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"I Use The Shuffle Feature Because I Like To Shake Things Up*"

Let's say you're a politician who wants to seem down to earth, likeable, and loose. Your speeches are notoriously stiff, and you've been criticized for appearing too ambitious and driven. What, you wonder, do you do to make people feel like you might be an actual human being? Easy – just go to the iPod.

Today brings us the latest in a string of stories in which politicians have offered up the contents of their iPods to seemingly credulous reporters. Hillary Rodham Clinton's iPod, according to what she told the surprisingly sympathetic New York Post, features Aretha Franklin's "Respect," the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit," which includes the line "You know I've always been a dreamer," and U2's "Beautiful Day," which the Post describes as "an upbeat, uplifting single Clinton blares over the speakers moments before she hits the stage to deliver a red-meat stump speech."

What, no "Star Spangled Banner?"

Well, maybe, actually. "I've got everything - a total smorgasbord," she told the Post. ran an Associated Press rewrite of the story.

I'm not saying Clinton's choices are necessarily tailored to what's going to play well with the plebes. But I have a hard time believing that she chose the songs she did without a little advanced planning. I mean, really, could a political consultant have come up with better selections? It's not just Hillary who has offered up their seemingly poll-tested iPod contents, of course – as the Post notes, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Chuck Schumer have all advertised what they've got playing. "Cheney," writes Ian Bishop, "stays true his Western roots and tunes his iPod to Johnny Cash." Wow. And here I thought he was a Trent Reznor fan.

One need not be completely cynical about all this – Bush's iPod, for example, wasn't completely on message, as CNN points out, containing as it did a song by anti-Bush artist John Fogerty and the somewhat risqué "My Sharona" in addition to the expected country and boomer rock. But the look-what's-on-my-iPod story is fast becoming the modern version of traditional stunts like appearing on Laugh-In, the Tonight Show, or Saturday Night Live to show folks that you're just a regular Joe or Jane. (Not that the latter is completely dead.) And reporters are, for the most part, eating it up without the slightest trace of skepticism.

Bill Clinton famously used Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" on the campaign trail, transforming a breakup song into a paean to his vision of the future. (And remember when Bruce Springsteen protested Ronald Reagan's use of the not-actually-patriotic "Born In The USA?") The iPod craze has made it even easier for politicians to use their alleged musical tastes to their advantage, and, not surprisingly, more and more of them are jumping on the bandwagon. The subsequent stories are a small but not insignificant illustration of the way that technology is transforming the tools at politician's disposal to win over a skeptical electorate. Once again, it seems, yesterday's gone.

*Sadly, not an actual quote.

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