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Lee Greenwood sings Proud to be an American at the 20th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War

Lee Greenwood sings "Proud to be an American" at an event in 2011 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War. — Ben Sklar/Getty Images

Lee Greenwood

Few artifacts of pop culture have had a more lasting political impact than Greenwood's emotional 1984 ballad "God Bless the USA."

Almost immediately after its release, the song became the Republican Party's unofficial campaign anthem. It provided the soundtrack for a Ronald Reagan tribute video at the 1984 GOP convention and has been part of the campaign repertoire for every GOP presidential candidate since, not to mention a staple of country radio after the 9/11 attacks and during the first and second Persian Gulf wars.

Greenwood's ode grates on some ears as syrupy and simplistic, but in its unabashed celebration of faith, family and flag, the song both reflects and assists the GOP's transformation into an increasingly blue-collar, churchgoing, heartland party. Probably not since Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal Democrats adopted Milton Ager's "Happy Days Are Here Again" has a single song been so closely identified with a political party — or so succinctly encapsulated its cultural identity.

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