Johnny 99

5 Oct

As a political candidate, Johnny 99 starts off with some considerable baggage.

He’s an unemployed auto worker who was convicted of murder, sentenced to a 99-year term and may even have gone to the electric chair. (Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics don’t tell us if Judge Mean John Brown ever granted Johnny’s request to “let `em shave off my hair and put me on that killin’ line.”)

But since POTUSongs is just a way to have some fun with music and politics, let’s take a closer look at Johnny 99’s story, as told masterfully on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album.

He’s a victim of the poor economy, having lost his job when the auto plant that employed him shut down. He’s been looking for work, but has been unable to find a new job. He’s got a girlfriend and a mother who love him and plead for mercy in the courtroom.

Yes, Johnny 99 did get drunk and shoot a night clerk, but again he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. An off-duty police officer spotted Johnny waving his gun and managed to arrest him. Without any money, he had to rely on a public defender, and the judge assigned to his case was nicknamed Mean John Brown – certainly not a good omen for a positive disposition.

Amidst all of the drama surrounding Johnny and his actions, a few traits emerge that indicate – perhaps in another land at another time – he could have been the type of political candidate many of us would prefer to see on the ballot.

Number one, he’s like us. He knows what it’s like to struggle, to be out of work, to have “debts no honest man could pay,” and a bank that’s “gonna take my house away.” Far too many of today’s politicians are upper class white collar executives who cannot truly comprehend the lives that so many Johnny 99s are living in America.

Secondly, he takes responsibility. After telling the judge about his fiscal problems, he very pointedly adds: “I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man.” We see too little of this today. Rather than take responsibility for their actions, politicians tend to throw others under the bus – junior staff members, the media, even Big Bird.

Lastly, Johnny 99 has passion. So many of today’s politicians are programmed. They speak in clever terms, using phrases and words that have been developed by media consultants and tested in focus groups. Too much of what they say and do is scripted; too little of what happens on the campaign trail is spontaneous.

Johnny, on the other hand, takes going rogue to a new level. After Mean John Brown hands down the 99-year sentence, he opts not  to plead for a lighter sentence, but instead tells the judge to send him to the electric chair.

One last point, he has the perfect name to run in 2012. With so much talk about the “99 percent,” a candidate named Johnny 99 would be a dream for those who design campaign ads and slogans.

Our analysis: We like Johnny 99. He identifies with the common folk, he takes responsibility and he’s got passion. However, there’s no way to overlook the way his story ends. Add him to the long list of boy wonders and would-be mayors, governors and presidents would got sidetracked on the way to success.

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One Response to “Johnny 99”


  1. All POTUSongs « POTUSongs - October 13, 2012

    […] Johnny 99 […]

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