Quick! You're running for president in 1984 and you need a popular song to serve as your campaign song--what do you choose?
Hmm. Not a bad choice, at first glance. It's upbeat, the chorus repeatedly makes it clear that the guy in the song was, in fact, born in the USA, and there's even a big American flag waving all up in our faces at the beginning of the video. Plus, how could you go wrong with Bruce Springsteen?
This song does not mean what a lot of people, in 1984 when it was released, seemed to think it meant. One of those people, unfortunately, was Ronald Reagan, who thought that the song about an isolated, PTSD-ridden, possibly homeless Vietnam war veteran who was used and discarded by his government and scorned by his fellow Americans made an excellent sound bite for his upbeat, optimistic presidential campaign. So much so, in fact, that he used it as a talking point even after Springsteen had politely turned down an offer to endorse his campaign.
I guess if you seem kindly and grandfatherly enough, there's a certain amount of blatantly disrespecting other people's wishes you can get away with.
But it's unfair of me to put the blame for this squarely on Reagan, since the idea to use this song--and Springsteen's name in general--seems not to have originally been his idea. It was conservative columnist George Will who originally put forth the idea that Springsteen might be a good candidate for endorsing the Reagan campaign, based mainly on the fact that "flags get waved at his concerts," he "sings songs about hard times" without seeming to complain about them, and there was "not a smidgen of androgyny" to be found about him.
Evidently George Will does not appreciate our newfangled hair metal. He also cordially invites us to get off his lawn.
Oh, and he also admitted to not knowing--or really seeming to care--what Bruce Springsteen's personal politics were. He strikes me as one of those people who listens to music without actually hearing it--or only hearing what he wants to hear. He picked up the words "Born in the USA" and the rest of the song became irrelevant to him.
Someone should have told him that it was secretly about Satanism. Then he might have bothered to look up the lyrics before handing it to President Reagan and saying, "I bet this'll help get you re-elected. It's about patriotism and stuff."
Remember to vote tomorrow!