How Bruce Springsteen Elected Barack Obama
Sandy, Snooki, Christie, Bruce, and Barack.
Indeed, in the final days, with Bruce riding around with Obama on Air Force One, it was almost as though he was on the ticket, Obama’s spiritual VP. Or at least ambassador from Asbury Park. (Indeed, it makes you wonder if Bruce has a political future.) And the concerts and especially that song—the guy knows how to go straight for the heart, like a laser-guided drone. He knows how to make you feel, for at least an instant, we could all be better than we are. That’s a talent.
And with the election coming down to the last minutes, the last few votes, it can’t be insignificant that the demographic of attendees drawn to Obama campaign events by all those free Bruce concerts was the heart of the heart of the undecided voter segment that would eventually give Obama the election. After all, once you consider that Obama won Ohio by fewer than 2 percent, don’t try to tell me the combination of Sandy, Christie, and above all Bruce wasn’t the decider. In fact the Wall Street Journal post-election analysis of the Ohio vote put Obama's margin in swing counties in Ohio at 16,176—about the total for a couple of small Bruce concerts.
What was it about Bruce that gave him the power to confer authenticity on his candidate after all these years as a showman? You have to admire it. Something about his earnestness—which can get a little overbearing—is real. As someone said, “Once you can fake sincerity, everything else is easy.” The line is often misinterpreted, thought to be about masterful phonies. But it’s actually about the difficulty of faking sincerity. I’m not saying sincerity is the highest artistic virtue, but I don’t think Bruce’s sincerity can be faked. We’re all sensitive to fake sincerity these days. Reality TV sincerity. Jersey Shore sincerity. But I’ve always had the feeling that that was the essence of Bruce’s genius. If overearnestness was his downside, it was his upside as well.
The question of sincerity and why Bruce made the difference—OK, a key difference—in the final outcome brings us to the Romney and Snooki connection and the self-tanning controversy. It will be little noted nor long remembered, as some previous president once wrote, that Mitt Romney—when asked, long before Sandy, who was his favorite pop culture icon (between Snooki and Honey Boo Boo)—claimed that he really liked Snooki (“so energetic”), making it seem as if he were a regular, Jersey Shore-watching guy.
I’m serious. Has there ever been a more transparent and contemptible lie? Sure, it’s a minor point. But it’s contemptible because it displays (like the 47 percent line) Romney’s contempt for the “little people.” Throw them a name from their vulgar culture and they’ll eat it up on the food-stamp lines.
He thinks ordinary people are so stupid they’d actually believe he and his wife and maybe his “dancing horse” (as Snoop Dogg, among others, memorably called the steed) sit down together to watch Snooki and the Sitch. Give me an effen' break.
The nature of this inauthenticity, this shallowness, is so deep it’s almost fathomless. Couple that with another forgotten pre-Sandy campaign controversy: Does Romney use self-tanner, as this Jezebel roundup suggests? Or is it just “full makeup,” as this Times story euphemizes?
I don’t begrudge Snooki her self-tanning. But a presidential candidate who needs to be so heavily made up can be said to be, on some fundamental or at least metaphorical level, “made up.”
And I think that’s where Bruce’s championing of Obama comes in.
For just enough of those voters, the doubting ones, the election of the president became a choice not between Obama and Romney but between Bruce and Romney. You know who won.
Somewhere the Big Man is smiling. (And by Big Man I don’t mean the fat governor, even though he proved himself a bigger man than I thought.)
Thank you for your work, Bruce.
Ron Rosenbaum is the author of The Shakespeare Wars and Explaining Hitler. His latest book is How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III.