Viewed as a standalone, the controversy generated by the Clint Eastwood Superbowl commercial is really silly. Yet it points to something profound that has and, if left unaddressed, will continue to undermine America's ability to regain economic dynamism, create ample jobs, and deal with growing inequalities.
In the event that you are one of the few who missed it, Clint Eastwood starred on Sunday in a commercial that NBC aired at half time. The message was powerful.
Yes, America has stumbled, with people out of work, hurting and scared. But, by pulling together and acting as one, Americans will come from behind and win. "That's what we do."
The concluding remarks were particularly potent: "This country can't be knocked out by one punch. We get right back up; and when we do, the world will hear the roar of our engines."
Given that it was financed by Chrysler, the commercial's direct reference was, of course, to the impressive recovery in Detroit's car industry. But the intention, and the impact, went well beyond that. What Detroit has done, America as a whole can and will do.
Coming on the heels of a series of favorable economic data releases -- which will hopefully persist though this is far from certain unfortunately -- the ad spoke to the hope that America is recovering and that our economy is building encouraging momentum. This is particularly important for the job market where we need to improve on the 243,000 positions created in January to meaningfully address our unemployment crisis, tackle the problem of long-term joblessness, counter the mounting obstacles to youth employment, and stop the worsening of income and wealth inequalities.
You would think that this feel good message would be a unifying one for our political class. Far from it.
Several Republicans complained this week that Clint Eastwood was implicitly supporting Barack Obama. After all, the commercial could be interpreted as suggesting that, under President Obama, America has turned the corner and is now embarking on a path to prosperity -- something that most Republicans dismiss.
Democrats were quick to counter. On the contrary they shouted. If anything, "Half Time in America" was pro-Republican. It could easily be viewed as implying the need for a change in game plan and personnel substitutions -- similar to what a losing team would discuss in the locker room at half time in order to regain control of the game and win.
This morning on CNBC's Squawk Box, Clint Eastwood shared his views. His message was direct and unambiguous: Take the commercial for what it is -- a message about Americans' ability to overcome our problems and march forward to a better future.
It is easy, indeed tempting, to dismiss all this political squabbling as indicative of the silliness that is inevitable during an election season. I certainly would like to do so. Yet I fear that it goes well beyond that.
This is yet another illustration of the deep political dysfunctionality that continuously undermines DC's willingness and ability to move forward with the much-needed revitalization of the economy. The longer this continues, the greater the costs and the harder the solutions.
In the short-term, the cyclical economic bounce of the last few months -- powered by large injections of global central bank liquidity and a once-for-all decline in the personnel savings rate -- would end up suffering the same fate as in early 2010 and 2011: fizzling out rather than handing off to durable engines of investment, growth and jobs. In the longer-term, America would find it even more challenging to overcome structural impediments that, each day, are getting more deeply embedded in the construct of our economy.
For the sake of both current and future generations, let us hope that Clint Eastwood's "Half Time in America" commercial will be remembered for more than just igniting yet another round of political bickering and finger pointing.
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