Throughout convention week in Denver in August, the word swirled that Bruce Springsteen would appear the final night. It did not happen. And for Democrats, that was a good thing. Barack Obama–accused by foes of being too glamorous–did not need a rock star on the set on his big night (though Sheryl Crow and Stevie Wonder did appear early in the evening). But Springsteen is indeed doing what he can.
On Saturday, Springsteen appeared at an Obama voter registration rally in Philadelphia. Tens of thousands of people were there. He performed a thirty-minute acoustic set. But he also speechified. And he practically outdid Obama in political eloquence:
I am glad to be here today for this voter registration drive and for Barack Obama, the next President of the United States. I’ve spent 35 years writing about America, its people, and the meaning of the American Promise. The Promise that was handed down to us, right here in this city from our founding fathers, with one instruction: Do your best to make these things real. Opportunity, equality, social and economic justice, a fair shake for all of our citizens, the American idea, as a positive influence, around the world for a more just and peaceful existence. These are the things that give our lives hope, shape, and meaning. They are the ties that bind us together and give us faith in our contract with one another.
I’ve spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality. For many Americans, who are today losing their jobs, their homes, seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no healthcare, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities. The distance between that promise and that reality has never been greater or more painful.
I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and in his work. I believe he understands, in his heart, the cost of that distance, in blood and suffering, in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president, he would work to restore that promise to so many of our fellow citizens who have justifiably lost faith in its meaning. After the disastrous administration of the past 8 years, we need someone to lead us in an American reclamation project. In my job, I travel the world, and occasionally play big stadiums, just like Senator Obama. I’ve continued to find, wherever I go, America remains a repository of peoples hopes, possibilities, and desires, and that despite the terrible erosion to our standing around the world, accomplished by our recent administration, we remain, for many, a house of dreams. One thousand George Bushes and one thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down.
They will, however, be leaving office, dropping the national tragedies of Katrina, Iraq, and our financial crisis in our laps. Our sacred house of dreams has been abused, looted, and left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs care; it needs saving, it needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power or a quick buck. It needs strong arms, hearts, and minds. It needs someone with Senator Obama’s understanding, temperateness, deliberativeness, maturity, compassion, toughness, and faith, to help us rebuild our house once again. But most importantly, it needs us. You and me. To build that house with the generosity that is at the heart of the American spirit. A house that is truer and big enough to contain the hopes and dreams of all of our fellow people by our ability to accomplish this task. Now I don’t know about you, but I want that dream back, I want my America back, I want my country back.
So now is the time to stand with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come on up for the rising.
Springsteen was speaking to an obvious point that sometimes is lost in the immediate fray of campaign: candidates often represent more than themselves–willingly or not. Is the promise of Obama the promise of America? Voters will decide whether Obama will get the chance to answer that question. In the meantime, if Springsteen’s day job does not work out, he could have a fine future in political speechwriter.