Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part I: Telling Fortunes Better Than You Do

Bruce Springsteen.

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.

Why?

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!

28 thoughts on “Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part I: Telling Fortunes Better Than You Do

  1. Well, that’s fine, but the post and series aren’t really intended for you, either.

    Just saying.

  2. I’m eager to read this series because (a) I’m a Springsteen fan and (b) there’s a lot of evidence on both sides of the equation.

    And I’ve often wanted to walk the darkness of Candy’s hall.

  3. Love the line about meeting ‘neath that giant Friedman sign.”

    I look forward to reading the series, because this country’s got debts no honest man can pay.

  4. I agree….Bruce likes to talk Big Liberal (and since he is a multi-miilioniare living in a gated community, I guess he would be). But how roles have changed. Now the hard working lower-middle class tend to be Republicans.

    Want evidence? Ask a Democrat to describe the typical Republican. You will get two views:
    1) A rich elitist. The type of person who is worth $200,000,000 and lives in a gated community in New Jersey.
    2) A lower income working class person who doesn’t listen to Public Radio. But likes to work on cars and drink beer. Someone who isn’t the most fashionable, and lives from paycheck to paycheck.

  5. With all due respect, Mitch, stick to what you know.
    There ain’t no such thing as a 318 with fuelie heads.
    A 327, yes.
    I suspect (notwithstanding that he is, apparently a Ford guy) Boss Hoss will back me up on this.

  6. “With all due respect, Mitch, stick to what you know.
    There ain’t no such thing as a 318 with fuelie heads.”

    Don’t look at me. It’s in the song.

  7. mnbubba, you are correct and so is Mitch. I wonder if a 318 with fuelie heads is like a Z/29 Camaro or a Boss 303 Mustang? ;-)

  8. This is as contorted as your writing about how the polling was wrong and was somehow a liberal conspiracy.

    Turns out the polling was perfectly correct, not a conspiracy at all, your side was simply losing and you had to stand on your head and whistle to try to make that go away, attacking the polls instead of accepting that they reflected pretty well the objective reality.

    The boss has made it very clear where his loyalties and ideology lie, and it isn’t with conservative thought or ideals. I realize you like the guy — he’s remarkable. But that doesn’t mean he has to support your politics and ideology; it’s perfectly ok to like, enjoy and appreciate people who think differently than you do.

    Don’t try to make him into something he isn’t, and accept that he rejects your views on pretty much all things political. You could take the more reasonable approach of contacting him and asking him his opinion of conservatism. Who knows – he might answer you. But he deserves the opportunity to speak for himself.

  9. DG,

    Read the series. You have already missed the point, and the point hasn’t come up yet.

    I’d give you a hint – “it’s not about what he thinks personally, and with art it never really is” – but I won’t labor under the delusion you’ll actually engage in a discussion.

    Hey – how was “Stand your Ground” “crap legislation?”

    Because your I’m not really interested in anything you write here until you either answer the question or admit you were repeating chanting points.

  10. Been waiting for this one awhile, Mitch. It’ll be a day or two before I’ve got the time to really read it. Looking forward to it!

  11. We’ll meet beneath that giant “Friedman” sign that gives this shining city light!

    This is gonna be good.

  12. I think DB (Bonhoeffer) has the right idea about DG:

    “Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defence. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved — indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive. A fool must therefore be treated much more cautiously than a scoundrel; we shall never again try to convince a fool by reason, for it is both useless and dangerous…

    “…The fact that the fool is often stubborn must not mislead us into thinking that he is independent. One feels in fact, when talking to him, that one is dealing, not with the man himself, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like, which have taken hold of him. He is under the spell, he is blinded, his very nature is being misused and exploited. Having thus become a passive instrument, the fool will be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that is is evil. Here lies the danger of a diabolical exploitation that can do irreparable damage to human beings.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “After 10 Years”)

  13. And of course Miss Ann chimes in from the main plantation house (that her husbands wealth affords her) telling others what to say, how to think and how to act. In another time her forebears noted that slaves may as well not even try to get on the underground railroad to freedom.

  14. Unfortunately, your whole premise is based on certain misstatements and misperceptions as to make your whole argument irrelevent before you even begin.

    But let’s start out with just a few basic premises that I’ve argued with my conservative friends. 1st, Springsteen isn’t “the most politically devisive” force in pop music. It ain’t even close. There are a lot of artists who mix politics with their music during a concert. Springsteen has figured out (at least this time around) not to mix the two. There’s nothing overtly political on this tour (unless you count food shelves a liberal cause). All his politics have been done at benefits where you know what you’re getting.

    Two other points, there are a number of conservative-supporting musicians Liberals support. heck, I can listen to Skynard & Kid Rock. I even like a few Nugent songs and the man is the worst human being on the planet.

    Second, if you’re going to pretend that the paycheck-to-paycheck workin’s man can honestly be a concervative, then don’t be hypocritical to think Springsteen can’t honestly be a Liberal. I always get a kick out of how angry it makes conservative when a Liberal can make tons of money and still hold on to the liberal ideals.

  15. “And of course Miss Ann chimes in from the main plantation house (that her husbands wealth affords her)”

    Supporting her while agreeing to compete with a German Shepard…Mr. Mongrel Cur is a bigger man than I.

  16. Unfortunately, your whole premise is based on certain misstatements and misperceptions as to make your whole argument irrelevent before you even begin.

    “Irrelevant?” To what?

    But let’s start out with just a few basic premises that I’ve argued with my conservative friends. 1st, Springsteen isn’t “the most politically devisive” force in pop music. It ain’t even close. There are a lot of artists who mix politics with their music during a concert.

    Right.

    How many of them have significant numbers of vocal, prominent conservative fans?

    Two other points, there are a number of conservative-supporting musicians Liberals support. heck, I can listen to Skynard & Kid Rock. I even like a few Nugent songs and the man is the worst human being on the planet.

    Right. That attacks my premise exactly how?

    Second, if you’re going to pretend that the paycheck-to-paycheck workin’s man can honestly be a concervative, (sic)

    …which, exit polls show, he largely is..

    then don’t be hypocritical to think Springsteen can’t honestly be a Liberal.

    This is the part that trips up you, Dog, and most liberals who argue against my premise.

    It doesn’t matter what Springsteen, personally, is.

    What matters is what he’s written – its themes, it’s resonances.

    All art is in the eye of the beholder. Art criticism is about what one has beheld.

  17. Springsteen’s message is conservative in the same way abortion is health care.

    Untrue.

    He is personally very left-of-center.

    And that’s irrelevant.

  18. “I always get a kick out of how angry it makes conservative when a Liberal can make tons of money and still hold on to the liberal ideals.”

    Making tons of money and holding on to their utopian delusions doesn’t make conservatives angry….it’s spewing their utopian delusions while hanging on to their tons of cash with a death grip some of us have a problem with.

    Hypocrisy some calls it.

  19. Mitch wrote: “What matters is what he’s written – its themes, it’s resonances.”

    Hey little girl is your daddy home
    Did he go and leave you all alone
    I got a bad desire
    Oh-oh-oh, I’m on fire

    Tell me now baby is he good to you
    Can he do to you the things I don’t do
    I can take you higher
    Oh-oh-oh, I’m on fire, I’m on fire

    My favorite “conservative” Springsteen message.

    I know you love the guy, Mitch. Fair ball. And I understand what you’re trying to say. But a lot of us won’t buy it. Just sayin’.

  20. Didn’t say every message was conservative, Colonel.

    And not even conservatives are thinking conservative thoughts 24/7.

    And where do you suppose little conservatives come from, anyway?

  21. Kel,

    Forget the spelling and grammar. Where did he learn how to argue a case about a subjective matter?

  22. “Where did he learn how to argue a case about a subjective matter?”

    From the Doggy and InSanity school of debate, of course!

  23. Pingback: Bruce Springsteen Is America’s Greatest Conservative Songwriter, Part IX: I Built The Challenger By Myself | Shot in the Dark

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