Barack and Bruce: What Impact Will Springsteen's Endorsement Have?

The Springsteen endorsement helps Obama in one crucial regard -- it gives Obama a certain authenticity among voters who aren't quite sure yet whether he's a "regular guy."
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Here's what Bruce Springsteen said in 1987: "In '75, when I went into the studio to make Born to Run, I wanted to make a record with words like Bob Dylan that sounded like Phil Spector, but most of all I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison."

Now that's the "the audacity of hope." No wonder he just endorsed Obama. But how will Bruce's move resonate in Pennsylvania? Will it make a difference? First, some context ...

I came slowly to the Bruce Springsteen phenomenon. I was more of a soul and country guy when he came up. So I didn't connect with Greetings From Asbury Park that much. It felt too self-aware, too artistic. Bruce's second album resonated more, especially standout tunes like "Candy's Room" (oops! I'm told that's from the fourth album) and "Rosalita." Born to Run was recorded up the street from where I was living, and I was crazy about the guitar tone on the title track. But all that hype ... self-consciously trendy guys like me figured that if Newsweek says you're the next big thing, you ain't. But I became a big fan of "off-label" Springsteen, tunes like "Fire" and "Hearts of Stone" that he wrote for other people and only played live.

Still, Darkness On the Edge of Town? Yeah, now I was starting to get it. And when I first saw him sing "The River" live, I realized what he had done: He had become a rock 'n' roll Steinbeck. As put off as I had been by the academic "rock music as literature" movement, it was impossible to deny that songs like "The River" were playing the same role that novels by Steinbeck or Dreiser or Sinclair had done in decades gone by.

Plus they had a good beat and you could dance to them.

With Born in the USA, Springsteen found the mass audience he had been seeking. Songs like the title track and "My Hometown" became hits because they were great songs, but also because the spoke to devastated industrial regions like my own birthplace of Utica, NY.

All this is by way of background for Springsteen's Obama endorsement. "Born down in a dead man's town/first kick that I took was when I hit the ground," he sang. "Like a dog that's been beat too much/'til you spend your whole life just coverin' up." You want "bitter"? I got yer bitter right here ... But Springsteen sang about the disillusionment and hopelessness of these places in a way that made people feel less disillusioned and less hopeless. That's not an easy trick.

Springsteen's endorsement comes at an opportune time for Obama. Obama's "bitter" and "cling" words were ill-chosen -- and not particularly accurate, either. There are a lot of reasons people like guns and religion, and bitterness isn't at the top of list. But there's an underlying truth behind them. So Springsteen's right on the money when he says "these matters are worthy of some discussion." He doesn't have to agree with the statements wholeheartedly in order to condemn the way "they have been ripped out of the context and fabric of the man's life and vision."

When Springsteen says Obama is "head and shoulders above the rest," it has some resonance in certain quarters. He brings credibility at a needed time when he says that Obama "...speaks to the America I've envisioned in my music for the past 35 years, a generous nation with a citizenry willing to tackle nuanced and complex problems, a country that's interested in its collective destiny and in the potential of its gathered spirit."

But will it make a difference in the primaries? It could bring a few votes Obama's way, but it won't change the outcome in Pennsylvania -- not unless Springsteen hits the hustings in the next few days with the candidate (and he probably has other commitments.) Same with Indiana, which is shaping up as even more critical than Pennsylvania in certain ways.

I've been to Springsteen gigs with right-wing friends from New York City and Yonkers. They tune out the sign-up tables and political endorsements, look a little unhappy when he talks about cops shooting innocent black men, and wind up voting just the way they would otherwise. But then, they weren't Democrats. Can Bruce move votes in the upcoming primaries? Probably not that many, but we'll have to wait and see.

Still, the Springsteen endorsement helps Obama in one crucial regard. It helps take the edge off this recent controversy. And it gives Obama a certain authenticity among voters who aren't quite sure yet whether he's a "regular guy" or not.

The Democrats' destructive orgy will continue, though. Clinton supporters won't be moved, and some of them will feel their own bitterness about this endorsement. This is a fractured party and a fractured time. Anyone who still says this protracted contest is good for Democrats is fooling themselves.

But Springsteen's an articulate man with a good heart and a lot of soul. His endorsement will boost morale among Obama supporters, and it sure can't hurt in Pennsylvania and Indiana.

And as far as West Virginia and North Carolina are concerned, two words come to mind:

Where's Willie?

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