I got an email yesterday from Jonathan Bernstein, who is quite possibly the best writer I know these days whose work isn't easily available online. I know him as a fellow Giants fan, although he's stuck in Texas and so we don't get to go to games together. He is the smartest thinker about the Giants that I know, but to read him on that subject, you've got to be a Usenet participant, which leaves out most people I know. He's a poli sci professor, and I wish he had a blog or something, because I suspect he could do some great stuff in that kind of venue.
As I told him, I wish his email had been posted as a comment here, because he had some interesting things to say about Bruce's past participation (or lack of same) in the political process. (Jonathan does a lot of work on our political system.) His email inspired me, and I could tell as I was composing my reply that it would also end up here. I was right ... I'll edit it a bit for blog clarity. Just try to imagine JHB on the receiving end.
The conservative Bruce fans are up in arms now. I've never understood how they could love Bruce and miss his underlying message, but they now claim to have been stomped on by their hero. It's weird to me ... while he's never come out in favor of a particular candidate (I guess he gave money to Bill Bradley), when he's played benefits of a political nature, they've always been "lefty" ... No Nukes, Amnesty Int., even the crazy Christic Institute. He's been speaking out on stage about politics in general terms for more than 20 years now, and while some of it is generic help-the-downtrodden stuff (not to say he's wrong or bad at it, I've given a lot of money via Bruce Inspirational Nudging, myself), he also is pretty clear about what he thinks is right and what's wrong, and in those statements, he's a populist, not as radical as Woody Guthrie but in the same tradition. Bruce has read Howard Zinn, but I never expected him to become Howard Zinn.
Back in the day, I suspect he was just a guy who believed in the saving power of rock and roll, so he likely wasn't thinking much about politics when he was poor and scrambling. It's as if all his money gives him the leisure to think outside the narrow perspective of a star, and it's been good for him, if I can say that about someone I don't really know. And so it was when he became the Biggest Star Ever for a couple of years that he started getting more specifically political. But he never was specific or political enough. Marcus wrote about it back in '85:
"I wondered what would have happened, what could have happened, if he had exchanged his pointed metaphors for denunciation. What would have happened if he had said what I like to imagine he believes: that those who currently rule the country are evil people, with evil motives, doing evil things? Most likely Springsteen does not believe that -- does not, at least, believe in that kind of speech. But I don't think he was saying all that he believes. I think he was saying all he thought he could get across. What would have happened if Springsteen had said no with rage instead of forgiveness, tried to blow away the empowerment of stardom and stood on the stage as a crank?"If I had to guess at what Bruce would say to the above, or at least what he would have said in 1985, it would be that he made Nebraska, he wrote "Born in the USA," he was an artist and that's how he expressed himself. But I know what Marcus is talking about.
It's silly in retrospect, but I know from talking to friends of mine who are more Gen Xers than Boomers like me that I missed the depth of Reagan's awfulness. The standard for evil had already been set for my generation by Nixon, and so I didn't notice just how destructive Reagan was. Not saying the same was true for Bruce, or even that I didn't know Reagan was trouble ... but I never hated Reagan or his era as much as did my younger friends.
Something about the current Bush inspires everyone across all ages, though ... we all hate him. And so here comes Bruce at last, although even now he's pulling his punches in that Bruce way ... Bush isn't a bad man, he's just wrong, I like Kerry OK but mostly I just think we need changes, that kind of stuff ... he's still not gonna say that Bush is a prick. But nonetheless, this is a man who has always believed his art spoke for itself, who has always been careful with his public criticisms of those with whom he disagrees. That Bush has brought Bruce out of the closet at last is, as much as anything, a sign of just what a terrible president he really is.
I saw Bruce on Nightline last night. Ted Koppel was relatively tough with his questions, and Bruce was relatively articulate in his responses ... he's not Janeane Garofalo, but he'll do. Early on, he refused to get into bashing anyone specifically, even when Koppel asked him if this was a vote for Kerry or a vote against Bush. But eventually (material from Stone Pony London):
MR. KOPPEL: I want to suggest that that goal is beating Bush.(I should note that the full interview, as posted at the above website, seems to include stuff I didn't see on the actual show itself. I don't know where the extra material came from, or how it was accessed.)
MR. SPRINGSTEEN: Yes, it is.
MR. KOPPEL: Well, a few minutes ago, when I asked you whether it was supporting Kerry or beating Bush, you were, you were on the supporting Kerry side, and my instinct all along has been that maybe what's uniting Democrats this year more than anything else, is less a passion for Kerry than, as Michael Moore puts it, a "white right sock" rather than George W. Bush.
MR. SPRINGSTEEN: Yeah. Well, I think that, you know, in the sense that the--I think people have been unified by the President's policies in a way that I haven't seen I a long time, you know.
MR. KOPPEL: Unified against them you mean?
MR. SPRINGSTEEN: That's right, that's right, you know. But, I, I feel, I feel very strongly about John Kerry and John Edwards, and I think that, that on the second week in November there's going to be a lot of people with a lot of different ideas about, about how the job should be done. You know, there's a wide coalition of people in this, in the organization that's going to be--go out there and plan, you know.
And I suspect that I'll be on the outside looking in again, you know, which is maybe where, you know, and I'll have plenty to criticize, I'm sure, about the way that, that they move down the road, you know. And that's--to me, that's--the musician is fundamentally--you're the canary in the coal mines, you know.