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I’ll Fight You For America the Beautiful

February 14, 2012

Spoken word artist Taylor Mali’s poem, “I’ll Fight You For The Library” is a battle-in-four-letters between a veteran teacher and an administrator over whether the school’s library will be available for the teacher’s students to conduct research for an assignment, or will be used for a committee meeting.

After watching Mitt Romney spend the past few weeks dutifully reciting, and singing, verses from “America the Beautiful” to Republican primary voters across the country—“amber waves of grain” for Iowa and Missouri, “purple mountain majesties” for New Hampshire and Colorado, etc.—the video for Bruce Springsteen’s new single, “We Take Care Of Our Own” looks like a similar challenge:  “I’ll fight you for ‘America the Beautiful'”.

That’s good.  The definition of the promise of America, and to whom that promise is available is supposed to be contested.  That’s why we have elections.  That was part of the genius of the Founding Fathers.  Even though they didn’t consider most of us to be included in that promise, they understood that creating a culture and politics of robust debate and argument, and of widespread participation was the best shot they had at creating a republic that could survive and thrive.  It’s because of the best parts of that culture that the promise of America has expanded as much as it has over the last two centuries.

So, to Romney’s comfortable recitation of the old, familiar lyrics, Springsteen’s challenge is:

Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see, Where’re the hearts that run over with mercy;

Where’s the love that has not forsaken me, Where’s the work that’ll set my hands, my soul free;

Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me, Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea;

Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea, Wherever this flag is flown…we take care of our own.

The answer to all those questions in the video comes on the last line, when sunlight and color bleed back into the black-and-white footage—to images of a toddler looking to the sky, a kid playing catch in a field, the singer looking up at the limitless horizon, and finally to people walking, almost marching, together down a city street.  The promise of America, America the beautiful, comes true when we do in fact take care of our own, which is to say, all Americans.  (Oh, and the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina?  Still not over it.  Not even close.)

Nothing against the Harvard Business School alumnus, but in the battle between two multi-multi-millionaires for control of the meaning of “America The Beautiful” for our time, my money’s on the dropout from Ocean County Community College.

Update:  The fight for “America The Beautiful” continues.

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From → Music, Politics

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