A Cautious Man
November 09, 2004
Ten Years Twenty Years Burning Down The Road
George Will has been waiting a long time to write these words:
In 2000, Americans were reminded that electoral votes select presidents. In 2004, Democrats were reminded that Bruce Springsteen does not.
Now, of all the 55,949,407 voters who supported Senator Kerry, why did Mr. Will single out Mr. Springsteen to accuse of being the one who tried to "select" a President? It may be due to the part Mr. Will played twenty years ago, when Mr. Springsteen was first observed on the national political scene (albeit as part of a now classic blunder). As recounted by Jim Cullen in his book Born in the U.S.A.: Bruce Springsteen and the American Tradition:
September 19, 1984, was a typical day on the campaign trail for Ronald Reagan. The president spent the morning in the Democratic stronghold of Waterbury, Connecticut. There, as elsewhere, he read prepared remarks, but added some local color--in this case, invoking the spirit of John F. Kennedy, who had visited Waterbury in 1960. … The president then proceeded to the affluent suburban town of Hammonton, New Jersey, in the southern part of the state. There, he praised Italian-American voters. "You are what America is all about," he told them. "You didn't come here seeking streets paved with gold. You didn't come here asking for welfare or special treatment." And as in Waterbury, Reagan also cited a local favorite. "America's future rests in a thousand dreams inside our hearts. It rests in the message of hope so many young people admire: New Jersey's own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about."

Actually, the Reagan camp had hoped to have Springsteen by the President's side in Hammonton. Though attempts to recruit rock stars Billy Joel and John Cougar Mellencamp failed, Michael Jackson had recently appeared with Reagan at the White House in an anti-drunk-driving campaign. And six days earlier, after attending a Springsteen concert, conservative columnist George Will had written a glowing review that echoed dominant Republican campaign themes. "I have not got a clue about Springsteen's politics, if any," Will wrote, "but flags get waved at his concerts while he sings songs about hard times. He is no whiner, and the recitation of closed factories and other problems always seems punctuated by a grand, cheerful, affirmation: 'Born in the U.S.A.!'"

~ snip ~

Many people, even those with only a passing familiarity with Springsteen's music, regarded this effort to capture Springsteen as, at best, misguided. More committed fans reacted with outrage. Springsteen's biographer Dave Marsh later wrote that Will's column "was such a perversion of what Springsteen was trying to communicate that it constituted an obscenity." Few in the years since would have reason to disagree.
Or maybe Mr. Will was still upset about the bow tie remark in the recent Rolling Stone interview. Anyway, after exacting his small measure of revenge, Mr. Will proceeds to explain that all the votes against same-sex marriage or civil unions had nothing to do with politicians stirring up any animus against gay people – all those voters were just outraged by the "disdain for democratic due process" of Massachusetts judges and the Mayor of San Francisco. The latter comes in for some especially vile snarkiness, as Will labels Mayor Newsome "liberalism's George Wallace, apostle of 'progressive' lawlessness".

Mr. Will is still musically, politically and historically tone-deaf, after all these years. Whether you agree or disagree with Mayor Newsome's actions, he undertook them to expand the rights of some people. He challenged a law, did so in a civil manner, and complied with judicial rulings once they were issued. The late Governor Wallace defied court orders in an effort to stand in the way (literally) of the exercise of a basic right.

Will's analogy is basically the same as claiming that Rosa Parks or Dr. King were "African-American George Wallaces". In all likelihood, twenty years from now people will still be wondering what Will thought he was listening to.



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