Credits: QMI AGENCY
The 2012 punk rock festival called Riot Fest is, admittedly, a pretty unusual place to research Barack Obama’s demographic appeal with younger U.S. voters. But we aren’t afraid to go the extra mile for our readers.
It was a mud pit, Riot Fest was, and situated (improbably) at Toronto’s historic Old Fort York. Inside the gates, thousands of grimy, gritty tattooed punks were in attendance — and hordes slamdanced in the mosh pit in front of the stage, as bands such as the Lawrence Arms, the Descendents and Toronto’s F--ked Up cheerfully broke assorted municipal noise bylaws. Facial tats, piercings and swear words in abundance. Anarchy and chaos reigned.
Backstage, Fat Mike — nee Michael John Burkett — soberly reflected on the electoral chances of Obama. Sporting a Mohawk hairdo and a T-shirt with something on it that cannot be published in a family friendly newspaper, Fat Mike surveyed the ceiling of his trailer.
“I don’t think (Obama) is in an impossible situation, at all,” says Fat Mike, brows furrowed. “In fact, given that he inherited the Titanic, politically, he’s done very well.”
Not the way you’d expect a punk to express himself, but Fat Mike is not your average punk. His band and the record company he founded are all wildly successful. He’s a multi-millionaire. And, eight years ago, such was his power that he was able to create a voter-registration vehicle called PunkVoter to oppose George W. Bush’s re-election effort. Fat Mike met with George Soros, John Kerry, Michael Moore and plenty of other Democratic luminaries. He raised millions. And his PunkVoter was responsible for the registration of thousands of young people. In 2004,
10% more young people (in the 18-to-29 demographic) voted than in 2000, and experts credited Fat Mike’s PunkVoter with some of that.
PunkVoter, he says, has gone on hiatus. He thinks Obama’s re-election is in the bag, largely because young Americans fully understand the implications of a Mitt Romney Republican victory.
He dismisses the criticism of some, like me, who feel that Obama may have lost the appeal — the newness, the hope, the “yes we can” — that captivated so many young people in 2008. Says he: “You have to be a centrist to get re-elected. (And) the president doesn’t have as much power as some think he does.”
I demur, as one of his bandmates sips something that looks like, and smells like, ethanol. Didn’t Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention seem like a laundry-list, checking-off-the-boxes exercise? That it had no stirring, recurring refrain like in 2008? That Obama has become, in effect, what he said he’d change?
Fat Mike shakes his spiky head. “He doesn’t want to take any chances,” he says. “He can’t. I think he’s going to get re-elected. I think it is going to be an easy win. Mainly because Romney is terrible. He doesn’t care about people — he cares about corporations and money. People get that.”
Obama was successful with health care, he adds. “It’s not perfect, by any means,” he says. “But it’s a hell of a lot better than (Romney’s) pull-up-your-bootstraps and every-man-for-himself nonsense.”
There you go. Out of the mouth of the punk icon, folks. We bid our adieus, and Fat Mike readies himself to play with NOFX onstage. One of his signature tunes?
Er, Murder the Government.