Joe Doakes got to writing before I did this morning:
A research chemist turned lawyer who became a elected representative of the people of Finchley, Margaret Thatcher changed the world.
As Great Britain’s longest-serving (and only female) Prime Minister, “The Iron Lady” fought Liberalism and championed Conservative policies that won a war, rejuvenated the national economy and defeated the Soviets.
Margaret Thatcher passed away today, April 8, 2013. She was one of my heroes.
Because it’s never too early to start the campaign season.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman’s announcement last week that he would forgo a challenge to incumbent Gov. Mark Dayton may be remembered in hindsight as the starting gun for the 2014 election cycle in Minnesota. With Democrats holding all the offices of note, the only real interest among political junkies is which Republicans will make bids for statewide office. Having only won two cycles in the past decade (2002 & 2010), the GOP cupboard is sparse, with many of the party’s once rising stars now out of office.
So who’s left to run for governor in 2014? In the spirit of the upcoming NCAA Tournament, we’ve made our brackets (sort of) and started the ball rolling towards months of endless chatter on who should or could lead the MN GOP out of the statewide office wilderness: Continue reading →
I’m gonna give you a two-fer here. We’ll cover two of Andrew Sullivan’s definitions of what makes a conservative in one article, since they’re both just a tad thin.
The first of the two – “Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism“? Gotta confess, that one’s pretty thin throughout the history of rock and roll. I’ll cop to it; other than “meeting beneath that giant Exxon sign”, or driving out to Greasy Lake, or meeting at Mary’s Place, it doesn’t pop up much.
We’ll let that one slide for now.
The other – “the Conservative recognizes the need for prudent restraint on power and passion?”
Well, there’s always “Roulette”, the often-bootlegged anti-nuke anthem:
Which isn’t really close, but it’s such a cool recording I don’t care much.
We’ll be back with the final parts of this series later in the week.
One of the fundamental tenets of the “classical liberalism” that is the basis of modern conservatism is the idea first recorded by John Locke – that men form governments to protect life, liberty and private property; that private property was in fact a cornerstone of real liberty, and that protecting it against the depredations of government and of other people is a key justification for having a government. To put it in Andrew Sullivan’s words – because it’s his definitions of “classical conservative” that I’m using as the basis for this exercise – “Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked”.
If we have no property rights, then we have no rights.
Now, John Locke isn’t a common theme in the history of rock and roll. And private property has had a mixed history in popular music; it’s been a metaphor for rites of passage (Jan and Dean’s “409″), or the high life (“Baubles, Bangles and Beads” by everyone from Eartha Kitt to Frank Sinatra) and a yardstick for swagger (“Beamer, Benz or Bentley” by gangster-rapper Lloyd Banks), but also for evil (“I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years’ After’s called us to “Tax the rich, feed the poor, ’til there ain’t no rich no more”).
And you can look in vain for references to Locke or Payne or Franklin – in Springsteen’s catalog, and can find plenty on his later albums and his real life as re politics that contradicts them all.
But this series isn’t about proving Springsteen is, personally, a conservative (faith-based blogger Dog Gone’s endless repetitions notwithstanding); it’s about explaining why his music resonates with conservatives.
SIDE NOTE: It’s amazing how life can derail a guy’s plans. While – as is my wont with these long series – much of the rough material was put together in October and November, I held off on actually putting it into a written form, thinking it’d give me something to do during the two-month stretch between the election and the opening of the state legislature, when I’m usually too burned out on politics to care much.
Of course, this past eight weeks of battling for the Second Amendment has derailed a bit of that plan.
But while the battle against Barack Rex carries on, it’s time to make time for the fun stuff.
I’m going to give you all a little bit of homework.
Read this piece – “Risk, Relativism And Resources“, by Kevin Williamson, from National Review. It’s a brilliant piece – and a beefy chunk of reading – on how risk-tolerance and risk-aversion affects peoples’ political choices.
Then tune in tomorrow, when I’ll be talking with Mr. Williamson on the Northern Alliance Radio Network, mostly (but certainly not entirely) about this piece.
And then think: how can we conservatives apply this to the task ahead of us – saving the country?
And I’ll also have David and David on the show:
No, not that David and David, although that’d be cool too. No, I’ll have Senators Dave Thompson and Dave Osmek on the show as well!
To sum it up absurdly briefly: different ethnic, gender and social groups have different tolerances for risk; people with higher risk tolerances tend to vote conservative; ironically, “progressivism” is riskier in the long term. Convincing them is the hard part. What do you have better to do?
At various points in reading it – it’s 6,000 words – I thought about doing a couple of pull-quotes a day for two weeks. I may do that still. It is that good – and by “good”, I mean “very, very thought-provoking about what motivates people to vote conservative or “progressive”".
Read the whole thing when you get some time to spare.
UPDATE: Mr. Williamson will be joining me on the Northern Alliance Radio Network on January 12. Hope you can tune in. This oughtta be good.
In “The Promised Land” – a song that constantly flits about the top of most hard-core Springsteen fans’ lists of favorite songs – paints a bleak picture for the everyday schlub:
I done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day.
But your eyes go blind, and your blood runs cold,
sometimes I feel so weak I just wanna explode
Explode and tear this old town apart,
take a knife and cut this pain from my heart,
find somebody itchin’ for something to start…
And then the last verse tees up:
Well, there’s a dark cloud rising, ‘cross the desert floor
I’ve packed my bags, and I’m headed straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
that ain’t got the faith to stand its ground.
Blow away the dreams that break your heart.
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted…
The song – which is on the surface about a young buck butting his head against a status quo leaving him, in the immortal words of Howard the Duck, “trapped in a world that he never made”. And beneath the surface? It’s about everyone trying to stake their claim in the world while they can, and railing against the petty and not-so-petty things that badger and hector you on the way there…
…and noting, obliquely, another of the key facets of what being a conservative really means: the idea that the only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law.
Humans and the societies they build are intensely imperfect, and that the only justice you’re ever going to see is from something – a higher power, in this case, in the metaphorical form of a tornado – that cares not for your specifics, or of that against which you’re banging your head.
The notion that there is an existing, higher moral order is easy; every political and cultural liberal believes it (although cultural liberals and conservative see the source of that order differently). The idea that we, petty humans that we are, stand on the shoulders of giants and can only rarely improve on them and their ideas is harder; the idea that we can change the world “for the better” is so wound up in the ideals of liberals that they call themselves “progressives”.
But the idea that absolute equality only exists (outside of the purely legalistic, and then only when everyone involves has a lot of integrity) above and beyond this world is the province of the cultural conservative.
One of the reasons the Democrats and media are working so hard to drive a wedge between the “establishment” GOP and the Tea Party is that the Tea Party wins elections and, more importantly, represents the real future of the GOP.
Haley, a little-known state senator before being elected governor, would never have had a chance at becoming governor against the state’s good ol’ boy network of statewide officeholders. Scott would have been a long shot in his Republican primary against none other than Strom Thurmond’s youngest son. Marco Rubio, now the hyped 2016 presidential favorite, would have stepped aside to see now-Democrat Charlie Crist become the next senator, depriving the party of one of its most talented stars. Ted Cruz, the other Hispanic Republican in the Senate, would have never chanced a seemingly futile bid against Texas’s 67-year-old lieutenant governor, seen as a lock to succeed Kay Bailey Hutchison.
But all those upset victories–all of which at the time seemed shocking–took place because of the conservative grassroots’ strong sentiment for outsiders who campaigned on their principles, and not over their past political or family connections. Even a decade ago, party officials would have been more successful in pushing these outsider candidates aside, persuading them to wait their turn. (In Rubio’s case, it almost worked.) Now, in an era where grassroots politicking is as easy as ever thanks to the proliferation of social media, more control is in the hands of voters. And contrary to the ugly stereotypes of conservative activists being right-wing to the point of racist, it’s been the tea party movement that’s been behind the political success of most prominent minority Republican officeholders.
That, of course, is not the current left and media (ptr) narrative about the Tea Party. The media, and its rhetorical camp followers in the Leftyblogosphere Stupid Caucus, have been banging the “Teh Tea Partie is teh ignerent racisst” drum for close to four years now.
And in that time, the GOP overtook the Democrats in the number of elected minorities at the state level.
This is potentially good news, in the long term.
If the GOP deserves to keep it going.
