Scott Brown’s latest channels poet Langston Hughes
Scott Brown, locked in a tight race to hold onto his Senate seat from Massachusetts, has become the second Republican in the current election cycle to channel Langston Hughes, the African American social activist poet with Communist sympathies who is also regarded as a literary hero by many in the gay community.
A new video from Brown, soliciting donations for his neck-and-neck campaign against Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is headlined “Let America Be America Again” – the title of Hughes’ well-known 1935 poem, first published in Esquire magazine, that suggests the American dream never really existed for many Americans, including the lower classes, blacks, Native Americans, and other minority groups.
“There’s never been equality for me/Nor freedom in this ‘homeland of the free,’” Hughes writes in an aside between verses. “America never was America to me.”
The Brown campaign’s two and a half minute video tribute to small business, complete with stirring music and iconic images such as flags and white picket fences, chronicles what it portrays as a change in the United States from the words of John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson – Democrats all – as well as Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, to current President Barack Obama and Warren, his uber-progressive rival.
After showing Old Glory lying sadly in a grey landscape, the video cuts to soundbites from Warren and Obama talking about how those who succeeded in business had help along the way.
“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there. Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market, on the roads the rest of us paid for,” an impassioned Warren says in the video.
Former Senator Rick Santorum used a similar slogan during the exploratory stage of his underdog run for this year’s Republican nomination. Santorum’s initial campaign slogan in early 2011 was “Fighting To Make America America Again.” When told that the phrase appeared to derive from Hughes’ poem, Santorum, who several years ago compared homosexuality to incest, told reporters that he had “nothing to do” with it.
Langston Hughes died in 1967 at the age of 65, but chances are if he were still alive today he would not be a Republican. Hughes’s poetry was frequently published in the Communist Party USA newspaper and he was involved in various initiatives supported by leftist organizations. Hughes traveled widely in the Soviet Union in 1932, and was later inducted into the International Union of Revolutionary Writers.
The British filmmaker Isaac Julien depicted Hughes, who is widely thought to have been homosexual, as a gay icon in his 1989 film, “Looking for Langston.”
“Let America Be America Again,” far from a patriotic ode, is a scathing account of the poet’s disaffection with his homeland, and carried hints of revolutionary fervor:
“Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–/The steel of freedom does not stain./From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,/We must take back our land again,/America!”
In 2004, the Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry embraced Hughes’ poem’s title as a campaign trail slogan. Kerry acknowledged and paid tribute to the source, noting at the time that, “Langston Hughes was a poet, a black man and a poor man. And he wrote in the 1930s powerful words that apply to all of us today.”
Watch Brown’s video, “Let America Be America Again”:
Source: Scott Brown/YouTube
Photo credit: Senator Scott Brown speaks during a Senate Armed Services committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 3, 2010. REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang