“I believe in the promised land”

Bruce Springsteen takes the moment into his hands -- and joins John Kerry for a massive Wisconsin rally.

Topics: 2004 Elections, John F. Kerry, D-Mass., Bruce Springsteen,

"I believe in the promised land"

The presidential campaign comes rushing toward you in a million shrill words, a noisy, cross-country game of tit-for-tat played through TV feeds and the sharp remarks of a hundred sniping surrogates. It’s loud and it’s relentless, or at least it was until Bruce Springsteen stepped onto a small stage here Thursday afternoon.

With 80,000 people and the future of the nation in front of him, Springsteen played a wistful, acoustic version of “The Promised Land” then quietly offered the most eloquent stump speech of this long presidential race. “I’ve been writing about America for 30 years,” he said. “I’ve tried to write about who we are, what we stand for, what we fight for. I believe that these essential ideals of American identity are what’s at stake on Nov. 2.”

Springsteen talked about the choice facing America on the recent “Vote for Change” tour benefiting America Coming Together, but this time he delivered his remarks with much more of the world watching. Hundreds of journalists from around the globe hung on Springsteen’s every word. And with people jammed through the streets leading to Wisconsin’s State Capitol, the city of Madison literally stood still to listen.

Springsteen ticked off a long list of the things that matter: economic justice, a living wage, a “sane and responsible foreign policy,” civil rights, and “the protection and safeguarding of our precious democracy here at home.” He said: “I believe that John Kerry honors these ideals. He has lived our history over the past 60 years, and he has formed an adult view of America and its people. ”

Quietly strumming his guitar as he spoke, Springsteen said Kerry understands that people are not infallible, that struggle and heartbreak are an inevitable part of the human experience. “That’s why we need each other,” he said. “That’s why ‘United We Stand’ … and ‘one nation indivisible’ aren’t just slogans. They need to remain the guiding principles of our public life.”

Springsteen called on the country to face “America’s hard truths, both the good and the bad.” “That’s where we find a deeper patriotism, that’s where we find a more complete view of who we are. That’s where we find a more authentic experience as citizens, and that’s where we find the power … to make our world a better and a safer place.”

As the huge crowd grew quiet, Springsteen quoted the late Sen. Paul Wellstone — “The future is for the passionate” — and he said the time to act is now. “That’s why I’m here today to stand alongside Senator Kerry and to tell you that the country we carry in our hearts is waiting.” When he was done, Springsteen reached for his guitar and leaned into “No Surrender,” the song that opens every Kerry campaign rally. As autumn leaves fell around him, Springsteen reinvented the song. The anthemic rock ‘n’ roll song became a meditation on promises made and hopes held tight, and he dedicated it to John Kerry.

The largest crowd — ever, for anything — in Madison’s history exploded in applause. When Kerry took the stage a few minutes later, he fed on the energy. While he’ll never match Springsteen’s poetry, Kerry’s Madison speech was strong and sharp and carried all the passion that Paul Wellstone or Bruce Springsteen could have asked of him. He hit Bush hard for ignoring reality in Iraq, for putting American troops at risk, for turning his back on the middle class in favor of the big corporations that support him. Somewhere in there, the usually humor-challenged Kerry got off a good line that underscored the cultural divide — and so much else — between the candidates: When Bush heard that “The Boss” was performing in Madison, Kerry said, “he thought we meant Dick Cheney.”

Kerry’s aides were overjoyed. Kerry spokesman Mike McCurry has been unusually serious and quiet over the last two days. In Madison Thursday afternoon, he was beaming. As Kerry began speaking, he said: “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Springsteen will appear with Kerry again tonight at Ohio State University in Columbus. The Midwest focus is intentional, of course, and not just because Springsteen’s working-man sensibilities play better in big cities here than they would in a condo complex in Palm Beach. Kerry can win without Florida if he can hold on to upper Midwest states like Wisconsin, but it’s hard to conjure up any calculation that gets Kerry to 270 Electoral College votes if he loses both Florida and Ohio.

On the press plane Thursday morning, Kerry spokeswoman Allison Dobson said the campaign believes Kerry is up by about 2 points in Ohio now. And a new Los Angeles Times poll puts Kerry ahead there by 6. But both campaigns are treating Ohio as anybody’s to win. Bush will be in the Buckeye State Friday with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kerry will return Monday night — if not sooner — when Springsteen will appear again with the candidate at an election-eve rally in Cleveland.

Springsteen isn’t the first rock star to open for Kerry, but he’s the biggest. Patti LaBelle sang the national anthem in Philadelphia Monday, Sheryl Crow opened for him in Las Vegas, and Carole King performed before Kerry arrived in Rochester, Minn., Wednesday. Jon Bon Jovi travels from rally to rally on Kerry’s chartered 757. After performing an acoustic version of “Livin’ on a Prayer” — it’s better than it sounds — he exhorts fans to make a difference in what he invariably calls “these United States.”

