Meet me in a land of hope and dreams: Springsteen and Obama in Madison

Bruce Springsteen sang “Land of Hope and Dreams” at this morning’s rally. Here are some of the lyrics:

Oh meet me in a land of hope and dreams

This train…
Carries saints and sinners
This train…
Carries losers and winners
This train…
Carries whores and gamblers
This train…
Carries lost souls

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have some issues with President Obama’s policies and by nature and temperament, I’m not much for political rallies. In fact, I don’t know when I last attended one. I went today in part because it was two blocks away from Grace Church. But a greater factor was the promise to see Bruce Springsteen (full disclosure: his performance today is the closest I’ve been to a rock concert in a very long time, too). The Boss came out with a guitar and harmonica. He opened with “No Retreat, No Surrender” and also sang “The Promised Land” and “Land of Hope and Dreams.”

What I find compelling about Springsteen is the way in which he gave (gives) voice to a generation. Although he’s 63, the America about which he sings is not the America of the unbroken promises and possibility of a babyboomer generation that went to college, got good jobs, and are now looking forward to a leisurely retirement. His America is the rust belt, a nation populated by (mostly) men who chased a different dream, a dream of a good job on an assembly line, working for a company that would provide a good pension in retirement. That dream was shattered for the rust belt by the late 70s, and Springsteen became the poet of that lost dream.

It was almost eerie to hear “No Surrender” at today’s rally. From the 1984 album Born in the USA, in many ways it’s a typical Springsteen song, evocative of a carefree childhood and the gritty reality and broken dreams of adult life. That it was written 28 years ago was even more poignant; for over that time, the gap between the nostalgic past, the hopeful dreams of a future, and the difficult reality of life today, has only widened. I wonder if he was also alluding to the excitement and hope of 2008 and Obama’s election, and what has transpired over the past four years.

President Obama also alluded to that emotional gap between 2008 and today. Because of Springsteen, because of him naming the chasm between hope and reality, there was a very different feel at today’s rally than I expected. President Obama made his case and urged those in attendance to help turn out the vote.

In her remarks, Tammy Baldwin made the case that the two presidential candidates offer to very different visions for America–between Romney’s “you’re on your own” and Obama’s “we’re all in this together.” I think that’s right and I think that if Obama has made a mistake in this campaign, it is that he has failed to articulate what that vision is, what it means, and what the consequences of the alternative vision are. Springsteen did that, both in his music and in his remarks.

One thing that interests me is the fact that over his career, Springsteen has chronicled the lives and ethos of white working class males, a group that seems to be voting for Romney in large numbers.

But that train carries us all, saints and sinners, winners and losers, lost souls. That’s the vision of America that inspires me. And later this evening, I will be serving meals on that train, to more than a hundred homeless people, none of whom probably were at that rally.