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Springsteen, Walmart, Populism and Republicans

By Jack Sanders
Thursday, March 19th, 2009

On election night 2008, following the victory speech by the newly elected president-elect Barack Obama, the first song that blasted out into the Hyde Park crowd was Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising”.  It was the culmination of what The Boss had become – the definitive background music to the populist progressive movement. Reactionary left-wing pundits then expressed disbelief when it was revealed that Springsteen had entered into a exclusive release deal with Walmart, similar to the kind that had yielded unexpected success with the AC/DC’s Black Ice last year.

Springsteen’s political advocacy peaked in the ‘08 presidential election when he played numerous benefit shows for Democratic candidates in key swing states – undoubtedly causing some people to hear a message which they may not otherwise have heard – right up to Election Day.  Springsteen brought his predominantly white audience a liberal message in an election which Barack Obama was able to win, even where 5% of voters said they wouldn’t vote for a black man for President, and 25% of white voters said that people they knew probably would vote for a black man. 

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Springsteen has demonstrated his principles by publicly turning down 12 million dollars from Chrysler, which he was offered for use of his song “Born in the U.S.A.”, an anti-Vietnam War protest song.  The song was so widely misinterpreted that it was used by Ronald Reagan during his 1984 presidential campaign:

“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in songs so many young Americans admire: New Jersey’s own Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

When Bob Dole used the song during his failed presidential campaign in 1996, Springsteen himself was prompted to write an open letter to his local newspaper:

“I read in The [Asbury Park] Press this morning that my music was appropriated for the Republican rally for Bob Dole in Red Bank [New Jersey] yesterday. Just for the record, I’d like to make clear that it was used without my permission and I am not a supporter of the Republican ticket.”

Springsteen is more of a populist than a party supporter, however.  He recently called out Ticketmaster, owned by Democratic Party supporter Irving Azoff, for engaging in suspicious secondary ticket marketing of concert tickets though Ticketmaster subsidiary TicketNow. Then, he joined other populist voices in calling for a halt to the proposed Ticketmaster merger with venue monolith LiveNation – owner of 90% American amphitheaters – claiming that it would create a “near monopoly” in ticket marketing. 

The decision by Springsteen to enter into an exclusive agreement with Walmart during a time period when he was actively promoting Obama’s candidacy for President was certainly surprising.  Most of the left wing has been critical of Walmart’s unsavory labor practices – President Obama himself publicly criticized the company before beginning his campaign for president in 2006:

“Unlike the manufacturers who are under enormous competitive pressure from global low-cost producers, Wal-Mart is making enormous profits and yet it has chosen to go with low wages and diminished benefits … The battle to engage Wal-Mart and force them to examine their corporate values and policies is absolutely vital to America today.”

At that time, Obama reportedly pointed to Walmart’s rival Costco, where the average pay is 60% higher and health-care benefits are provided to more than 80% of its employees, compared to less than half at Walmart.

Americans appreciate the value and power of contrition. In an American courtroom, an admission is accepted as so compelling that it is generally accepted as evidence, even if it would be otherwise inadmissible hearsay.   When Bruce apologized for marketing a Greatest Hits record through Walmart, he acknowledged that it was done incorrectly, identified why it was done incorrectly, noted that he was used to doing better and seemed genuinely appreciative that his “fans” cared enough about those issues to bring it to his attention.

“We were in the middle of doing a lot of things, it kind of came down and, really, we didn’t vet it the way we usually do,” he said. “We just dropped the ball on it.” Instead of offering the exclusive collection to Wal-Mart, “given its labor history, it was something that if we’d thought about it a little longer, we’d have done something different.” He added, “It was a mistake. Our batting average is usually very good, but we missed that one. Fans will call you on that stuff, as it should be.”

The Boss’ latest record, Working on a Dream – which includes the Obama campaign trail title track and a song from alleged Oscar-megasnub The Wrestler – has five or six pretty great songs.  Anthems like “Queen of the Supermarket” (although I was initially disappointed that it wasn’t an updated “Supermarket Fantasy” by Screeching Weasel) and the Arcade Fire-sounding “Outlaw Pete”, with its really imaginative production, make those five or six songs different when compared to most of the Springsteen that you probably know.  That makes this a good record.  It’s hardly the beginning of this direction if one heard the wall-of-sound production on “Girls in Their Summer Dresses” from the Magic album – and the results are enough songs for half of an awesome record.

