Holding The Boss-In-Chief? At a rock Springsteen At the same At the core I admit In a time Those Wacky Candidates Then there’s Another
a fundraiser at the home of a lobbyist isn’t that odd, unfortunately; Democratic
fundraising is dominated by corporate lobbyists and corporate contributions,
just like Republican. Warren Beatty, still pondering an anti-politics-as-usual
presidential bid, has a point: Washington’s political community is hardly
diverse, particularly when one looks at who pays to keep it afloat. Hillary
Clinton is a status-quo liberal who’s shown little taste for challenging
the fundamental flaws of the political system. Consequently, she easily hobnobs
with those who peddle private influence over public interest. In her village,
some citizens are more equal than others, which is fine by her.
possible Beatty candidacy has been keeping progressive politicos atwitter. But
is a Hollywood actor-producer-director the best hope for those who call for
worker-friendly and consumer-friendly–as opposed to corporate-friendly–policies
and priorities? Is there no one else? Even Beatty has questioned whether he
is the person best suited to lead the charge.
concert last week, I glimpsed another possibility. In the lobby of the MCI Center
in Washington, there was a boy, 10 years old or so, wearing a t-shirt that read,
"Springsteen for President." If a magazine publisher or television
debater or data company CEO or professional wrestler can run or consider running,
why not a musician? Springsteen long has been an icon-with-substance for the
working class. In a quiet fashion, he has supported a variety of causes and
do-good outfits (alternative energy, food banks, the Vietnam Veterans of America).
He donated tickets to the first of his three Washington shows to World Hunger
Year, an anti-hunger nonprofit, and from the stage he praised the Capital Area
Community Food Bank. ("The economy is not benefiting all," Springsteen
said.) The songs he has written and performed have brought a human touch to
many issues: farm policy ("Seeds"), the plight of American steelworkers
("Youngstown"), income inequality and the downside of globalization
("The Ghost of Tom Joad"), telecommunications ("57 Channels"),
AIDS ("Streets of Philadelphia"), veterans affairs ("Born in
the USA"), urban dislocation ("My Hometown") and war ("War").
He also has not been reluctant to express his dismay with political leaders.
Last week, he told the audience in Washington that many people are lost in confusion
and bitterness–"especially here."
could easily reach out to various constituencies. He’d be a hit with Hispanic
voters, for he participated in protests against the anti-immigrant Proposition
187 in California. Thanks to the presence of saxophonist Clarence "Big
Man" Clemons, Springsteen’s E Street Band was one of the few muscle-rock
groups to be racially integrated. And the Boss also boasts ideological crossover
potential. Before the first Washington show, I ran into Brent Bozell, a leading
hard-right activist, at the liquor store next to the arena. Don’t tell
me, I said to him, that you’re a Springsteen fan. "Me and my whole
family," he answered with a smile. Don’t you know, I asked, that he
stands for everything you’re against–social justice, communal values,
government assistance for the less fortunate? Bozell, who spends much of his
life searching for left-wing bias in the establishment media, nodded and remarked.
"All my favorite musicians and actors are communists." You may wonder
how a conservative like Bozell can get juiced up by a compassionate liberal
populist like Springsteen. (The Ghost of Tom Joad was a direct whack
at the laissez-faire triumphalism of Newt Gingrich’s so-called Republican
revolution.) But Bozell may be part of a trend.
show, I encountered a television news producer I know. She was so excited she
was practically shaking. "My two all-time heroes," she explained,
"are Ronald Reagan and Bruce Springsteen." In a political sense, Springsteen
is the anti-Reagan. In 1984, he responded quite angrily when Reagan, at the
behest of columnist George Will, tried to appropriate "Born in the USA."
(That was a foolish move on Reagan and Will’s part, since the tune, despite
its upbeat tag line, was about the alienation and bitterness of veterans who
had been sent to fight a pointless war in Vietnam. In concert these days, Springsteen
reclaims the song by performing it solo as he originally conceived it–a
stark, haunting number with only an eerily reverbed acoustic guitar to accompany
his twangy vocals. No one could mistake it for a jingoistic, patriotic anthem.)
