For two straight years, Chrysler has won the Super Bowl advertising competition, both times with a two-minute commercial. This year's effort combined impressively artistic visual elements with a serious socio-political message rarely available on commercial television.
Last year, it was a Detroit-focused mini-movie that featured a gospel choir and the rapper Eminem boosting the revival of the struggling auto industry and the Motor City. After many street scenes, it ended with the tag line "Imported From Detroit."
In this year's game, Chrysler's spot ended with the same slogan, but the star this time was actor Clint Eastwood. The ad has offended right-wing commentators who sense in it an implied message supporting President Obama for a second term.
They may be right. And it's good that they are offended.
One example is Mark Steyn, the bilious second-stringer who filled in for Rush Limbaugh on radio Monday. He called Chrysler "socialistic" and said the President's saving of the auto industry from the Bush recession amounted to "brain-dead collectivism."
But Eastwood's words -- and the images surrounding them Sunday -- are sure to overpower the knee-jerk bleating of reactionary hacks like Steyn.
"This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood says in his growly voice, near the end of the ad, when his face finally comes into light and focus. "We get right back up again. And when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah. It's halftime in America. Our second half's about to begin."
The ad appeared at halftime and Eastwood's use of the phrase "halftime in America" implied that Obama is nearing the halfway point of a two-term, eight-year presidency. It also evoked the phrase "Morning in America" that President Ronald Reagan used in his re-election campaign of 1984.
Chrysler Monday denied a political subtext and said Eastwood donated his fee for the appearance to charity. But it's no surprise he has a bond with Detroit and its auto workers. In 2008, Eastwood made the film "Gran Torino," about a bitter, retired auto worker who overcomes his racism with heroic actions that end in his murder.
In this commercial, Eastwood first appears as a large shadow on wall and in silhouette. With subdued music playing beneath the images, we gradually see the unsmiling, concerned faces of a multi-cultural America: white, black, Asian, Latino.
We see a brief glimpse of Detroit's city flag and the Latin motto on it. In English, it means "We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes." It is as relevant today as when it was written more than two centuries ago.
Another flag just happened to be shown by NBC just before the commercial began -- the American flag, flapping in the breeze, outdoors in the host city of Indianapolis. Although the Chrysler commercial made no overt political statement, the implied message was clear to all sides.
David Axelrod, who works for the Obama campaign, called it a "powerful spot" in a Twitter message. Karl Rove, the former Bush propagandist, had a different reaction when he appeared on the 24/7 Republican infomercial also known as Fox News Channel.
"I was, frankly, offended by it," Rove told Fox. "... It is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising."
Rove would be wise to worry. The likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, said during the depths of the recession that he was willing to let the automobile companies go out of business.
This from a guy whose father, George Romney, was once an auto executive and the governor of Michigan. Obama took a different approach and, since his revival of the auto industry, unemployment in the Motor City region has dropped from 16.6 percent to 9.7 percent.
As a result, autoworkers are buying more goods, dining more at restaurants, buying more cars and not just in Detroit and Michigan. The revival has picked up spirits and economic strength across the Great Lakes region in states like Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
They just happen to be the same states in which radical Republicans have seized power recently to attack workers' rights. That effort includes the union-busting of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the "right-to-work" legislation sponsored by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
These same Great Lakes states are likely to be crucial in this November's election. If the recovery continues through November, Obama is likely to be rewarded with a large voter turnout that will support not only his re-election but also the return to power of Democrats down to the bottom of the ticket.
A year from now, we may be looking at another Obama inauguration, a robust economy, a Democratic Congress and, perhaps, another triumphant Chrysler commercial during the Super Bowl.
As Eastwood's words put in the commercial, "All that matters now is what's ahead. How do we come from behind?... How do we win?"
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