I was driving the other day and a John Cougar song came on the radio. “Little Pink Houses” is one of those ’80s hits that sounds patriotic on the surface: “Ain’t that America, something to see, baby”. Yet a more careful listen reveals darker themes: racial inequality, broken dreams, cultural ennui, drug addiction.
Despite such sobering, even cynical observations, the song is a patriotic anthem. It’s about American struggle, the eternal dream versus the difficult reality. It’s impossible to sing the chorus and not feel a surge of national pride. Yes, America is imperfect, but warts and all, it’s the land of the free, baby.
Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” presents a similar dichotomy. It was common, back when the song was released, to hear a sneering teenager say, That’s actually not a patriotic song, he’s protesting war and yelling about unemployment, it’s like, totally down on America.
Fine, but that’s facile. The song is an American complaint, a nostalgic yearning for what was. Before Vietnam, before the decline of manufacturing. It’s a moment in history when we stopped killing Springsteen’s “yellow man” and gave him our factory jobs. On one level, it is an angry song, but again, you can’t crank it up and not get goosebumps. There’s a defiance, a determination beneath the sadness. Indeed, the final line of the song is a sunny departure: “I’m a cool rocking daddy in the U.S.A.”
Damn straight. Despite all of our sad stories, real Americans are optimistic. We survive the bad among us, and we look to make things better, to improve the grand experiment that is our Republic.
Only In America: Ron Paul and Bernie Sanders
Consider Ronald Ernest Paul.
He is old (84, born in the middle of the Great Depression). He is cranky (known by many as Dr. No for his refusal to vote for any legislation not germane to the U.S. Constitution). He has a funny voice (half Ross Perot, half Jim Henson doing voiceover for Bert). He is known for being an extremist within his party (Paul ran for president as a Libertarian and refused to endorse fellow Republican John McCain in 2008. Ron knew better).
Finally, Paul is the father of a movement, the Tea Party. Some conservatives disagree with this label, but Paul embraces it. So does The Atlantic, and the author of “Ron Paul: Father of the Tea Party“.
Now consider Bernard Sanders. He’s old, cranky, has a funny voice, is an extremist within his party, and is the father of the left’s latest lurch toward socialism.
Bernie is to the Squad what Charlie was to his Angels.
Both men create a buzz and attract ardent supporters. Both men are forceful debaters and have historically attracted large numbers of votes in presidential campaigns. Both men have run for the highest American office multiple times. Both men are unloved by the leaders of their respective parties.
This isn’t lost on Paul. In the video clip below, from 2016, he goes so far as to say that he “feels a certain kinship” with Bernie, because they both “stand on principles.”
Lastly, just as Ron was not, neither will Bernie ever be elected president.
Fork in the Road
Yes, the two statesmen have a great many things in common, but in substance, they’re the Odd Couple. Paul isn’t nicknamed Dr. No solely for his voting record. Before politics, he got his medical degree at Duke, was a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force, then practiced medicine as an Ob-Gyn for twenty years. He married Carol Wells in 1957, she gave him five children, Sen. Rand Paul among them.
Ron Paul is smart. He’s a patriot. He’s quick too–he held the record for the fastest 200 meter dash in the state of Pennsylvania while in high school.
Paul wants the government out of our wallets and our personal lives.
Bernie, on the other hand…
The life of Sanders can be summed up thusly: a socialist activist and politician who dabbled in academia. His idol is socialist Eugene Debs (who himself ran for president five times). After attending the University of Chicago, he didn’t do much with his early years, working odd jobs (Head Start teacher, carpenter) in New York City before moving to Vermont, where he worked as an aide to the Liberty Union Party, a local socialist outfit.
It wasn’t until he was 39 that he ran for Mayor of Burlington, VT. He served four terms, then lectured at Harvard, then Hamilton University before running for an open House seat as an Independent in 1990. He was a congressman for 16 years. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 2006, also as an Independent. In 2016, he won 43% of the delegates in his presidential campaign, losing to DNC favorite Hillary Clinton.
Sanders’ first marriage, in 1964, lasted two years. He then had a child out of wedlock (a son, Levi), and married Jane O’Meara Driscoll 24 years later, in 1988. His second wife was briefly famous for running Burlington College into the ground, the result of a shady real estate deal in 2010.
Two men with similar political career arcs, but little else in common. One, a veteran, doctor, and constitutionalist who would abolish the Federal Reserve. The other, an agitator and career politician who would tax even those earning $30,000 at a rate of 51%. Little pinko houses, indeed.
We have it all here. We are, all of us, at once so alike, yet so very different. Ain’t that America?
Land of the free, baby.