Protest Song Of The Week: ‘If You Want To Be President’ by The Fugs
The Fugs are one of the best protest bands in the history of music in the United States. They played at demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
Songs the band recorded were intensely political and often satirical. They participated in the march on the Pentagon, where several people tried to levitate the headquarters.
A strain of cynicism underpinned many of the lyrics. “If You Want To Be President” is no different.
In the 1980s, Fugs members Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg performed reunion concerts. One of the songs played is this one about President Ronald Reagan’s invasion of Grenada, in which they give advice on how to be president for a long time.
It approaches the style of a reggae punk song and has a mischievous vibe.
“If you want to be president a very long while, be sure you invade a very small isle,” they sing. “For if it is tiny and it’s soldiers are few, they’ll never make a fool out of you.”
Cutting right to the core of the issue, the Fugs sing, “You may kill with impunity, kill for a lark, if the color of your victims is rather dark. And all of the Americans will love you too if the total dead Americans is rather few.”
Invading a place like Grenada is much better than Vietnam. It is easier to invade, “kill people for their own good,” and avoid a political jam.
The Fugs add, “Always kill people for their own good,” and, “Postpone the elections that you said you sought. For what if the results are not what they ought?”
It becomes even more biting as they suggest all Americans be protected. “Kill a lesser breed.”
“Someone else’s suffering is interesting to see. You can watch it every night on CBS or NBC,” the Fugs say, as they comment on the media’s role in enabling war.
Unlike a nuclear war, which would end humanity as we know it, why not have one, two, or three Vietnams?
The Fugs satirize how Reagan can be a model to future leaders of the world, but over thirty years later, it all has too much truth to it. In fact, if the Fugs were still around to update the song, they might update it to reflect the role of drones in enabling presidents to “kill for good.” They might sing about how drones have wide support from Americans because they make it possible to kill dark-skinned people without putting Americans in harm’s way. And they might be singing about how being champions of this new form of warfare will help them be president for a very long while.
Listen to “If You Want To Be President”: