America being America
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME
– Langston Hughes
Rick Santorum, perhaps best known for his infamous Google problem, recently announced his plans to launch a presidential exploratory committee. The tagline from his press release: “It’s time for America to be America again.” As many places have reported, this tagline was appropriated from a Langston Hughes’ poem. Sites like Gawker, Think Progress, and Huffington Post have focused on the too-obvious irony of the crazy, conservative Santorum using a slogan written by a liberal, gay, black man.
But I must say that I find this sort of ad hominem irony to be rather offensive to Langston Hughes and literature in general because it ironizes the man and not the content. What I haven’t seen anywhere is a comment on the irony of the content. Santorum’s slogan “It’s time for America to be American again,” comes with the implicit assumption that we’ve merely lost our way as a country–that at some point in the past America was perfect.
Langston Hughes’ poem satirizes this notion. Sure he says “let America be America again,” but he follows that up immediately with “The land that never has been yet.” There are two ways to take this. One, America will soon be the America that has always been promised from the Declaration of Independence onward. Or, and I believe more likely, Hughes is resigned to America being the America it has always been–home of the poor; home of the disenfranchised; and a home that will never be his.