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!