Expressing complex policy positions to people in simple enough ways to make the message stick is tough work. That’s why some politicians just slap a slogan on a hat and ignore the policy details all together.
Others use music as a way of expressing their essence as candidates.
And when it comes to American politics, you want people to know you believe in true American values. So what’s better than blaring Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA on the rally speakers? That’s what Ronald Reagan decided in 1984. The idea was so good Bob Dole copied it in 1996 and Pat Buchanan did the same in in 1999.
The only problem? Born in the USA is actually critical of the USA.
Born in the USA tells the story of a Vietnam veteran returning home from the war. It addresses the harmful affects of the war on Americans and the chilly treatment veterans received returning home.
Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Hmm, okay, the song isn’t starting off so great. Maybe the rosy picture of America comes later.
Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man
Yikes! Okay, things aren’t looking great for our protagonist. But hopefully he makes it home from the war.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”
Success! Made it home. Oh, but there’s no jobs.
I had a brother at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go
Now, if you only focus on the whole Born in the USA chorus I can see the appeal. But didn’t anyone vet the rest of the song before approving? Those lyrics aren’t particularly glowing of the red, white, and blue.
Bruce Springsteen was having none of it. He issued cease and desists to all three politicians. But some good came from it. Politico argued Reagan’s use of Springsteen’s blue-collar Americana is what awakened his political advocacy.