put a great deal more funding into public education, cut standardized testing, put more money into the arts in schools, pay teachers considerably more than what they are currently paid, and revise outdated curriculum.
- Environment: I would drastically alter the laws for automobile manufacturers regarding gas mileage on vehicles. I would develop a much more efficient public transportation system. I would offer rewards and subsidies in large sum that help offset and reduce our environmental footprint.
- Peace: I would pull all troops from Iraq, and begin establishing peace in the Middle East by pulling Israel out of Palestine and giving Palestinians back their land in some form of compromise.
- Internet democracy: I would work to make sure that the Internet remains a free and democratic space, keeping corporations out.