Looking at Boehner’s performance this year, I’m seeing an obstacle or two.
In the world of Rock and Roll, in the words of Neil Young, “it’s better to burn out than fade away”.
In the world of Bruce Springsteen’s music, when characters screw up, they flame out big-time – and usually take other people down with ‘em.
In “Johnny 99″, from Nebraska, the protagonist – “Ralph” – gets laid off from a job at a car plant. He gets “too drunk from mixing Tangueray and Wine” – itself a major botch – and shoots a night clerk. It instantly changes his life; he goes from being a regular guy to a lifer overnight. His life is completely screwed, he declares as he’s sentenced.
Now judge I had debts no honest man could pay
The bank was holdin’ my mortgage and they were gonna take my house away
Now I ain’t sayin’ that makes me an innocent man
But it was more `n all this that put that gun in my hand
Well your honor I do believe I’d be better off dead
So if you can take a man’s life for the thoughts that’s in his head
Then sit back in that chair and think it over judge one more time
And let `em shave off my hair and put me on that killin’ line
Clearly, the character of Ralph/Johnny didn’t preconsider his actions according to the long-term consequences one might expect from them – but then if Mr. 99 had merely thrown up and gone to bed, the song would be a pretty mundane commentary on the human condition. People do act in ways that ignore their actions’ long-term consequences, in ways big and small, all the time.
And there’s the point.
Another of conservatism’s key tenets is the idea of prudence; a conservative measures actions against their likely long-term consequences, and tries to decide and act accordingly.
They also recognize – as Johnny 99 did not, until the end of the song – the consequences of failing at this.
And among the many reasons Springsteen’s music resonates with conservatives is that the characters, for decades, illustrated the princple, in ways positive and negative, in a way that sounds like…
Rock and roll has always been, ostensibly, about upsetting the existing order. In the beginning, its very existence upended what passed for “order” in popular culture, at least to the extent of helping create a “youth culture” – something that’d never existed before, and really started in America. As culture and the genre evolved through the sixties, pop music smeared itself in the “revolutionary” rhetoric of the rest fo the counterculture; in the seventies, the punk counter-counterculture (at least in the English art-school variety) flipped the hippies’ putative idealism on its head in an orgy of self-indulgent nihilism. Post-punks – U2 would be the most famous and enduring of the bunch) in turn, flipped that on its head in an welter of often self-righteous activism.
And against that backdrop, the music of Bruce Springsteen has always been refreshingly non-revolutionary. Continue reading →
1985 – Ronald Reagan, who (let’s remember this) governed his entire eight years with Congressional minorities, had to finally cut a deal with the Dems. The deal with Tip O’Neill involved two dollars in spending cuts for every dollar in tax hikes. It led to the “Reagan Tax Hikes” that liberals blather about (they were much, much smaller than his tax cuts, and occurred after the economy had recovered, which isn’t nearly as stupid as raising taxes during a recession). Naturally, O’Neill reneged on the deal; we got the tax hikes and the spending, putting a black mark on Reagan’s legacy and giving a generation of giggly lefty chanting-point-bots a cheap tu quoque tittering point.
1990 - George H.W. Bush cuts a deal with Congressional Democrats, who are still in the majority – just one more round of taxes, in exchange for spending cuts, leading to his famous declaration, “Read my lips! No new taxes!”. The Dems welched, naturally, leaving Bush looking like the fool that, for believing the Democrats, he truly was.
2012 – Some House Republicans are making noises that sound suspiciously similar to “we’ll be happy to agree to tax hikes today, in exchange for spending cuts someday when you get around to it”. In other words, they are planning to extend electoral credit to a party that has “our ends justify our means” as an unwritten platform plank.
Dear House Republicans: you thought the 2010 primary season was brutal for RINOs? Remember Trent Lott, and don’t be stupid. Compromising with Democrats before you’ve gotten your pound of flesh is the mark of the sucker. The moron. The soon-to-be unemployed politician, God and your smarter voters willing.
