Boss Tones

“Politicians once again choose Springsteen songs that don’t mean quite what they think they mean.” That’s the observation from a friend who heard “We Take Care of Our Own” immediately after President Obama’s reëlection victory speech.

The song has been called a “bitter anthem,” and features lyrics such as “I been stumbling on good hearts turned to stone / The road of good intentions has gone dry as bone.” It’s skeptical about whether we’re living up to Lincoln’s American dream of charity for all. Perhaps the people responsible for choosing the music, like many listeners, are more interested in the upbeat chorus than the nuanced verses.

Gov. Mitt Romney went in a different direction after his concession speech. As far as I could tell, there was no music at all.

Both choices — rock and silence — are a departure from 2008, when the campaigns used movie soundtracks. I wrote about that for the State Journal-Register:

Obama’s music was from the 2000 movie Remember the Titans, in which Denzel Washington plays a football coach at a newly integrated high school in the early 1970s. It was stirring music, ennobling and vaguely patriotic, and its story parallels that of Obama, the first black president of a nation that still struggles with racial integration.

In reviewing Remember the Titans, Roger Ebert wrote that it was “not an activist 1970s picture, but more conciliatory in tone.” He could have been writing about Obama’s victory speech, which downplayed the harsh campaign and America’s racial history in favor of a call to service and unity in confronting what lies ahead.

McCain’s music even more closely paralleled the election. It was the elegiac theme from Crimson Tide, another movie starring Denzel Washington.

In that 1995 film, Washington plays a black naval officer who challenges his older, white skipper (Gene Hackman) over an order with potentially grave consequences for America and the world.

The fight gets tough, and Washington’s character gets a bloody nose when the skipper resorts to throwing punches. But the younger black man prevails in the end.

Two brief clips of music tell the story of the election.

Can we say the same this year? Obama says “We Take Care of Our Own.” The Republicans respond with silence. Perhaps that does tell the story of this election.