As we near the end of an election season that has felt stranger than fiction, it’s time to brace for the inevitable onslaught of actual fiction that will come from it. The 2016 cage match is ripe for the creation of books, movies and theater performances galore — and radio show “This American Life” has already taken on the challenge. In this week’s episode about the struggling Republican party, Ira Glass took it upon himself to commission a song about House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The idea came from producer Zoe Chace, who told listeners that the GOP’s ups and downs are the perfect material for a tragic opera.
“It’s like they’ve been fighting this battle for their ideals to run the country,” Chace said during the show. “And they thought they had this big band of voters behind them. And then, with Paul Ryan in particular, it feels like he just turned around and he’s like, ‘Oh my god, nobody’s there.'”
Ryan is known for his pragmatism, Glass pointed out. The Wisconsin Republican wants to cut spending, shrink the government and bolster individual liberties.
But “in this election, voters didn’t want that. They care about somebody who is just selling something that is just totally different from what Ryan is selling,” Chace says. “That just seems incredibly lonely and it looks incredibly sad, and it looks very, very painful.”
So painful, in fact, it’s something he might express only in song.
And who better to craft a melody about someone who feels separated from the world than Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez? They’re the songwriting duo behind Disney’s hit musical “Frozen,” in which a princess leaves her kingdom in order to save it, but inadvertently makes it worse.
Playing the part of lonely Paul Ryan in this imagined musical is Neil Patrick Harris, whose melodic voice embodies a heartsick lover pining for what used to be.
“I knew some time ago, you didn’t want what I could give you anymore,” Harris begins.
“I knew some time ago, this was not the party that it was for us before
The truth sets in but the dream persists
I don’t believe you’re all white nationalists…”
Harris, it’s worth noting, has actively campaigned on behalf of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. In March, he posted an Instagram photo of himself and husband David Burtka with the Clintons, captioned with the campaign slogan “#imwithher.” This month, he performed alongside Hollywood and Broadway stars in a fundraiser for Clinton in New York.
So it’s especially weird to hear Harris sing the imagined thoughts of the face of conservatism, especially when he croons, “Gay marriage, abortion and gun control are all unconstitutional!” The bulk of the song is, of course, dedicated to Ryan’s feelings about Donald Trump, though Trump’s actual name is not mentioned. The lyrics poke fun at the way Ryan endorsed the Republican nominee, then — after a tape of Trump bragging about groping women emerged — declined to keep campaigning on Trump’s behalf.
“It’s only for your sake that I endorsed
I’m sure you could tell it was completely forced
Now the guy is calling me a wussy
I wish I could grab him by the… lapels and tell him
I’ll be there to pick up all the pieces
I’ll be there no matter what they say
Cut him loose and don’t let him near your nieces
Then come on back to me”
This musical ode isn’t the first time “This American Life” has dreamed up a politician’s inner-monologue. In the show’s previous episode, “Hamilton” performer Leslie Odom Jr. sang a tune written by Sara Bareilles, who imagined what President Obama must be thinking about the election. In a more serious tone than Harris-as-Ryan, Odom sings, “Angry? / Am I angry? / You ask am I angry? / And I’m at a loss for words.”
“After all we’ve done,” he continues, “Every battle hard won / Every hair gone gray in the name of this place/ In a history plagued / With incredible mistakes / Still I pledge my allegiance to these United divided States.”
“I need this song. When and where will it be available to download?” one YouTube commenter replied.
On Twitter, the praise continued for the Paul Ryan song. It has been called “pure fire,” “golden” and a perfect “2020 campaign song” for Ryan.
But the speaker himself has yet to acknowledge its existence. Instead, on Sunday morning, he was tweeting about how to fix poverty.