It’s a little-noticed verse of a song buried in Bruce Springsteen’s biggest studio album:
Now, honey, I don’t wanna clip your wings
But a time comes when two people should think of these things
Having a home and a family,
facing up to their responsibilities
They say in the end true love prevails
But in the end true love can’t be no fairytale
To say I’ll make your dreams come true would be wrong
But maybe, darlin’, I could help them along
It’s from “I Wanna Marry You”, from The River. It’s a nice, simple, romantic little trifle. Given Springsteen’s personal life over the past 25 years, it’d be easy to call it “ironic”…
…but again, the series isn’t about any artist’s personal life, or personal beliefs. It’s about the resonances his audience finds in the music.
The next tenet of conservatism we’re covering is that conservatives adhere to custom, convention, and continuity (provided ones customs and conventions continue things that are worth continuing – which we’ll get to later on in the series).
And shelve the past twenty-five years of history – because this is about as customary, conventional and continuous as one gets:
Little girl, I wanna marry you
Oh yeah, little girl, I wanna marry you
Yes I do, little girl, I wanna mary you.
My daddy said right before he died
that true, true love was just a lie.
He went to his grave a broken heart
An unfulfilled life, darlin’, makes a man hard
No apple-carts upset here, right?
Of course, there’s a lot more to custom and tradition than that.
In the song “Darlington County” (from Born in the USA), a couple of ne’er-do-wells drive south to find a little work and raise a little ruckus:
Hey little girl standing on the corner,
Todays your lucky day for sure, all right.
Me and my buddy we’re from New York City,
we got two hundred dollars, we want to rock all night.
Girl you’re looking at two big spenders,
Why the world don’t know what me and Wayne might do
Our pa’s each own one of the World Trade Centers,
For a kiss and a smile I’ll give mine all to you…
At the end of the song, we find out how it went:
Driving out of darlington county
My eyes seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
Driving out of darlington county
Seen Wayne handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford
It’s comic trifle – the whole song is, really. But it hints at a theme conservatives believe as a part of being conservative; that the world has an enduring moral order. That there is a battle between right and wrong, Yin and Yang, good and evil – and that right and good are better, and should be exalted, or at least striven for.
“Wayne” ran afoul that order – with comic results, unless you’re “Wayne”, I suppose.
Before I get into the beef of the series, it seems I need to do a little remedial art appreciation, logic and rhetoric.
For starters, my thesis, and the case I’m making, is “Why Bruce Springsteen is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter”. Not “Bruce Springsteen is a Conservative”. He’s not. That’s all duly noted and stipulated in advance.
Not “Everything Bruce Springsteen Has Ever Written Resonates with Conservatives”. It does not. Merely most of his best stuff.
But as Socrates showed us a few millennia back, the best way to teach is to ask and to answer. In other words, it’s time for one of my Frequently Asked Questions:
“But Springsteen is a teh liberal!”: It doesn’t matter even a little. The series isn’t about him or his personal politics. They are, in fact, utterly irrelevant. Art is in the eye of the beholder. Many conservatives find resonance, even inspiration, in his music, though; this series merely explains why.
“But what if Teh Boss himself were to tell you you were wrong?”: Again, doesn’t matter. It’s not about him. It’s about what he wrote.
“What does Nate Silver say?”: Nothing.
“Don’t be teh smartass. You know what I mean. How can you empirically prove your thesis?”: There is no “empiricism” in art criticism. It’s stating a critical case for a subjective point.
“You are just trying to make teh music fit your intellectual template”: Nope. I’m stating a case for why the music not only fits my worldview, but reinforces it.
“But did you ever REALLY listen to it?”: As we’ll see in coming days, clearly, more than you have. Whoever you are.
OK. Wednesday or Thursday, we’ll get into the fun stuff!
There may be no more politically-divisive figure in popular music today.
On the one hand, he openly campaigns for liberal Democrats, and against conservatism, every election cycle. This earns the ire and contempt of many conservatives. And with a net worth of $200 million – four times Michael Moore’s portfolio – he’s the very definition of a limo liberal, even if his limo is a ’32 Ford with a 318, fuelie heads and a Hurst on the floor.
On the other hand, many of Springsteen’s highest-profile fans – Chris Christie, Tim Pawlenty, me, Laura Ingraham among many others – are one degree of conservative or another.
Now, part of that is no doubt purely visceral. Eddie Van Halen once said that rock and roll is supposed to make you feel something – angry, horny, lovelorn, whatever. And Springsteen is if nothing else an extremely gifted writer who has, for two generations now, had a gift for making people feel things – things that cross party lines, because they’re human reactions to art.
