Bruce Springsteen wrote the essential song of the 2012 campaign before he or anyone else knew what the year’s political landscape would look like, or the extent to which it would be influenced by shocking violence at a movie theater in Colorado and a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy or Mitt Romney’s dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as dependent class unworthy of his concern.
But Springsteen recognized something in the America discourse, a longing for a touchstone theme. “I’ve been lookin’ for the map that leads me home…” he wrote.
That search led him back to the most basic of American premises, the most patriotic of American premises: “We take care of our own.”
But Springsteen did not dare suggest that it would simply happen. In fact, he warned that it was a promise often left unfulfilled:
From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Superdome
We yelled “help” but the cavalry stayed home
here ain’t no-one hearing the bugle blown…
Springsteen “got it,” perhaps even before he knew he “got it,” that the 2012 election would answer core questions: “Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me? Where’s the promise, from sea to shining sea?”
And he answered for progressive America:
Wherever this flag’s flown
We take care of our own
We take care of our own…
Those words were destined to become the soundtrack for Barack Obama’s reelection campaign.
That destiny was confirmed when Americans heard Mitt Romney tell his big-dollar donors:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.
Then Romney picked as his running mate Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman who had for years sought to turn Americans against one another — as “takers versus “makers.” Romney might preach a crudely divisive politics, but Ryan practiced it, and promised to codify it in a roadmap to an American future where America would not take care of its own.