The first thing that comes to mind is that Guthrie and Whitman's work has been twisted and misinterpreted to fit advertising. Like using Whitman to sell jeans or using Born in The USA and Springsteen to sell a Republican Campaign, Guthrie's song has been used to “sell America.” “This Land Is Your Land” is taken as a very patriotic song(played at probably every July 4th celebration) and I would argue that it is (dissent is patriotic), but as familiar as I am with the tune and words I had no idea that it included the lines, “In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people, By the relief office I seen my people; As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking Is this land made for you and me?” Guthrie is questioning the values of America. Not of the people who he champions, but of the system.
Here is another verse that I think has been obscured:
As I was walkin' - I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
Interesting that these are the two verses that no one ever sings or recollects.
A big difference between Whitman and Guthrie is their circumstances in life and how that may have shaped their political views. Whitman rambles and wanders because he can. The persona that Guthrie presents rambles because he has to; from job to job, for survival. A tid bit from his bio:
The Great Depression hit the Guthrie family hard and when the drought-stricken Great Plains transformed into the infamous Dust Bowl, Guthrie left his family in 1935 to join the thousands of "Okies" who were migrating West in search of work. Like many other "Dust Bowl refugees," Guthrie spent his time hitchhiking, riding freight trains, and when he could, quite literally singing for his supper. With his guitar and harmonica he sang in the hobo and migrant camps, developing into a musical spokesman for labor and other left-wing causes. These hardscrabble experiences would provide the bedrock for Guthrie's songs and stories, as well as fodder for his future autobiography, "Bound for Glory." It was also during these years that Guthrie developed a taste for the road that would never quite leave him.
There is definitely a relationship between art and politics. Many use their art to express their political views. Whitman was so radical, he got fired from the Daily Eagle. Democracy and freedom are at the core of their work, though Guthrie's had a more critical view. He was incensed by the capitalist machine and what it did to the average American. He had been accused of being a Communist, which definitely surprised me considering the fact that up until about 10 minutes ago I thought “This Land had been a 'Yay America!” song. History has erased the radical(both the man and within the song); the protest is wiped clean from “This Land” and it has been transformed into almost a second American national anthem. Isn't Leaves of Grass kind of a type of anthem? Isn't part of what Whitman set out to do; to create a new American poetry?
Unfortunately, I do not think that we as Americans could be called unified at all. The division in this country is at an extreme and only getting wider.