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A Tale of Two Ads

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If you were asked before Super Bowl Sunday what Clint Eastwood and a young Asian lady have in common, you might have been lost for words. Now we know that these two people are the new epicenters of the controversy surrounding Republican foreign policy.

Karl Rove has painted the Clint Eastwood-Chrysler advertisement as "political patronage" from Chrysler to the Obama administration. The viewers on Fox News' Fox & Friends morning show rated the ad as their "least favorite" among the Super Bowl ads. Yes, this is the very ad that tracks Ronald Regan's famous "morning in America again" nearly second by second. The same one that praises the strength and resilience of the American people while deifying perhaps the most American thing of all -- guzzling gas.

Meanwhile, GM and Chrysler were rescued from bankruptcy by the much-maligned government bailouts and are now growing at double-digit rates, in no small part due to auto sales in China.

Mr. Eastwood's counterpart, a young Asian actress, is depicted in an ad for GOP Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra. She emerges straight from her rice paddy on her bicycle to speak to the camera in an English that would be perfect if not for a few purposeful and pre-written grammatical errors, sneakily placed by ad-maker Fred Davis.

This advertisement symbolizes the very incoherence of the Republican foreign policy platform. The GOP has managed to simultaneously clutch free enterprise, free market, anti-regulation principles in one hand while denouncing the very natural result of these principles, the movement of capital to cheap labor. If the Republican Party does want to protect U.S. jobs in the short run, they would shut down free trade by placing tariffs on incoming goods while dumping U.S. products on foreign markets with the aid of government subsidies. This means regulation, and it has been a central part of American trade policy for decades, if not centuries.

It is this very schizophrenia that infects Republican foreign policy arguments. Free trade agreements were approved with overwhelming Republican support last fall with Panama, Colombia and South Korea while politicians like Hoekstra seek to blame "Asia" for outsourcing and the importation of cheap products.

Xenophobic marketing is worse than racist; it capitalizes on the American public's fear of being overtaken by other economies while blaming a nameless, borderless "Asia." It promotes ignorance, fear-mongering and making delicate foreign-policy decisions based on short-term political gains. The young lady's nationality is never revealed in the advertisement but she is assumed to be "Chinese," due to the economic undertones. There is therefore a threefold assumption: Asia is full of rice paddies and girls on bicycles, China is representative of Asia (i.e. "they all look the same") and all of Asia poses an economic threat to Americans. The Hoekstra advertisement is indicative of the cultural ignorance and indifference endemic to the Republic party, and perhaps the United States as a whole.

Such indifference ignores the complex geo-politics of Southeast Asia, the cost-benefit analysis of free market policies in a globalized economy, and the realities of current U.S. and China economic policy -- both of which are guilty of many free trade violations.

In such a rapidly shifting world economy, an American public ignorant of international issues spells doom for the USA's long-run competitiveness. As long as small-minded politicians such as Hoekstra have power, taxpayers will forever assume that Thailand and Taiwan are the same country, and worse, that neither of them are the end consumers of Chryslers. If politicians refuse to read a map, how can we expect it of their constituents?

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