If campaign rallies are any indication, John Mellencamp is the most popular musician of our time. Virtually every presidential campaign uses the pro-America, pro-common-sense values embedded within the prose of “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A,” and Republican frontrunner John McCain is no exception. “Ain’t that America, home of the free,” sings Mellencamp (who is, ironically, a John Edwards supporter), inciting the 500-plus McCain supporters gathering inside the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park to slowly rock back and forth. Next up is Van Halen’s “Jump,” and Eddie shreds the faces off a group of Korean War veterans who probably didn’t know they were going to get an earful of rolling synth lines when they went out tonight.
But David Lee Roth is just the opener for the night’s balding, 71-year-old rock star, and McCain doesn’t disappoint his fan base, providing all the hits—with such favorites as “I will follow bin Laden to the gates of hell” and “Ronald Reagan used to say …” as well as a new crowd favorite, “I don’t care who it is [Clinton or Obama], I’m going to beat either one of them like a drum.” His supporters chant “Mac is back! Mac is back!” and wave signs at him as if to remind the surely exhausted candidate of his own name. Children dragged to the event by their parents hold up crayon-drawn “Kids love McCain” signs, a promising indication that perhaps he has locked up the all-important “under 12” vote.
As McCain tells a few jokes about his days in the Armed Forces, two shrill voices from the back of the room being chanting, “Ron Paul! Ron Paul!” One woman and one fully bearded man holding a “McCain = 5 generations of Iraq War” sign have penetrated the event, much to the annoyance of the crowd. “Aw now c’mon. Ron Paul people come to a lot of my rallies, and they’re always polite,” McCain says as the duo continues to shriek. “Oh, come on. He’s gonna be OK.” Ron Paul’s soldiers are escorted out, paving the way for twenty distraction-free minutes of policy discussion and Irish jokes. With a full smile and a couple of thumbs up, McCain leaves to a friendly round of applause just as guitars strum and the all too familiar voice of John Mellencamp bellows over the electorate.
“This is ouuuurrrr country.” (Andy Seifert)