Kerry played in a rock ‘n’ roll band as a kid, and his personal assistant, Marvin Nicholson, is responsible for hauling the candidate’s acoustic guitar off and on the plane each time the traveling campaign stops for the night. Kerry rallies begin with a recorded version of Springsteen’s “No Surrender,” and they usually end with U2′s “Beautiful Day.” At a rally Thursday morning in Toledo, the sound man paid tribute to the Red Sox’ World Series win, cueing up Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” as Kerry finished speaking.

For all the excitement over the Springsteen appearance, the Toledo rally was actually Kerry’s best of the week. The University of Toledo’s Savage Hall may be the ugliest auditorium in America, but an electrified crowd lit it up. Kerry took the stage wearing a Red Sox cap and soon had a few thousand supporters screaming in a foot-stomping frenzy. The resulting rumble was so loud that Kerry likened it to the “rolling thunder” he once heard in Vietnam.

As with all his stops, Kerry’s Toledo rally offered up made-for-TV sound bites and a localized pitch to the home-town folks. Kerry spent a few minutes reveling in the Red Sox’ win — “It’s a great American story,” he said — and then vowed that he’d root for the minor league Toledo Mud Hens from here on out. In a slightly more substantive appeal, he vowed to return to Ohio for a jobs summit if he is elected.

For the national TV news, Kerry had a few fresh words but no new thoughts on the 380 tons of munitions missing in Iraq. Kerry aides believe the issue is playing well for them now, particularly on television, and they’re going to keep pushing it. With the munitions story, the Democrats seem to have taken a page from the Republican playbook: Paint the story with big strokes, don’t get bogged down in the details, and get all the surrogates — from Joe Biden to Wes Clark — attacking on the same points all at once. Six months ago, Kerry would have proceeded cautiously on the story, carefully documenting every question about his charges even as he made them. Not so now. “The bottom line,” Kerry said Wednesday, is that “the weapons are not where they’re supposed to be.”

The Kerry assault has kept the Bush campaign on the defensive. Just as the Mary Cheney flap knocked Kerry’s message off the air for several days after the third presidential debate, the munitions story is keeping Bush from getting his message out now. After checking in on the evening’s news shows Wednesday night, a satisfied Mike McCurry told Salon: “We won the day.”

Thursday wasn’t looking much better for the Republicans. The Bush-Cheney campaign dispatched Rudy Giuliani to the morning news shows in the hopes of killing off the story, but Mr. 9/11 botched the job. He said any blame for safeguarding the weapons lies not with the president but with the troops on the ground. It was exactly the sort of “denigrating” of the troops that Bush had accused Kerry of doing, and the Kerry campaign pounced on it, immediately circulating a transcript and a video clip to reporters covering the race. The Bush-Cheney campaign responded by reminding reporters — just in case they had forgotten — that John Kerry voted for the $87 billion before he voted against it. In an e-mail to reporters, Bush-Cheney spokesman Steve Schmidt said that Giuliani is a trusted leader in the war on terrorism, and he offered some advice for John Kerry: “Mind the stature gap, Senator.”

Earlier in the day in Toledo, Kerry said Bush’s response to the munitions charge provides a powerful argument for voting him out of office. In Pennsylvania Wednesday, Bush accused Kerry of making “wild charges” about the missing munitions and said that a “candidate who jumps to conclusions” isn’t qualified to be commander in chief. Kerry responded Thursday: “Mr. President, I agree with you.” He then applied what he called “the Bush standard” to judge the president’s decisions leading to the war in Iraq. “George Bush jumped to conclusions about 9/11 and Saddam Hussein,” Kerry said. “George Bush jumped to conclusions about weapons of mass destruction, and he rushed to war. George Bush jumped to conclusions about how the Iraqi people would receive us. He not only jumped to conclusions, he ignored the facts that were given to him.”

After his rally with Springsteen in Columbus tonight, Kerry will fly to Florida to prepare for a full day of campaigning there Friday. He returns to Wisconsin Friday night for what aides say will be the start of “intensive” campaigning through Election Day. Kerry aides aren’t saying — if they know — where the candidate will be after Wisconsin Saturday morning. Safe bets are probably Iowa and Minnesota, where Kerry campaigned earlier in the week, and Pennsylvania, where a new poll shows the race tied but Kerry aides insist he’s in good shape. Democrats are nervous about Hawaii, but such a long trip isn’t in the cards with so little time left. Arkansas could appear on Kerry’s schedule, and there is sure to be at least one more trip to Florida.

The only immovable objects on Kerry’s schedule are the election-eve rally with Springsteen in Cleveland Monday and a “victory” party in Boston Tuesday night. Whether it’s much of a party — and, as Springsteen said, so much else — depends on what happens between now and then.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>