Let America Be America Again!: The Politician and The Poet—Rick Santorum vs. Langston Hughes

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

Poets know how to say things best–and the best poets know how to pack a punch with their words, which are often quoted. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge once said: “I wish our clever young poets would remember my homely definitions of prose and poetry; that is, prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.”

When speaking, politicians don’t always use the best words. They tend toward uttering their “talking points” and “staying on message.” They are often caught off guard when someone asks them an unexpected question that they aren’t prepared to answer. Rick Santorum found himself in an awkward position recently. Santorum was speaking at an “ECON-101” Town Hall meeting-style event Thursday sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement at New England College in New Hampshire when he was tripped up by a student who asked him if he knew that his campaign slogan “Fighting to make America America again,” was borrowed from the “pro-union poem by the gay poet Langston Hughes.”

Santorum responded: “No I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t know that. And the folks who worked on that slogan for me didn’t inform me that it came from that, if it in fact came from that.”

Shortly thereafter, when asked what the campaign slogan meant to him, Santorum replied that he wasn’t sure if that WAS his campaign slogan—but that he thought it was on a web site.

According to The Union Leader, the slogan was printed on campaign literature that had been handed out before Santorum’s speech.

The poem the student was referring to was Langston Hughes’ Let America Be America Again. Here are two stanzas from the middle of the poem:

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

The poem ends like this:

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

You can read the entire poem here at the website of The Academy of American Poets.

I’d consider that a fine poem that truly packs a punch.

Langston Hughes (1902-1967), whose work was important in shaping the artistic contributions of the Harlem Renaissance, was a great American poet. He is also the author of a wonderful collection of poems for children titled The Dream Keeper.

Poor Rick Santorum! He doesn’t even know the meaning of his own campaign slogan! Rick even thinks it MAY NOT BE his campaign slogan. Doesn’t that make you wonder what else he’s clueless about? This bodes well for a potential presidential run, don’t you think?

Sources
VIDEO: Rick Santorum Says He Has ‘Nothing To Do’ With His Own Campaign Slogan (Think Progress)

Rick Santorum disowns campaign slogan when told a gay liberal poet came up with it (Salon)

Santorum in NH: People want a President who believes in them (Union Leader)

27 thoughts on “Let America Be America Again!: The Politician and The Poet—Rick Santorum vs. Langston Hughes

  1. Elaine,
    I am not going to play this racial identity game with you. All African Americans are mixed race people with African, European and Native American ancestry. That mixture shows on some more than it does on others. Whites never have a problem identifying even the lightest of Blacks as such until they become successful. Then all of a sudden they are no longer Black. Hughes was well aware of his mixed ancestry as are many of us. Yet he identified himself with the term that was used at the time for African Americans which was “Negro.” He did not exist in a racial limbo. He was very proud of being a Negro as was well expressed in his first published poem “The Negro speaks of Rivers.” If he had no problem identifying as African American, then you certainly should have no problem with it either.

  2. erykah,

    I’m not attempting to play a “racial identity game” with you. You’ll note that I didn’t address that comment to you. I posted it as a point of information for readers of this thread. I thought it was a good idea to note that Hughes was also part Native American. Where did I imply that Hughes had a problem identifyng himself as a Negro? I’d say you’re doing a little projecting, erykah. Don’t go getting your knickers in a twist.

    BTW, I’m sure there are African Americans who aren’t of mixed race. I’m thinking of those who have come to America from countries in Africa in more recent years/decades.

  3. This seems to happen every election, although usually it’s choosing a song without listening to the words, or getting permission from the artist.

    Born in the USA…

  4. OT but fun to watch.

    Andrew Breitbart and Sara Palin were in Madison WI. for a tax day rally and got large, enthusiastic welcome from the pro-labor folks. If you see video taken closer to the platform you can hear the speakers more clearly but I like this video personally. Enjoy.

    To paraphrase Lt. Col Kilgore:

    ‘Cowbell, son. Nothing else in the world sounds like that. I love the sound of cowbell in the morning. … The sound, you know that cowbell, … Sounded like victory.’

  5. Santorum Pledges To Reinstate Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
    By Igor Volsky
    Think Progress, 4/18/2011
    http://thinkprogress.org/2011/04/18/rick-santorum-reinstate-dadt/

    Excerpt:
    Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) has joined fellow potential Republican presidential contenders Haley Barbour (R-MS), Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Mike Huckabee (R-AR) in supporting the reinstatement of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, telling me on Friday in Concord, New Hampshire that he supports bringing back the policy:

    VOLSKY: Senator, on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, I know you opposed the policy. Would you bring it back if you were president? Would you reinstate it?

    SANTORUM: Yea, I would.

    Santorum’s comments come just days after the nation’s service chiefs testified that they have not encountered any problems in implementing repeal of the ban. As Marine Commandant Gen Jame Amos — one of the harshest critics of repeal — admitted, “to be honest with you, Chairman, we’ve not seen it…there hasn’t been the recalcitrant push back, there hasn’t been the anxiety over it from the forces in the field.”

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