The Boss & Dirty Harry

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Begala

Bruce Springsteen and Clint Eastwood point the way toward a gritty, gutsy all-American comeback.

Culture has always been more powerful than politics. Sometimes culture is a mirror that reflects what is; sometimes it's a searchlight pointing the way to what will be.

Right now, two of the most enduring and powerful players on our cultural stage--one a singer-songwriter, the other an actor-filmmaker; one a Democrat, the other a Republican--are in remarkable consonance. Bruce Springsteen endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. Clint Eastwood has spoken favorably of libertarian Republican Ron Paul and has pointedly said of President Obama, "I'm not a fan of what he's doing." Springsteen exploded on the scene in the '70s, singing about "tramps like us" and "the runaway American Dream." Eastwood preferred making punks' heads explode, begging them to give him justification to kill them: "Go ahead, make my day."

Yet Springsteen's songbook and Eastwood's script sound a lot alike these days. In their own way, each of them is giving voice to a new mood. In his new single "We Take Care of Our Own," the Boss is at his blue-collar best, singing about "knockin' on the door that holds the throne" and of "good intentions gone dry as a bone." But rather than simply rage or surrender, Springsteen turns to defiant determination. Ripping open the barely scabbed heartbreak of Katrina, where dozens of Americans died, he roars, "We take care of our own/Wherever this flag's flown."

Eric Alterman has long been one of America's most trenchant political commentators. He is also an enormously knowledgeable Springsteen fan. Alterman's latest book, The Cause (written with Kevin Mattson), combines the two. It is an important analysis of postwar American liberalism, so of course it includes a chapter on Bruce Springsteen--the poet laureate of working-class liberalism. Springsteen's America, Alterman writes, is "one in which working men and women were imbued with dignity, even heroism, where gays were embraced as brothers and sisters, where blacks and whites worked and played together, and where 'nobody wins unless everybody wins.'" In his efforts to reignite America's communitarian spirit, Bruce is Martin Luther King Jr. with a Fender Esquire.

The polar opposite of The Boss is Dirty Harry: one man, alone, standing against corruption, crime, and chaos. The embodiment of rugged individualism, he's Milton Friedman with a Smith & Wesson Model 29 . …