Marvin Gaye On The 2008 Elections: A Musical Interlude

10/16/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In 1972, Marvin Gaye was coming off breakthrough success with What's Going On. He moved to Los Angeles and turned his attention to the 1972 presidential election, which pitted Richard Nixon against George McGovern.

Nixon was trying to solidify what's become known as the "Southern Strategy", using racially coded language -- crime, busing, welfare, radicalism -- to mobilize a "Silent Majority" of white voters. McGovern, on the other hand, was depending on a coalition of anti-war progressives, young voters, and communities of color.

You can guess which side Marvin was on. His "You're The Man" single ripped into Nixon for his lies.

Nixon went on to crush McGovern in the general in one of the most lopsided victories in recent memory. The Southern Strategy's race-baiting politics is now one of the dominant electoral strategies in the country. It's so ingrained in the fabric of post-civil rights electoral politics, we take it for granted.

If you have any doubt that the U.S. is far from "post-racial", just check the latest mini-controversy prompted by Obama Waffles. The entrepreneurs behind these campaign products are so casually racist, it seems not much has changed among hard-line Republicans since 1972.

Many commentators have said that Obama's coalition has many similarities to the McGovern campaign. But there is a key difference. Demographics have shifted strongly away from Nixonland. The rise of young voters and communities of color have completely changed the landscape of politics. In this context, Sarah Palin is an anomaly. Time itself is not on the side of the aging Nixonland electorate. But what happens in November remains to be seen.

Gaye cut another song in 1972, this time with the brilliant, largely unsung Mizell Brothers, called "Where Are We Going?" This one was much less angry -- it was more of a mountaintop view of a turbulent and crucial season.

It ought to become the theme song for this historic election as well.

Originally published at

Thanks to O-Dub for the tech assist.