Remember when President Ronald Reagan cited Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” as a patriotic tribute? And people who had actually listened to the song had to point out that it was more a lament for national failures than a flag-waving celebration?
Springsteen, the enduring rocker who speaks out beyond his music, seems to sing a song that Republicans just can’t dance to.
Consider what happened when the two senators from Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey, Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, introduced a resolution to honor Springsteen’s career on the 30th anniversary of his “Born To Run” album.
It should be understood here that Senate resolutions are political fluff. They are passed as a matter of mutual courtesy, and allow senators to hand out officially stamped honors to grateful constituents.
Senate resolutions might honor a hometown bakery for selling its millionth loaf of seeded rye, or a hometown baton twirler for twirling her way to glory at the national twirl-off.
But they will not honor a Jersey rock ‘n’ roll star for a long and storied career.
The Republican leaders of the Senate refused to bring up the resolution for consideration.
Can you say petty? Small? Kindergarten?
The resolution could have been just another piece of paper in the endless flow of official paper from Washington, D.C., to the walls of offices and family rooms across the country. Springsteen might have had it framed and placed among his Grammy and Academy awards.
Few would have taken notice. But now, a whole bunch of people have taken notice.
The Republicans have once again taken a firm grip on something with absolutely no potential for embarrassment or controversy and blown it up into a mud-splattering mess.
Why, a rational person might ask, would Senate leaders block something as innocuous as a resolution honoring a rocker’s long career?
Surely it can’t be because Springsteen expressed the opinion last year that the country is heading in the wrong direction _ and then put his talent behind his words, with a series of concerts in support of John Kerry.
Surely, senators would not deny a man a small honor for his musical talent because of his political beliefs.
But they did. It’s gotten that bad.
We are now bearing witness to a level of national debate comparable to the street-corner dispute over the relative artistic merits of 50-Cent and Jay-Z.
Who will ever forget that wing-nut congresswoman from Ohio who got up on the floor of the House of Representatives recently to call decorated Marine Corps veteran Jack Murtha a coward, after the Pennsylvania congressman dared to suggest that our troops should be brought home from Iraq?
It was a low point in a season of low points.
The congresswoman tried to pull her words back, but it was too late. She made a mess, left a stain _ all because she just couldn’t keep those nasty playground impulses in check.
And now, Bruce Springsteen has been denied the formal congratulations of the United States Senate. He has been caught in the back-spatter of senators acting badly.
He will probably recover. He will probably move on, make more albums and head out for more concert tours.
And chances are very, very good that he will look out at people in the seats who will think no less of him for having failed the Republican loyalty test.
Perhaps he will turn the whole sorry episode into a brand new verse for “Born in the USA.”
(Bob Kerr is a columnist for The Providence Journal. He can be reached by e-mail at bkerr(at)projo.com.)