The Boss for Barack

I’m pleased today to see that Bruce Springsteen has endorsed Barack Obama for president. It’s no secret that I hold the Boss in high regard, but I’m not naive enough to believe that this will have any real effect on the race (in fact, if anything, it could have a negative effect on Obama, but that’s something to discuss at another time).

Over in the comment section at Matt Yglesias’s place in a thread about the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette’s endorsement of Obama, someone mentioned that this would be a good opportunity to trot out perhaps Springsteen’s most well known (and most misunderstood) song, “Born in the U.S.A.”, for use at Obama rallies. In light of the ongoing “Bittergate” controversy, “Born in the U.S.A.” might indeed be the proper song for Obama to trot in Pennsylvania. The song, properly understood, is actually an angry, some might even say “bitter”, response to the hardships Vietnam vets experienced upon their return to the State from the battlefields of Southeast Asia. The song was famously appropriated by Ronald Reagan’s campaign, which viewed the song as a patriotic rallying cry (note to political consultants: make sure you read and understand song lyrics before you deploy them in the service of your campaigns). Considering the nation is currently involved in a seemingly endless war that has led to extended troop deployments that are ripping apart blue collar families and communities all across the country, it’s easy to see how the song fits.

However, when I read the Boss’ endorsement, I immediately thought not of “Born in the U.S.A.” , but rather “My Hometown”, the elegiac set closer to that same album. In the song, an “average Joe” traces the rise and fall of the place he grew up in. That place sounds very much like the towns in the Rust Belt that Obama was speaking about in his now infamous remarks:

I was eight years old and running with a dime in my hand
Into the bus stop to pick up a paper for my old man
I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town
He’d tousle my hair and say son take a good look around this is your hometown
This is your hometown
This is your hometown
This is your hometown

In ’65 tension was running high at my high school
There was a lot of fights between the black and white
There was nothing you could do
Two cars at a light on a Saturday night in the back seat there was a gun
Words were passed in a shotgun blast
Troubled times had come to my hometown
My hometown
My hometown
My hometown

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown
Your hometown

Last night me and Kate we laid in bed
talking about getting out
Packing up our bags maybe heading south
I’m thirty-five we got a boy of our own now
Last night I sat him up behind the wheel and said son take a good look around
This is your hometown

Paired with “Born in the U.S.A.”, these two songs speak to a great bit of the frustration that so many Americans are dealing with today. Strange that an album recorded 24 years ago (!) could so inform today’s political debates. There’s also another famous 1984 (written in 1949) that can also do the same thing. It seems that everything old is new once again.

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~ by uvasig on April 16, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Boss for Barack”

  1. Interesting post… the Boss’s endorsement begs another question for me though… at what point does a seemingly endless stream of celebrity endorsements end up becoming a liability?

  2. Marc,
    Thanks for the comment! As I mentioned at the very top of my post, if there’s any effect effect at all, it will most likely be negative as this will be seen as just another member of the “liberal” entertainment establishment promoting a Democrat (he endorsed Kerry in ’04 and let him use “No Surrender” on the campaign trail…yet another song from “Born in the U.S.A.”). Springsteen has consistently spoken out against the ills of the Bush administration (though never by name) during this current tour and I’ve seen him get very different reactions to his introductory explanation of the new song “Livin’ in the Future” (which is a call to wake up to the things that are happening now); he got enthusiastic applause in Oakland, whereas in San Jose, the response was very restrained (and I heard some folks shouting for him to not “preach”).

    Put it this way, I seriously doubt that this will sway many people one way or another, but for those either already predisposed to have a negative view of either Springsteen or Obama, this will simply reinforce their viewpoint by placing it inside an established framework.

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