My first introduction to Randy Newman was his album Sail Away. It belonged to the sister of a friend of mine and it was a revelation. It was probably the album that caused me to start writing songs because the second or third song I ever wrote was a clear ripoff of “Old Man” off the album — still a song I greatly admire. But today we are doing offensive songs and so I’m going with “Political Science.”
In general, when Randy Newman does a song in character, he takes it to extremes. But in “Political Science,” I think he’s pretty accurate. He’s presenting a kind of John Birch Society narrative that everyone is against us and we should just bomb them into the stone age. Sadly, what used to be a fringe position is now pretty standard in the Republican Party.
I keep hearing people talking about just bombing ISIS away. There is little understanding that ISIS controls lots of people who are far bigger victims of ISIS than we are. And in the name of our cowards’ being able to rest easy at night, we should kill all these innocent people?! Of course, when it is put like this, people normally backtrack. But still we hear about “carpet bombing” and making the “sands glow.”
In “Political Science” we have a similar cowardly, resentful outlook. It starts, “No one likes us; I don’t know why; we may not be perfect; but heaven knows we try.” Oh, how often I’ve heard that sentiment! In fact, I used to believe that. In the film The Killing Fields, Spalding Gray as the US Consul gives a little speech in which he talks about the noble aspirations of our country and how we have gone against them at every step in southeast Asia. Uh, no. That’s all grammar school propaganda. The noble aspirations are for the folks back home so that they keep the killing machine well funded.
I could easily write 10,000 words going over the song line by line. It is filled with so many conservative myths, it’s like a dissertation on movement conservatism in a two minute song. It’s filled with things like all the money we give to other countries (not true). And then there is what I think of as the Real Bush Doctrine: “Let’s drop the big one and see what happens.” Let’s just give it a try and hope for the best.
But as always when he is at his best, Newman is funny as hell in “Political Science.” That’s especially true in the bridge, “We’ll save Australia…” They got surfing too!