Runaway American DreamsRoundup
tags: Barack Obama, liberalism, Bruce Springsteen, cultural history
Dennis M. Hogan is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature at Brown University. His writing has appeared in Full Stop, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Fabrikzeitung, Los Angeles Review of Books and The Forge.
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN is one of this country’s greatest living artists, one who built his success by enshrining the stories of the working-class lives of the people he grew up with in songs that have become foundational parts of the popular music canon. His commitment to seeking justice in the real world has made Springsteen a liberal hero and a cult figure to many on the left. What to make then of the recent news that he was releasing a podcast with Barack Obama, just weeks after appearing in a Super Bowl commercial urging Americans to find “the middle”?
The announcement was not entirely without precedent: Springsteen has long supported Democratic presidential candidates. He endorsed John Kerry, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden; he stumped for Obama on the campaign trail and performed “This Land is Your Land” with Pete Seeger at the 2009 inauguration, including even the more political verses decrying private property, at Seeger’s request. Springsteen bought what Obama was selling in 2008, but then again, so did almost everyone to the left of John McCain. That 2009 Lincoln Memorial concert was supposed to be a moment of anointing, Seeger passing a torch to Springsteen even as the old Civil Rights veterans passed the torch to Obama. Twelve years later, Seeger is dead, the Civil Rights project remains as incomplete as ever, and Springsteen and Obama have joined forces with Spotify, Comcast, and Dollar Shave Club to bring you a podcast.
Obama offered Springsteen his entrée into Democratic Party power politics as their relationship grew into a close friendship. In turn, Springsteen has stepped into the role of Obama’s white sidekick, Joe Biden’s election having left a sizable opening that only a car-loving boomer from a deindustrialized Mid-Atlantic town could fill. The story the men tell of bonding over drinks and music at White House parties gives the lie to even the title of the show, Renegades: Born in the USA. By now, both have made cottage industries of rehearsing their origin stories. Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father, chronicled his cosmopolitan upbringing, his coming to embrace his Black Americanness, and his decision to pursue politics. Springsteen, meanwhile, has recently taken to recounting his own journey to self-acceptance, weaving together the tall tales that have long animated his concerts with more honest accounts of his struggles and insecurities even during his periods of greatest success.
Now, safe inside Springsteen’s own mansion on a hill, both men again dust off the memory machine to take stock of where they have been. But they do not answer the question of how Bruce Springsteen, draft dodger, hero of the steelworkers of the 1980s, former punching bag of the New York City Police Benevolent Association, came to enthusiastically embrace liberalism. Was Bruce always a liberal, or has he changed?