But many songwriters have that gift. And yet, in the face of perceived incongruity and even some muted, passive-aggressive hostility from the artist himself, conservatives soldier on as fans.
About a year ago a woman I know – a modestly prominent Democrat organizer – asked on Twitter “Don’t you Springsteen Republicans actually listen to his lyrics?”
To which I responded ”Yes. Do you really LISTEN to them?” And by that I meant “without slathering your own worldview and ex-post-facto knowledge of Springsteen’s life and activities outside his music over the past ten years?”
Because as I started arguing a few weeks ago in response to MPR’s question on the subject “what song sums up where this nation is at right now?” (I answered with Bruce’s This Hard Land), Springsteen’s music, especially throughout his peak creative years (which I’d argue started with his collaboration with Jon Landau on Born to Run and ran through Tunnel of Love, and rebounded on The Rising) was overflowing with themes and currents and messages that resonate with political and social conservatives. And, in fact, those themes, currents and messages were the most important ones in his repertoire.
“But wait, Berg – all you’re going to do is pound some isolated out-of-context odds and ends into a context you make up to define conservatism as conveniently as possible for your dubious premise! Right?”
Not even close.
I’ll be building this piece around a ten-point definition of conservatism from none other than that noted Paleocon tool, Andrew Sullivan who, back before his brain flitted away into Trig-Palin-triggered dementia, put together what I thought was a pretty good definition of a classical conservative:
According to Sullivan, the conservative…:
believes that an enduring moral order exists. Not an easy one, but an enduring one, anyway.
adheres to custom, convention, and continuity, barring any compelling reason to change.
believes in what may be called the principle of prescription – the idea that most of the great ideas on which our sociey was founded are good enough as is; improvement faces a steep curve.
are guided by their principle of prudence – we try to gauge actions against their probable long-term consequences.
believes that only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law.
believes human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults. Human nature is not inherently good.
believes that freedom and property are closely linked.
upholds voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism.
sees the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.
knows permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society.
That’s a good definition of classical conservatism, from Hobbes and Hume all the way to Milton Friedman.
To that, I’d add some peculiarly American characteristics; here, a conservative believes…:
That while Humanity is not perfectable, and Americans – especially as acting through government – are far from perfect, America has coalesced into a nation around a set of ideals that are in themselves inherently noble and worth upholding.
That this nation – imperfect as it is – is a free association of equals, governed by mutual consent. Government is not a set of parents needed to discipline recalcitrant children.
I’ll be doing 2-3 of these a week for the next few weeks; showing in each case how and why Bruce Springsteen’s music (if not his personal politics, obviously) not only resonates with, but inspires, people who believe in all of the above.
So roll down the window and let the bracing wind of freedom blow back your hair! C’mon – rise up! We’ll meet beneath that giant “Friedman” sign that gives this shining city light!
Don’t end up like a dog that’s been beat too much, all you henpecked conservative Bruce fans; it’s a state full of lemmings, and we’re pulling outta here to win!
The GOP’s new motto on immigration reform? Yo quiero pander…to all sides of the debate:
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told Politico that he’s open to giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship in exchange for a temporary moratorium on all legal immigration while they “assimilate.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a longtime proponent of reform, said legalization should be paired with the repeal of the 14th Amendment, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born on U.S. soil. And Republican House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Friday that he would not commit to including a path to citizenship in his immigration reform efforts…
Juan Hernandez, a Texas-based Republican political consultant who served as Sen. John McCain’s director of Hispanic outreach in 2008, said whatever the potential disagreements, congressmen should start hammering out a deal now.
“Should it be with two, three or four steps? That’s fine. Let’s negotiate. But let’s starting taking the first steps immediately,” Hernandez said. “We may not find a political moment again in which at least I see everyone saying it’s time for immigration reform.”
The cries that demographics equal destiny for an eventual GOP shift to the left on all issues pertaining to immigration reform have been shouted for some time. And in the wake of a narrow popular vote re-election for Barack Obama, carried in part by a 44% margin of victory among Latino voters, the cries have renewed with vigor. Even some in the conservative intelligentsia have backed a 2007-esque immigration reform stance, including Sean Hannity and Charles Krauthammer.
