Nearly half of the voting population in Wisconsin faces a big bummer come Wednesday morning. It's a tough situation and a real divide for our state to face, but today, we were able to enjoy one of the perks of being an election battleground as Bruce Springsteen shut down Capitol Square with a morning rally for President Obama.
"He gets embarrassed when you talk about him that way," said President Obama, referring to when he called Springsteen a national treasure.
Opinions vary, of course. At the event, Wisconsin State Journal cartoonist Phil Hands told me he didn't really get the whole Springsteen thing. But the rest of the large crowd sure seemed to be in on it. They went wild for the Boss, who came out with his sleeves characteristically rolled up despite the frigid weather, and ran through a spirited four-song set.
Opting to just get right into it, Springsteen mumbled a few words about being fired up and then kicked things off with "No Surrender," a song he played in 2004, the last time he was in Madison for a presidential election rally. At that event, he fired up a massive audience who'd turned out to see Democratic nominee John Kerry.
Pausing only briefly to offer his thoughts and prayers to the victims of Hurricane Sandy and to exclaim how it's going to be great to "feel the power of your votes and your voices tomorrow," he jumped right into "Promised Land," another staple of his current round of rally appearances. "Blow away the lies that leave you nothing," he sang, a line that always rings true but particularly during election time.
A stirring and somber way to start off, Springsteen soon lightened the mood with a healthy dose of awkward yet endearing humor. Like he has for the last couple of weeks now on the campaign trail, he regaled the crowd with a tale of Obama calling him late at night, singing Al Green to him, and then asking him to write a campaign song. The story gave him a chance to show off his Obama impersonation and to segue into his goofy call-and-response ode to the President that he promised would win him the election. For Obama supporters who pay attention to the polls, Tuesday's election wracks the nerves, so it was comforting to see someone as invested as Springsteen finding some fun amid all the worry.
After the laughter, a hush fell as Springsteen spoke about how for the last 30 years he'd been writing about the distance between the American dream and American reality. "Our vote tomorrow is the one undeniable way we get to determine the distance in that equation," he said.
Springsteen's eloquent assessment of the magnitude of this election still hung in the air as he played "Land of Hope and Dreams," a quiet song that allowed his voice and guitar to echo off the buildings and through the streets, reaching everyone who had braved the cold to see him and the President.