Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The new Sanders campaign ad

The 1-minute video aimed at the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries is a stunning collage that  begins with images from small-town rural America, followed by the "Feel the Bern" humongous Sanders campaign rallies interspersed with mosaics of hundreds of pictures sent by supporters who uploaded them when they made campaign contributions.

There is no "voice of God" narration but only a 1968 Simon and Garfunkel song in the background. Over the mosaic of contributor faces and massive campaign meetings, part of the lyric is perfectly synchronized with the singing.


And then "All come to look for America" is repeated, in the song as well as the ad. With these images, the message is that masses of people are rising up to insist the country live up to the promise of its ideals.

In a way, that is exactly the opposite of the meaning Simon and Garfunkel's "America" had for me when the song was released in 1968. That was the year of the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King; of urban rebellions in Black ghettos and the police riot against antiwar demonstrators at the Chicago Democratic Party  Convention; of the savage repression that routed the French and Mexican student movements; and of Soviet Tanks crushing the Prague Spring promise of socialism with a human face.

I have often thought that the words of  Wadsworth about the French Revolution express how I feel about having come of age in the 1960's.

          Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
          But to be young was very heaven!

But I try not to think about that it was also a hell of disappointments, defeats, desertions and most disheartening of all, betrayals.

In its 1968 context, the song captured confusion, alienation and despair. We finally realized that the righteous, peaceful, and just country of our civics textbooks, Sunday sermons and July 4th speeches was more than imperfect, it was a chimera. That America did not exist at all. That was the America of the song.

On its face, it is a song about a couple --perhaps one that's just come together-- traveling a long way by bus. But by the last verse, it has become despair.

That is not captured or reflected in the Sanders campaign video. It skips from the first verse to the last four lines, which are presented as heralding a movement to find or create the real America of legend. Here's hoping we can make it so.

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