Rosenbaum: How Bruce Springsteen Elected Barack Obama

Scrutinizing culture.
Nov. 9 2012 6:29 PM

How Bruce Springsteen Elected Barack Obama

Sandy, Snooki, Christie, Bruce, and Barack.

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Could it be (on a mythic level, anyway) that Sandy (the malevolent storm) was like a wrathful goddess cruelly and pitilessly smiting the shore that had given her birth and abandoned her for Snooki, the pugnacious self-tanner who turned the Jersey shore into Jersey Shore?

Obviously, I’m speaking metaphorically here, not literally. But it’s worth considering in a little more detail the role Sandy (the storm) and Bruce (the singer) played in the final days and hours of President Obama’s campaign.

With all the momentum still seeming to be on Romney’s side a week before the election, Obama flies up to the Sandy-stricken Jersey shore, where he’s embraced by GOP Big Man Chris Christie, whose effusive gratitude for the presidential visit and promised assistance dominates the national media for several crucial days, stomping out any “Mittmentum” that might remain as Romney is relegated to handing out canned food in obscurity. Several more days are then devoted to analyzing what it all meant. Some exit polls show that 40 percent of voters felt that Obama’s hurricane response—or what they saw of it—was an important factor in their vote.

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This, by the way, is the Chris Christie who claims to have attended 100 Bruce Springsteen concerts (which is a little sad you have to admit—it’s true I have mixed feelings about the fat guv). He’s an emotional guy whose sense of urgency about the plight his coast faced must have been shot through, somehow, with a Springsteenian sense of the perilous beauty and tragic aura of the devastated boardwalk towns. And then we learn that Obama got Bruce Springsteen—who’d previously been standoffish with the GOP gov—to call Chris Christie from Air Force One. After which a jubilant Christie confessed that when Bruce had hugged him during a brief meeting at a Sandy telethon—before Bruce went back on the road with Obama—Christie had gone home and wept! Bruce was Chris Christie’s Sandy. (Which must have led to more teeth-grinding at Romney HQ: What was Bruce doing on Air Force One?)

Quite simply, what Bruce was doing was winning the election for Obama by playing a tireless marathon series of free concerts that drew crowds for the president in Ohio and Wisconsin—the imperiled Rust Belt “firewall” of Obama’s electoral strategy—state contests that most pollsters agreed depended on whether Obama could attract just enough white, male, working-class voters (even if far from a majority) to his coalition. The white, male, working-class voters who are the heart of Springsteen’s fan base. And who, it seems, must have been open to an appeal from the Boss (I know, I cringe) to overlook their reservations about a black president and, essentially, vote for Bruce.

Who knows how many were swayed by the power of music and how many by the power of Bruce fanship (which is usually totally fanatic if it’s there at all)? Who knows how many voters were swayed by the anthemic Bruce ballad that became the Obama campaign’s closing-days theme song: “We Take Care of Our Own.” (It’s a post-Katrina protest song, and the title is kind of ironic or maybe aspirational. Listen to the lyrics that go:  

From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
There ain't no help, the cavalry stayed home
There ain't no one hearing the bugle blowin'

Perhaps the choice was designed to remind voters that this time would be different. This time we really would take care of our own.

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