Bruce Springsteen, Barack Obama Discuss How Politicians Appropriated 'Born In The USA'

The 1984 hit contains lyrics critical of America from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran, but it has long been misused as a patriotic anthem.

In a clip released on Thursday ahead of the last episode of their podcast, Bruce Springsteen and former President Barack Obama reflected upon how Springsteen’s 1984 song “Born in the U.S.A.” is often mistaken as a purely patriotic anthem in political circles.

“This is a song about the pain, glory, shame of identity and of place,” Springsteen said, noting that he wrote it after penning ideas for a song about the Vietnam War, speaking with veterans, and reading “Born on the Fourth of July,” the autobiography of paralyzed antiwar activist and veteran Ron Kovic.

Springsteen called the song a “complex picture of the country,” and pointed to its lyrics, which are from the viewpint of a veteran who returns to the U.S. from Vietnam and grapples with his inability to find employment as well as his memories of friends lost in the war.

“Our protagonist is someone who has been betrayed by his nation, and yet, still feels deeply connected to the country that he grew up in,” Springsteen said.

Obama noted that “Born in the U.S.A.” had “ended up being appropriated as this iconic patriotic song,” despite Springsteen’s lyrics.

“I think why the song has been appropriated — one, because it was so powerful; two, because its imagery was so fundamentally American,” Springsteen said. “But it did demand of you to hold two contradictory ideas in your mind at one time — that you can both be very critical of your nation and very prideful of your nation, simultaneously. And that is something that you see argued about to this very day.”

Bruce Springsteen during his "Born In The U.S.A. Tour" on Sept. 4, 1985, at Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.
Bruce Springsteen during his "Born In The U.S.A. Tour" on Sept. 4, 1985, at Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan.
Ross Marino via Getty Images

“Born in the U.S.A.” has had a place in politics since President Ronald Reagan attempted to use the song for reelection rallies shortly after its release in 1984, prompting Springsteen to object.

The song nonetheless became associated with American patriotism in the following years, with other GOP candidates like Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan playing the tune during their campaigns until Springsteen objected.

More recently, last October, “Born in the U.S.A.” was heard playing outside of Walter Reed Medical Center by supporters of Donald Trump as the then-president received treatment for COVID-19.

Listen to the clip below. The final episode of Obama and Springsteen’s podcast is set to debut on Monday.

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