Might there be a voting bloc political scientists will one day dub "Springsteen
Republicans," a la Reagan Democrats?
of Springsteen’s music is the recognition that yearning is an essential
part of life, a fundamental message that appeals to those in different ideological
and demographic categories. His imagery and poetry has been that of the working-class
male. But yuppie lawyers, soccer moms and right-wing media analysts can identify
with Springsteen’s admonition that it is okay to reach far, to wish for
much. And they’re drawn to his sympathetic identification with those who
fall short of their dreams. Perhaps candidate Springsteen could first reach
people at this gut level–and then persuade them to support a boost in the
minimum wage, fair trade pacts, campaign finance reform, government funds for
rebuilding economically distressed areas (a notion he’s previously advocated),
universal health coverage and laws that bolster union organizing.
that the Springsteen for President cause is a long shot. Springsteen has always
shied away from conventional politics. As he told his Washington audience, he
doesn’t endorse presidential candidates. When he came to Washington in
1995 on his solo Tom Joad tour, he turned down an offer to visit the
White House of Bill Clinton. "In my opinion," he explained at the
time, "the artist has to keep his distance." He’s self-effacing
and doesn’t like to make promises he cannot keep. ("I can’t promise
you life ever after," he shouted as a mock-preacher at the MCI Center.
"But I can promise you life right now.") In an interview several years
ago, he told me, "I don’t like the soapbox stuff. I don’t believe
you can tell people anything. You can show them things… I don’t set out
to make a point. I set out to create understanding and compassion."
when Jesse Ventura can be considered a presidential contender, the field truly
is wide open. Sure, Springsteen may not be as steeped in policy details as Al
Gore or Bill Bradley. But he is just as, if not more, thoughtful. And aren’t
his leadership and communication skills more developed? Isn’t he more sincere?
Doesn’t he empathize more with common voters? This hardworking working-class
rocker who became a multimillionaire without any help from his father probably
is too modest to seek the presidency. But there are other options. Beatty, should
he enter the race, will need a running mate. And isn’t there an open Senate
seat in New Jersey? After all, that’s a state with a history of electing
to office someone who performs well in basketball arenas. Springsteen might
be more born-to-run than he ever imagined.
Does campaigning for president
lower one’s IQ? It is amazing how many howlers come from the wannabes.
Take Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Utah Republican whose late entry into the race remains
inexplicable (unless one attributes it to an outsized ego that causes him to
bristle as he watches other GOPers win attention). Hatch is not a dumb man.
In fact, he can be quite clever. But recently he said, "I am the first
and only presidential candidate who is talking about improving race relations
as part of our national dialogue." Doesn’t Hatch read the paper? Bill
Bradley has given a race speech practically every week since he entered the
race early this year, although his race shtick is a bit retro. He acts as if
it’s 1950 and he’s just discovered there is a race problem. And his
proposed solution is mainly acknowledgment there is a problem and frank conversation.
But Bradley has been trying, and anyone following the presidential contest knows
that. Quick–tell me anything Hatch has said regarding race.
our perennial whipping boy/vice president. Not too long ago, when Dan Quayle
was on ABC’s This Week, he argued that Texas Gov. George W. Bush
was a novice on the national stage and not of sufficient heft to go toe-to-toe
with Gore or Bradley. "You want somebody that has been tested," Quayle
chirped. "You want somebody that has been in the crucible. You want somebody
who has been in the line of fire, so to speak, on debating these issues. I debated
Al Gore, rather enjoyed that evening in October of 1992. Al Gore is a very good
debater." Let’s be glad Quayle had a good time that night. But here’s
what counts: Quayle lost the election. This is his best selling point? That
he has experience debating the fellow who helped boot him and President Bush
out of the White House?
great line came from Rep. Tillie Fowler, a Florida Republican who’s supporting
GOP candidate Elizabeth Dole. Fowler was asked if Dole should clarify her position
on the creationism-vs.-evolution debate. (Dole, who dares to be the first woman
president, ducked taking a stand in this ideological tussle.) "I’m
not really sure that’s something [people] need to know," Fowler said.
No need to know? In her stock campaign speech, Dole tells all about how she
was treated at Harvard Law School decades ago. But, as creationists across the
country are making advances, Dole doesn’t have to share her views on this
matter? Her position on school prayer is probably classified as well.
At a rock
At the same
At the core
In a time
Those Wacky Candidates