If you watched the Winter Olympics on NBC TV the past two weeks, it's hard to have missed the Cadillac ELR commercial which was almost as ubiquitous as figure skating:
A short but trim middle aged character actor -- who looks a bit like a career Army officer and you vaguely recognize from "Desperate Housewives" -- stands in front of an infinity pool in the small yard of his All-American McMansion. Facing with his back to us, looking out at his empty pool, he asks, "Why do we work so hard? For what? For this (vaguely gesturing towards the narrow pool)?"
He turns and looks into the camera: "For stuff?"
As he continues his monologue, he marches rapidly through his modernistic house, briefly passing 2 little girls, whom he barely notices but for a quick high-five, and a woman (his wife? his secretary?) whom he briskly hands some papers to without a look or a word.
"Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café, they take August off. Off. Why aren't we like that? Because we're crazy driven, hard working believers. That's why. Those other countries think we're nuts. Whatever!"
Continuing his march, he cites American achievements like the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates, Les Paul, Ali, and landing a man on the moon,. His costume magically changes from shorts to what's supposed to look like an expensive 2-button suit but appears to come from Men's Warehouse. (Did the producers run short of money for wardrobe? And OMG, call the fashion police. Both of the suit buttons are buttoned. This fake rich guy's clueless about fashion.)
His march finally takes him to his driveway, where he unplugs and gets into a Cadillac (it's an electric hybrid, base price $75,000) and if we look carefully, we can see that his McMansion butts right up against his neighbor's house. (Is this actually a house or an upscale condo?)
Now comes the punch line: "You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything's possible. As for all the stuff, that's the up-side of taking two weeks off in August. N'est-ce-pas?" Take that you frogs!
WTF? Is this an ad for a car or for the collected works of Ayn Rand, or maybe for Ron Paul's 2016 Presidential campaign? You'd almost think it was a Saturday Night Live routine, but with the ad time costing millions, it's hardly a joke.
What's wrong with this commercial? Let me count the ways.
First, I live in LA and occasionly drive through Beverly Hills where the super-rich live. Believe me; nobody there, that's nobody, drives a Cadillac. They drive BMWs and Mercedes--made, by the way, by unionized workers with high wages, good pensions, free health care and 6-weeks paid vacation. Or if they want to pop for a $75,000 electric car as their newest status symbol, it's going to be a Tesla, not a Caddy.
Further, the audience who's going to be impressed by the ad's message of unfettered capitalism generally doesn't believe in climate change. Why would they pop for $75,000 to buy an environmentally conscious car? They're probably contributing to Super Pacs supporting candidates who aim to block any climate change legislation.
And what about the minimum wage workers at Walmarts or McDonalds who get food stamps to make ends meet, or work two or three jobs to support their families? They work hard, too, but they don't get all the "stuff" as a reward. I can't help but think of Rev. Jesse Jackson's iconic speech to the Democratic National convention a few years back:
"Most poor people are not on welfare... They work hard every day.
I know. I live amongst them. I'm one of them. I know they work. I'm a witness. They catch the early bus. They work every day.
They raise other people's children. They work everyday.
They clean the streets. They work everyday. They drive dangerous cabs. They work every day. They change the beds you slept in in these hotels last night and can't get a union contract. They work every day.
No, no, they are not lazy! Someone must defend them because it's right, and they cannot speak for themselves. They work in hospitals. I know they do. They wipe the bodies of those who are sick with fever and pain. They empty their bedpans. They clean out their commodes. No job is beneath them, and yet when they get sick they cannot lie in the bed they made up every day. America, that is not right. We are a better Nation than that. We are a better Nation than that."
But we're not a better nation than that according to Cadillac.
No. According to Cadillac, the upside of a society with a weaker social safety net than most other capitalist countries and little time off for vacation is some of us get "all the stuff" like a McMansion with a pool, a $75,000 Caddy, and no time to enjoy it or spend time with our family and friends.
This is not what makes America a good country. The best thing about America is that it was the first country to create a largely middle class society with widely-shared prosperity. But after 30 years of conservative economic policies, the economic center is eroding. It's not that we don't work hard. It's that for many Americans, they're working even harder without getting the economic benefits of their productivity, while increasing amounts go to the top 0.01 percent.
And what's wrong with other capitalist countries like Germany, France, and the Scandinavian countries where its citizens get 6 week's vacation a, free health care, and free child care. Isn't the purpose of working hard to have a good life and enjoy our families and friends, not just to collect stuff?
So you can have your $75,000 Cadillac and your McMansion. I'd prefer the 6-week vacation, the free health care and child care, and I'd settle for a used foreign car in exchange.