Karl Rove is pissed off, and for once we can understand why.
Chrysler's "It's Halftime in America" television commercial, which aired during the Super Bowl, featured tough guy Clint Eastwood reminding the nation of the successful bounce-back Detroit is enjoying. Its not-so-subliminal message: buy American cars that are made in America.
"I was, frankly, offended by it," said Rove, the Darth Vader of Republican politics. What short-circuited Rove's lightsaber was the genius of the ad: two minutes of gravel-voiced Eastwood, shot in a moody chiaroscuro, telling a simple story of hope and struggle. Although there was only a fleeting glimpse of an American flag, and no patriotic music playing in the background, the ad was an unabashed hymn to national spirit.
"People are out of work, and they're hurting. And they're all wondering what they're going to do to make a comeback," says Eastwood. "All that matters now is what's ahead."
With those words, Chrysler's scriptwriters tapped into the potent pool of American optimism, the can-do ethic that helped Ronald Reagan capture the White House in 1980.
What must have really stung was that this message was delivered by Eastwood, a former Republican mayor of Carmel, California, who is an icon to many law-and-order right-wingers.
Taken out of context, "It's Halftime in America" doesn't display a single second of political content.
But the context is everything. Republicans vociferously opposed the loans President Barack Obama sponsored for Detroit automakers. Those loans to date have restored 55,000 jobs out of 334,000 lost, and — more important — saved as many as one million more among automakers and their sub-
contractors and suppliers.
With the bailout, Obama did more than save the auto industry, he saved the entire state of Michigan.
"It's Halftime in America" is a very unusual ad. It certainly provokes an emotional response, as effective sales pitches always do. But it also promotes thought.
And in this instance, two conclusions are inescapable:
First, Obama bought the auto industry time to turn itself around — not just with loans, but also with union givebacks and a no-strike pledge as well as serious financial sacrifice from corporate bond holders.
Second, the Congressional Republicans did nothing. In fact, they opposed rescuing the auto industry. The GOP was willing to let more than a million jobs disappear.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, an apostle of creative destruction, went so far as to suggest in 2008 that Detroit must fail in order to be saved. If Obama and the Democrats tried to save Detroit, Romney wrote in a 2008 op-ed piece, "You can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye."
Republican electoral hegemony, perversely, has been built on economic inequality. Over the last 30 or so years, the bottom 60 percent of the work force — for a complicated set of reasons — has seen its spending power diminished, while the top 40 percent has enjoyed growth. Big US companies cut 2.9 million jobs, transferring about 2.4 million of them to lower-paid overseas workers.