20 January 2009

Inauguration Rock

Woody was really fucking good, too. He was really an amazing songwriter. My generation grew up, everybody sang "This Land Is Your Land," it's just some of us knew what it was about and others didn't. I happened to grow up knowing what it was about. But all the other kids I grew up with sang it in school the way Ronald Reagan quoted "Born in the USA."
-Steve Earle, on Rolling Stone.com, March 30, 1999
When people find out that I'm a political scientist by trade, they often assume that I care deeply about the daily ins and outs of American politics--the grimy details of committee meetings, the spectacle of the campaigns, the public performances of the politicians themselves. But to tell the truth, I don't much care for American politics.

Sure, I keep up on political news and often go so far as to read commentary about, say, the details of confirmation hearings or of the difficulties associated with shutting down the Guantanamo Bay prison for detainees. I know the names of my congresswoman, my state senator, and all nine members of the Supreme Court. I also know, based on 50 years of public opinion research in the U.S., that this makes me a member of a tiny elite, one of the few people able to articulate an ideological picture of the political issues of the day and able to hold consistent (in my case, liberal) views across a whole range of political issues. I'm not one of the people Donald Kinder, an American political scientist at the University of Michigan, was speaking of when he said that “when confronted with policy debates of great and abiding interest to political elites, many Americans can do no better than to shrug.” But that doesn't mean I know all the names of the House sub-committee chairs, either.

I bring this up because many of my friends were shocked to discover I had no intention of watching any of the inauguration festivities today (or yesterday). I understand the "historic significance" of it all, and why so many of my broke, lefty friends got on buses and hitched rides to go out to D.C. this weekend. But, for better or worse, my hoboing days are over, and precisely because of my academic training in political science, I'm increasingly cynical about the possibility of--1) a truly post-partisan president (and really, do we want a post-partisan president? Americans tend to be more averse to open ideological confrontation than Western Europeans, but a lack of easily distinguishable ideologies is what makes party politics in America so frustrating. How do you hold the ruling party accountable for its failings if so much of what they did was "bi-partisan"?) and 2) the radical changes we need to address the multiple crises of global warming and healthcare (can Obama put options that have never recieved support by either party and that are likely to be unpopular in many districts back on the table? Or will conflicts over local interests doom yet another massive federal project to failure?).

Enough about that. though. Despite my political cynicism, I'm a positive, idealistic man at heart, and nothing warms the soul like actual liberal principles once more having a voice in Washington. Without going into the history of it all, I'm thrilled that I got to see Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen (and of course, Pete's grandson Tao Rodriguez) perform the complete "This Land is Your Land" with the Lincoln Memorial in the background. Truely a song for America at this moment, if not likely to be an outline for Obama's radical politics. And, through the magic of the interwebs, I've got the audio of the performance (ripped from Youtube, so not the highest quality, but still...), as well as a pair of classics-Woody's original recording, and Springsteen's live version, from the 1976-85 live box set.

That Machine Kills Fascists, indeed. And now we have a president who understands that "Islamofascism"
isn't a meaningful concept, and may make some real headway in ending the terrorist threat--by making
America a true supporter of democracy the world over.

Pete Seeger, Tao Rodriguez, and Bruce Springsteen - This Land is Your Land
Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land
Bruce Springsteen - This Land is Your Land

Posted by Brandon

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