That last part is critical because Latino attitudes towards immigration reform vary depending on whether they were born here or immigrated. While 42% of all Latino voters called immigration reform their number one issue, only 32% of U.S. born Latinos agreed compared to 54% who were foreign born. Financially stable ($80k+ incomes) Latinos and those who are second generation are less likely to focus on immigration reform or support carte blanche amnesty. Those who called Spanish their first language were far more interested in immigration reform than those who said English was their primary language. The greater integrated recent immigrants had become, the less interested they were in immigration concerns.
Republicans focus on Latinos when speaking about immigration reform ignores a number of other demographic groups who have more at stake in any immigration conversation. Asians are now the largest block of recent immigrants, surpassing Hispanic migration. And as a voting block, Asian-Americans voted by similar margins to Latinos for Obama. Where are the breathless newspaper column inches declaring the GOP must court Asian-Americans?
Republican outreach to minority groups has been a priority mothballed election cycle after election cycle. If an election where nearly 13 million fewer voters showed up prompts the GOP to finally engage demographics they’ve thus far all but ignored, then great. But if Republicans try and out liberal liberals on issues like immigration reform, they will continue to find no real opportunities for political gain.
Hispanics come to America for the American Dream. They are “trabajadores,” and you would be hard pressed to find an American farmer, contractor, or restaurant owner who would not testify to their work ethic. Unfortunately, the communities in which they live and work are teeming with liberal activists: farm and service-industry labor unions, well-intentioned community-based social services providers and more radical and racially motivated Latino groups such as La Raza, LULAC, and Mecha. In addition, the curricula their kids encounter in public schools are either hostile or silent on the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and ideas that are the foundation of conservative thinking. All of these activist groups and institutions have a common ideology and an affinity for big and centralized government, and of course, entitlements. They go out of their way to sign folks up and to begin the cycle of government dependency. Once hooked to the IV of government handouts, a steady drip of ideology, and a heavy dose of raunchy pop culture, the once vibrant American Dreams and traditional family values of Hispanics drift into a slow, deep coma.
I got an email from MPR the other day. It was actually a combo email from MPR News and “The Current” asking what song we thought best summed up the state of the nation during this election season.
I wrote back with my suggestion – a song that has layer upon layer of significance to our nation, our society, our zeitgeist and the election itself. A song that’s all about dreaming a big dream, and having those dreams run up on the rocks, and hitting that moment where you have to think “was that a dream or was it a mirage?”. A song about that moment when you have to decide – do I drown, or do I sack up and carry on?
A song about truth and consequences. A song that, on a work week after a long trip across the prairie, reminds me of the huge swathe in the middle of this country, the square states full of bitter gun-clinging jebus freaks like me that are, in fact, my home and background and blood and my past. And that is, with a blessing and a tailwind, may be our nation’s future.
The song is “This Hard Land” by Bruce Springsteen.
It’s a song he wrote during a John Steinbeck jag, for Born in the USA, and that should have been on the album (be honest – would anyone miss “Downbound Train?”) and was in its day one of the most sought-after bootlegs in Springsteen’s oeuvre.
So many layers to this song, and to the reasons I chose it.
Hey there mister can you tell me what happened to the seeds Ive sown
Can you give me a reason sir as to why they’ve never grown
They’ve just blown around from town to town
Till they’re back out on these fields
Where they fall from my hand
Back into the dirt of this hard land
Thomas Hobbes, the 18th-century British intellectual who was one of the patron saints of conservatism as we understand it today, couldn’t have expressed better the fundamental conservative ideal that “life’s a bitch”, that there are forces that are bigger and more powerful than men and their dreams.
But well return to that.
Now me and my sister from germantown
We did ride
We made our bed sir from the rock on the mountainside
We been blowin around from town to town
Lookin for a place to stand
Where the sun burst through the cloud
To fall like a circle
Like a circle of fire down on this hard land
America is a land of myths. Mostly big and glorious ones – like the ones that drew our forefathers, like the singer and his sister, from their old homes, the Germantowns and Norwayvilles and Saigon Centers, to This Hard Land. Much of what America sees as its own self-image – whether the wilderness of the Badlands or the wilderness of the tradiing floor or the inventors garage or the moon or the neighborhood or the entrenched beliefs of the human heart – is about the epic American dream of going where your ancestors have never gone before, of being something they weren’t.