Republicans in Congress hate Bruce Springsteen.

In 2005, New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corizine proposed, in an entirely routine ceremonial vote, for a resolution honoring the anniversary of the record Born to Run.  According to the Associated Press, Republicans in the Senate refused to bring up the resolution for consideration, despite the fact that resolutions in the Senate honoring artists, athletes and events are routinely unanimously entered. Republicans refused to honor Bruce Springsteen, but Republican House Majority Leader Bill Frist’s suppiorted the same recognition of right-wing gun-nut Ted Nugent.

Bruce is in good company in consideration of the policy decisions of the Republicans.  In addition to opposing Bruce Springsteen, Republicans and their (at least ideological) leader Rush Limbaugh publicly voiced support and/or votes for:


1.    Walmart

2.    Allegedly advocating and directly causing people to be tortured,

3.    Legalizing the unconstitutional warrantless search and wiretapping of innocent people

4.    Engaging in exploitation of fear of terrorism and racism to gain public support for a five and a half year war rife with war profiteering by Republican political cronies, horrifying human rights violations, and the death of thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children

5.    Lies about weapons of mass destruction directed to capitalize on fear, anger and confusion

6.    The serious suggestion of privatizing Social Security

7.    Opposition to mandatory carbon emissions controls

8.    Consistent objection to any significant regulation of the private sector economy

9.    The politicization of the judicial branch of government and the Department of Justice

10.         And the blatant and shameless manner in which disaster relief for Hurricane Katrina was handled and

11.         Cuts in Veterans Administration spending which led to the mold, mouse droppings, cockroaches, and rotted holes in the walls at Walter Reed Veterans Hospital just miles from the White House. 


Parenthetically, it must not be forgotten that the Walter Reed injured veterans, who suffered for George Bush’s administration’s lies, received such poor care from the Bush Administration that our wounded soldiers actually managed the care of one another – and were put in charge of others at risk for suicide.  As of February 2008, every day in Iraq five U.S. soldiers attempted suicide.

George W. Bush mislead a country into going to war in terms so certain that “mislead” is euphemistic.  His administration authorized interrogations on foreign soil by contractors who followed no protocols or real limitations in what they could do to people.  Human rights abuses took place.  Innocent people were tortured by the United States with the approval and, likely, at the direction of our Republican leaders.  Our own soldiers were sent to war by Republicans, based on lies propagated by Republicans, without appropriate equipment and body armor that Republicans knew were needed but did not supply.  Our soldiers came home from the war to a Republican administration that did not treat them appropriately. 

Republicans attempted to shift arguments away from the question of why the war was taking place, to the measure of tactics employed in the war. This was a smoke screen for absolutely incompetent leadership that led a country into a war that did not need to occur.

It took strength to stand up to the 2002 lie which ultimately led to the Iraq war.  296 Republican and Democrats in the Congress voted to approve the war – including 81 Democrats.  77 Senators voted to approve the war.  The unapologetic right wing continues to endorse an illegal war and push for the country to overlook the atrocities America waged on the world though its “Bush Doctrine”-diplomacy and the endorsement of a grossly inappropriate torture policy:

“If every administration started to re-examine what every prior administration did, there would be no end to it,” claims Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

While the country debates the necessity for investigation of torture, and the newly-elected progressive president waffles in his support to push for prosecution of people who advocated torture, the CIA has revealed that its has already destroyed almost 100 videotapes of terror interrogations.  CIA lawyers have already indicated that the identity of the people who watched the tapes prior to their destruction may be classified information. 

One might ask, quite frankly, if John McCain was such a leader, enough of a leader to be president through two wars and a an major economic meltdown – why is the Republican Party is floundering for someone to give them direction, looking to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, Sarah Palin, Bobby Jindal and Joe the Plumber? 

