Handicapping the Rhythm & Blues Candidates

If there has ever been a more depressing electoral prospect than the 2024 presidential race in American history, I’m not old enough to recall it.

First, it is not clear that either candidate of the two major political parties will be alive on Election Day. Joe Biden is already 81, and the White House recently assigned aides to walk beside him to obscure from public view the “halting and stiff gait” that comes with advancing age. Donald Trump will only be 78 next month, but he subsists on a diet of fatty fried foods and could succumb to a heart attack at any time, to the delight of his many detractors. It makes one long for Marianne Williamson, who started her career as “spiritual leader of the Church of Today,” but she has sadly dropped out of the race.

Williamson: “Maybe I could drop back in . . .”

 

Knowledgeable observers know that there is still hope and that the prognostications of the punditry are wrong–that’s what being knowledgeable is for. There is one American subculture that reliably produces a dark-horse candidate for the Presidency every four years, like clockwork, the Olympics and leap years. That’s right, the Rhythm & Blues Party.

 

Every since alto sax man Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson re-worked the Big Bill Broonzy hit “Just a Dream” with a verse that imagined him sitting in the President’s chair, the R&B Party has produced men of the hour who give hope to Americans disillusioned by partisan politics who just want to lay down a loose groove of funky stuff. You can’t tell the players without a scorecard, so print out this handy Election 2024 Guide, study it carefully and bring it to your neighborhood polling place this November.

Percy Mayfield: Out of contention, at least for this fall’s election, is Percy Mayfield, who sang “I Don’t Want to Be President.” Mayfield cited the very public nature of the job–his wife might find out about his girlfriend–and the ever-present risk of assassination: the need, for example, “to have someone taste my cognac before I could take a drink.”

 

Mayfield’s heir and successor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, a/k/a “The Gangster of Love,” similarly withdrew from the race, perhaps fearing exposure of his gangster ways, even though he was a decorated veteran, cited for his “funk beyond the call of duty.”

James Brown: Brown dipped his toe into presidential politics with “Funky President,” a cryptically coded thank you note to Gerald Ford, the man who pardoned Brown’s close friend Richard Nixon.

“Pat would like one of those brand new bags you mentioned.”

 

Sadly, Brown is legally disqualified from running because he is dead, but so what? That never stopped Calvin Coolidge.

 

Johnnie Taylor: Not to be confused with “Little Johnny Taylor,” regular-sized Johnnie Taylor supports public policy initiatives that preserve the nuclear family through hits such as “It’s Cheaper to Keep Her,” a diatribe against divorce, and “I Been Born Again,” a testimony to monagamy that echoes a theme popular with evangelicals.

Sadly, Taylor has also withdrawn his name from contention with the song “I Could Never be President,” echoing Mayfield’s concerns. It is a troubling commentary on our politics that good men with bodacious, honking Afros such as Taylor are discouraged from entering public life.

 

That leaves Louis Jordan, who declared his 1952 candidacy in “Jordan for President,” promising an administration that will “move you, groove you and keep you fit,” instead of Harold Stassen, “a hipster who takes no sassin.’

 

As French R&B fan Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “America is great because she is funky. If she ceases to be funky, she will cease to be great. Now everybody get up offa that thang.”

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