And over the past seventy years, it’s become about the marketing of those dreams, whether via John Wayne or “Hope and Change”.
But like all dreams – and their cousins, the myth and the chimera – they run afoul a brutal reality:
Now even the rain it don’t come round
It don’t come round here no more
And the only sound at nights the wind
Slammin the back porch door
It just stirs you up like it wants to blow you down
Twistin and churnin up the sand
Leavin all them scarecrows lyin face down
Face down in the dirt of this hard land
The prairie is dotted with the remains of old farm homes from families that just didn’t make it, flindered remains of their back doors still slamming in the wind. Just as America is dotted with businesses that tried and failed, leaving behind empty buildings, rusty frames, doors drifting back and forth in the desultory breeze. And yes, the wreckage of government initiatives like the one that’s dominated our political life this past presidential term, a dream – a chimera from a brief majority four years ago – of an undertaking that, despite the fervency of its dreamers’ beliefs, has failed as completely as the sodbuster in the song. Whether through poor design, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or being fundamentally wrong or – like the singer and his sister – just from suffering a bad run of luck in the face of a merciless and uncaring Nature, all of human existence is a tough grind dominated by forces we don’t, by ourselves, control.
Being human, we attempt to control them anyway – to bring order to the chaos, and to tame the untameable:
From a building up on the hill
I can hear a tape deck blastin’ ”Home on the Range”
I can see them Bar-M choppers
Sweepin’ low across the plains
Its me and you, Frank, we’re lookin for lost cattle
Our hooves twistin and churnin up the sand
Were ridin in the whirlwind searchin for lost treasure
Way down south of the Rio Grande
Were ridin cross that river
In the moonlight
Up onto the banks of this hard land
It’s human nature to try to bottle up and contain Nature, whether the nature around us or the nature inside us.
And it’s one of the great dividing lines in human nature, the one between those who are content for their “home on the range” to come recorded, to have the almighty Bar-M or The Almighty or The One out looking for the strays, for those who are just fine being “Julia“…
…and those whose dreams, or mirages, embrace the chaos that ensues where life and Nature, natural and human, are in conflict.
And the last verse is for them:
Hey frank wont ya pack your bags
And meet me tonight down at liberty hall
Just one kiss from you my brother
And we’ll ride until we fall
Well sleep in the fields
Well sleep by the rivers and in the morning
Well make a plan
Well if you can’t make it
Stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive
If you can
And meet me in a dream of this hard land
Whether it’s the pioneer seeking more elbow room from all the other settlers and their choppers and tape decks, or from bouncing back from a failure, or a big part of a nation taking a deep breath and saying “this is not the path we want”, or, I dunno, Atlas shrugging for all I know, this verse – with allusions to Okies loading up their trucks and bidding their relatives goodbye, or immigrants climbing on the boat and wishing their old lives auf wiedersehen, or men kissing their wives and kids and mustering down at Liberty Hall as the drums and the hobnails rattle on the wind, or a people saying “thanks, Julia, and all the best to you and that mysterious niece and/or nephew that appeared a few frames back, but I’m looking for something a little more…epically mythical” - is the American myth; the idea that we are a restless pack of strivers looking for a newer, better, freer horizon.
Beyond that, in terms of politics today? Every generation dreams of leaving a better world to their kids, as I do for my kids and my new granddaughter. We have a distinct chance, as things go, of leaving them a world that my ancestors in the Dust Bowl would look at and whisper “there but for the grace of God…”. And unlike the the Okies, our immigrant forefathers and protagonist in “This Hard Land”, this time there’s noplace to ride away to to start over. We’re stuck with this hard land.
For me, the song also is further evidence that Springsteen – my favorite American R&R songwriter since Johnny Cash – is America’s best conservative songwriter. Looking at his prime output from the height of his muse, there’s a case to be made that once you peel off the rhetoric and the Hollywood and the political dross of the past decade, his music was fundamentally conservative. And I’ll make the case, since American conservatism’s most important non-electoral mission is to engage in this nation’s larger non-political culture.
More on this after the election.