Nearly 2.2 million people between the ages of 16 and 29 lost their jobs during this Republican policy-driven recession.  The Republican Party has destroyed the early work life for a generation of young workers who have been utterly marginalized by the results of the fiscally irresponsible Bush economic policy.  He cut taxes and started wars while the economy motored along based on irresponsible lending and unregulated markets. 

The result has forced younger workers entering the workforce into unemployment or underemployment right out of high school or college.  They live in or move back to their parents homes to compete against others with college degrees and fight endless battles against monster student loans, working hourly wage jobs with mediocre benefits. There is a social safety net, but some short-sighted Republican governors like Jindal of Louisiana, Mississippi’s Barbour, Georgia’s Perdue – governors of some of the poorest people in the United States – keep it from their citizens for ideological reasons. 

And unlike their nemesis Springsteen, no Republican has ever apologized or admitted a single policy mistake, with the possible exception of mild Presidential regret concerning the premature declaration of an accomplished mission in Iraq on May 1, 2003.  Republicans have not identified what they did incorrectly or assured anyone that their track record is usually reliable, and they don’t care for criticism, even from each other.  And if one doesn’t know or understand that a mistake has been made, it is impossible to be contrite or to seek redemption.

Rather, the self anointed “3-strikes-and-you’re-out” “party of self-responsibility” is actively seeking further misery for the entire country and world in order to avoid taking responsibility for taking the country so far in the wrong direction. They cheer for America to fail and for regular Americans to suffer:  to lose our jobs, to have no healthcare, education, or social security and to rely forever on offshore drilling, religion, guns, and fear.





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20 Responses to “Springsteen, Walmart, Populism and Republicans”

  1. admin Says:

    I hope IO fans will read this blog. It may be longer than the average American attention span would prefer, but it’s thoughtful and important. When Jack hands these entries in, I always worry that they are too long given the blog format. But way back when, people used to sit and listen to candidates give two-hour speeches and remember everything well enough to make informed decisions. Recorded media has done a lot for human civilization, but it’s also caused our collective and individual attention spans to wither away. Nice job, Jack.

  2. Adam Says:


    As a huge Springsteen fan, I must say I loved this piece. I have but one quibble – and it is not a big one. I think given that he took the entire band out on the VFC tour in support of Kerry and the Dems in ‘04, I’m not certain that his peak of political advocacy was in ‘08 – at least in terms of live performances. ‘08 was the first time that he endorsed a candidate, which was a big step.

    Also, the Reagan use of BITUSA was tied into George Will trying to make Springsteen into a poster boy for the Republicans, which proved that (a) they were all tone-deaf; and (b) they did not listen to any Springsteen concert bootlegs. If they had, they would have heard him say – on November 5, 1980 – that he was frightened by what had happened the night before…..when Ronald Reagan blew out Jimmy Carter.

    good stuff – a hell of a good read.


  3. m.p. Says:

    Excellent piece! I know so much more about the Boss now, thanks. The Right can keep Ted Nugent.

  4. Meghan Says:

    I just wrote a cracker jack (!) comment about how great this blog is and how Jack is the coolest lawyer in town and how mindbogglingly exasperating it remains to me still that so many people really believed in Bush’s whole agenda and that I actually had to argue with people about it and march all over a whole bunch of cities over it and how Obama being elected felt like a little bit of justice and comeuppance, but how some individual acknowledgment of mistakes would be mighty appreciated and how the war not killing so many goddamned people and the economy not failing us all, and Katrina not being such a fucking hopeless and embarrassing debacle for the whole world to see and for the unfortunate people who got so fucked by it would have been preferable to the half-assed position we currently find ourselves in of being able to say “I told you so.”

    Then I clicked “submit comment” having entered my name, but NOT my email in the required fields and all was lost! So in its place you get the above run on sentence that says about the same thing, only in a less grammatically pleasing manner.

    Dude. Firepit. Soon (please.)

  5. Meghan Says:

    Oh shoot, and hello! Killer Weasel/Bruce chart!!!

  6. Michelle Says:

    It’s so nice to see that you gave the boss some credit for apologizing.

    Also, this is your best blog yet.

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