Bruce Springsteen has been the darling of the rock press for three decades, first marked by simultaneous Time and Newsweek cover stories in 1975 when he hadn't yet had a big hit song. Two years ago, Springsteen was the toast of rock music again for his album "The Rising," a sober set of songs about the losses of September 11, and Time put him back on the cover. He offered the response the press had wanted: sad literary chronicles of loves lost and hopes dashed, without any of what they saw in country star Toby Keith, oafish flag-waving bravado with a redneck accent.
At the time, Springsteen had even supported President Bush's invasion of Afghanistan, telling Time it "was handled very, very smoothly." Apparently, that opinion was temporary, because Springsteen is how headlining "Vote for Change," a vote-against-Bush concert series sponsored by the hard-left outfit MoveOn.org, which unlike Springsteen, opposed the invasion of Afghanistan with every fiber of its cyber-being. The tour is also sponsored by Americans Coming Together, a Democratic soft-money coalition of labor unions, abortion lobbies, and old Clinton lackeys.
Springsteen and all the other artists who signed up, from James Taylor to little-known bands with names like Death Cab for Cutie, signed on to a declaration that saluted these "progressive" groups for being on the "cutting edge" of social justice and war and peace debates. The obvious hope is a resurgence of the cultural politics of the Sixties, with rock stars as revolutionaries against the military-industrial complex, capturing the radical imagination of nostalgic baby boomers and their kids at the same time.
Soon, the media was tsk-tsking about the unfortunate mockery of that precious breed of liberal singers with the conscience and courage to speak out for John Kerry. Ted Koppel arrived at Springsteen's estate for an interview on "Nightline," but it quickly appeared he had come to treat "the Boss" as that oracle of the age who could stop the madness of Bush's wars on the state supporters of terrorism.
Koppel's tone could be summarized as "whoa, this is a little dangerous for you, to be so bold for the right thing." He did ask the obvious question of why a rock star would tell anyone how to vote. But Springsteen said this was his favorite question, "because it only seems to be asked of musicians and artists," and not corporate lobbyists or union activists. Like the Dixie Chicks, he had the self-pitying idea that small-minded conservatives insist that Celebrities of Conscience pay a price for just being "citizens" of America.
But if Springsteen were a corporate lobbyist, he would probably have never been receiving Ted Koppel into his house for a journalistic shoeshine. Artists like Springsteen don't have to catch a cab into the studio and debate some schlub from the other side of the partisan divide. For a rock star, the media will build a glittery platform so that the celebrity pundit can pretend to be wise about topics they don't exactly sound impressive discussing.
If your average corporate lobbyist said the things that Springsteen said in favor of voting for Kerry, it would be a very dull "Nightline," indeed. All Springsteen brought to the table, except for a wacky MoveOn-style line about democracy under George Bush "devolving into oligarchy," was a collection of Democratic talking points warmed over from the Boston convention. He was against large tax cuts for the richest one percent, against a rollback of environmental regulations, and against cutting after-school programs.
He also mouthed the liberal line that this is one of the most important elections of our lifetime - which is code for "President Bush is uniquely horrendous." Lukewarm Springsteen didn't exactly sound like John Kerry would be the president of our lifetimes, implying instead that deposing Bush was the glaring necessity.
With an average guest, the viewer might expect a tougher set of questions, but not for a rock star. No one would ask Springsteen where had the man gone who supported the war in Afghanistan, and how did that clash with his current concert sponsors? Since he's now an expert on foreign policy, Koppel could have reminded Springsteen that in 1990, he performed a benefit concert for the Christic Institute, a radical-left group which insisted that the CIA was ruining Nicaragua, which at that time had a communist dictatorship, or perhaps he could call it a "devolved oligarchy." Now it's a democracy. Would Springsteen offer any apologies to the people of Nicaragua for opposing their democratic dreams?
Springsteen does not receive these questions, because he is somehow above them. It's a tribute to his political cluelessness that he does not understand that it's this artist's exemption to a decently tough interview that really upsets the less liberal folks at home.
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