Anyway – ask a question, you’ll get an answer. Usually.
UPDATE: Hobbes, not Hume. Sigh. It’s been a few years.
“. . . I don’t have a choice about who to buy electricity or water from. Those are regulated utilities because they have a monopoly. I do, however have the choice of buying an iPhone versus Samsung vs not buying a smart phone at all. Mitch chose to buy the Apple product, knowing that he is supporting a pro-gay rights company. I find that interesting.”
For crying out loud, how long does it take Sanity to do his shopping?
Let’s see, Fiber One or Fiber Plus? Hmmm, how to decide? Price? Fiber content? Taste?
No, that’s all irrelevant. How do their company executives feel about homosexuals – that’s the important thing! Fiber One is made by General Mills, which opposes the marriage amendment, meaning General Mills is Pro Gay. Okay, Fiber One it is.
Now, Land O’Lakes milk or Roundy’s?
Honestly, do people live like that? How can they stand to think that way?
Joe’s right – I mean, if a cell phone manufacturer advertised itself as “ambivalent about gay rights”, it’d be at least irrelevant to my purchasing decision (well behind “do the maps work?”), and most likely detrimental (I mean, not only is it unseemly, but marketing via social wedges is off-puttingly cynical).
But yes, Joe, people most definitely do live like that. And not just commenter “Sanity” (who is, I suspect, one of the “Penigma” hive). In fact, just about everyone is like that in one way or another.
I’m conservative. As a conservative, poitics aren’t the be-all and end-all of my life; it’s a hobby, like playing guitar or blogging. But my religious faith? That is important. It plays into the major, and most of the minor, decisions in my life. For example, in 12 years of being single a second time, I haven’t dated an atheist – or even anyone who’s not some variety of Christian. In something as vital as “a potential life partner”,. some sort of agreement on the basic nature and meaning of life is fairly vital.
As re the company that makes my cell phone? Not so much. As long as they don’t trade slaves or donate too promiscuously to Democrat and anti-liberty causes (as the company that used to own Pepsi, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell did for many years with their support for The Brady Organization – until a boycott from people like me got them to reconsider), I don’t really care.
For liberals, on the other hand? It’s a stereotype that politics are more important than religion for liberals – but stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason. In a dozen years on the dating market (more or less enthusiastically) I’ve never had a conversation with a self-identified liberalette go south over my religion, my taste in music or my choice of cell phone. But I have had three or four send me emails oozing horror when they discovered I was a conservative. ”I could never date one of…you“, they say. Prodded, a few have replied to the effect of “because I think having some agreement on the basic nature and meaning of life is fairly vital”.
So even if all you have to go by is stereotype (as is the case with the commenter in question) and assume I oppose “gay rights” – I don’t, and have likely done more against anti-gay bigotry than most liberals anyway – it betrays one of the great aspects of the left-right culture clash; for conservatives, politics is a necessary evil, a chore you do for the greater good, like cleaning the septic tank, so you can get to what matters.
For liberals, politics and its attendant optics and messaging and symbology – let’s call it “liturgy” - are the point.
Like most conservatives, there are few things in the world I like less than standing around, marching or chanting. Oh, I do like being out in the fresh air with a group of good people that have goals similar to mine in mind – but leaving aside the fact that it seems so group-think-y, hippy-ish and downright liberal, it’s pretty much inevitable that there’ll be something better to do, somewhere in the world, than that.
But I, myself, am getting a little exercised about the Star/Tribune’s ongoing propaganda exercise (AKA “the Minnesota Poll”). And I’m more than a little tempted to grab an afternoon next week and see if we can’t get some people more or less like us out in front of 425 Portland to try to let them know that not everyone out there is a querulous low-information lemming.
A very wise friend of mine, who has gotten heavily involved in the Ron Paul camp in the past couple of years, asked “So in this election, you have a choice between the guy who’ll take 35% of your income, and the guy who’ll take 39%”.
Er…take the 35%?
And work like hell to get a conservative Senate and keep the House?
I know; many among the Ron Paul supporters – especially the ones who are trying to pretend Gary Johnson is relevant – are claiming there’s no difference between Romney and
Incrementalism is only bad if a) it’s in the wrong direction and b) you can’t at least maintain, if not accelerate, it in the right direction.