Horowitz: Springsteen Concert - A Welcome Antidote to the Dispiriting Presidential Campaign

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


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This past Tuesday night I experienced an optimistic portrait of America—one that recognized our many strengths and the possibility of a promising future without sugarcoating our difficulties and the struggles many or our fellow citizens face.  Unfortunately, it was not a major speech by one of the Presidential candidates that inspired me.  It was a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Admittedly, for a Jersey boy there are few things better in life than seeing Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band at Giants Stadium (Sorry Patriots Nation) with my 20 year old daughter. A speech or rally by any politician would probably pale in comparison. Still, I was struck by  the realistic, yet hopeful portrait of our nation evoked by Springsteen’s songs and the stories he tells as compared with the pedestrian nature of the Clinton Campaign and the divisive apocalyptic and nearly unrecognizable description of our nation advanced by Donald Trump.

As the novelist Walker Percy told Robert Coles in Bruce Springsteen’s America, “His songs are about America, without hyping the country up (becoming patriotic self-congratulation) and without knocking the country down(becoming mean-spirited nation bashing).”  And Tuesday night in songs like “The Rising,” Springsteen’ s post 9-11 tribute to the American spirit of recovery, “Land of Hopes and Dreams” and “The Promised Land”, Springsteen  penetrated to the heart of the American Dream-- made even more appealing by hearing it expressed through evocative lyrics and beautiful music.

In songs such as ‘Born to Run’, “Badlands’ and “Rosalita” , the Freehold, New Jersey native captured the continuing importance of the open road and the beckoning new horizon to our self-definition as Americans as well as celebrated the just plain fun of  exploring new territory. At the same time, Springsteen pulled few punches about our ongoing difficulties, playing American Skin with its haunting 41 Shots refrain, which is as resonant today given the summer’s repeated shootings of unarmed African-American men, as when he he wrote the song 15 years ago in the wake of the police killing of Amadou Diallo in New York City. Springsteen also sprinkled in plenty of songs about working class people struggling to get by with the disappearance of manufacturing jobs, including “Jack of All Trades” and "The River.”

While no campaign speech can match a nearly 4 hour Springsteen concert, this year’s offerings have been particularly dispiriting.  Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo famously said, “We campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”  From this year’s candidates, there has been no poetry to speak of and the prose has been deadly.  Hillary Clinton has many strengths but drawing on our inspiring history to create a compelling vision is not one of them.  Her general election slogan, ‘Stronger Together’ is well-devised to be a solid contrast to the division offered by Donald Trump, but neither her slogan nor her speeches soar.  She communicates much intelligence and competence, but little inspiration.

Donald Trump’s could use his slogan, ’ Make America Great Again,’  as a jumping off point to draw on American optimism. In fact, he does just the opposite, painting a vision of a nation rife with crime and unemployment that is not a reflection of reality.  Further, he fails to communicate that he has any understanding of what makes America great or any notion of greatness that goes beyond winning, which he mainly defines as economic success.     

The successful political leaders are optimistic about the nation and its potential and are expert at giving people a glimpse of a better future—one that we all could play a role in achieving.  Whether it was President Reagan borrowing from John Winthrop and describing America as a ‘Shining City on a Hill,’ John F. Kennedy  challenging a new generation of Americans to ‘bear any burden’ or Franklin Roosevelt telling us “the only thing we had to fear was fear itself”, the best American leaders in Lincoln’s words appeal to the ‘better angels of our nature.”

Those kinds of appeals have been largely missing from this year’s campaign. But, you can find them in abundance at a Springsteen concert, along with some terrific rock n roll.  So when Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band roll into Foxboro on September 14, enjoy a respite from the ugliness of the 2016 Presidential campaign and go to the concert.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations,  elected official and candidates.  He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at University of Rhode Island.


Related Slideshow: 5 Shocking Facts from the 2016 RI Presidential Primary

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The Outcome Should Scare All Incumbents

If you add the votes of the former socialist Mayor of Burlington, Vermont with those of the former reality TV star together, they garnered over 60.5% of the vote in the Rhode Island Presidential Primary.

In contrast, the combined vote of the former U.S. Secretary of State, a sitting United States Senator and a Governor of one of the most important political states combined for just 39.5%.

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Feel the Bern

Every Bernie Sanders delegate candidate received more votes than the top delegate running for Clinton. Think about that.

Most of the delegates for Sanders are political newcomers. Many of Clinton’s delegate candidates were party leaders or from top political families.

Clinton’s delegates included Gubernatorial candidates Clay Pell and Myrth York, Elorza’s top staffer Brett Smiley and members of power Democratic families like Paolino and Weiner.

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Turnout for Democrats Way Down from 2008

In the historic primary battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008, more than 189,000 voted in the Democratic primary. 

In 2016, 119,000 Rhode Islanders voted in the Democratic primary — a decrease of 37 percent in total voters.

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GOP Turnout Increased - Is Rhode Island Getting More Conservative?

In 2008, the GOP Presidential primary turnout in Rhode Island was 26,996. Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain won 64 percent of the vote in Rhode Island.

In 2008, seven times as many Rhode Islanders voted in the Democratic primary as voted in the GOP primary.

2016 Flip

Trump helped to drive 61,394 total votes to the GOP primary in 2016 — a 127 percent increase in voter turnout. 

The ratio dropped to just two-to-one voting in the number of voters in the Democratic primary versus the GOP.

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"Throw Them All Out"

The Brown University poll released Sunday found that the majority of Rhode Islanders believe the state is on the "wrong track."

Nearly every Democratic elected official in Rhode Island publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton including, Governor Raimondo, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline, and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. 

The only group that endorsed Bernie Sanders was small and included State Senator James Sheehan and State Rep Raymond Hull to name two.

On the GOP side, many of the traditional party leaders supported former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, but as they fell from the race they shifted to Ohio Governor John Kasich and Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.  

The political power structure in Rhode Island was soundly defeated on Tuesday. 


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