Bruce Springsteen is a legendary rock star who has thoughtfully portrayed the struggles of average Americans.
But some may wonder at the meaning of – and take exception to – the President of the United States spending his last day on the campaign trail, as President Obama did Monday, with a man who is so harshly critical of this country.
Some say there is a certain “patriotism” in depicting the United States as an evil and unjust place, the argument being that this is merely an attempt to improve it. Others might argue such an attitude reflects concern for individuals rather than any fondness or hope for the country.
But either way, for a president to associate himself with such passionate vitriol toward the country raises questions about what Obama himself thinks.
After all, Mrs. Obama, at one point in the 2008 campaign, suggested she had never really been proud of her country.
Most people are aware of the corrosively biting lyrics of Springsteen’s 1984 song, “Born in the USA.” Not, in Springsteen’s view, an lucky place to start out life.
Born down in a dead man town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the USA, I was born in the USA.
I was born in the USA, born in the USA.
In one of the great ironies of modern politics, Ronald Reagan’s 1984 campaign excised the “Born in the USA” portion of the song and used it as a patriotic campaign theme.
A more recent example comes from Springsteen’s 2012 album, Wrecking Ball, which includes the song “American Land” that portrays the United States as a false beacon that lures immigrants into a Hellish, oppressive existence.
What is this land America, so many travel there
I’m going now while I’m still young, my darling meet me there
Wish me luck my lovely, I’ll send for you when I can
And we’ll make our home in the American land . . .
There’s diamonds in the sidewalk, the gutters lined in song
Dear, I hear that beer flows through the faucets all night long
There’s treasure for the taking, for any hard working man
Who’ll make his home in the American land . . .
The McNicholas, the Posalskis, the Smiths, Zerillis too
The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews
They come across the water a thousand miles from home
With nothing in their bellies but the fire down below
They died building the railroads, they worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they’re still dying now
Their hands that built the country we’re always trying to keep out
Springsteen is a great artist who tackles serious issues. But why a candidate for president would want to campaign with some who harbors so much anger for America is something of a mystery. Or maybe, it’s not.