Perhaps the most attention-getting Super Bowl ad — other than that dog blackmailing his owner with tortilla chips to keep quiet over a felinicide, of course — was Clint Eastwood’s paean to a resurgent auto industry in Detroit.
The ad featured Eastwood leveraging his cinematic persona to the hilt, emerging from the shadows while praising and challenging Americans at the same time.
“It’s halftime in America too,” Eastwood rasped during halftime at the Super Bowl in a manner reminiscent of the Detroiter he played in “Gran Torino.”
“Seems that we’ve lost our heart at times. The fog, the division, the discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one,” the actor and director said.
“All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And how do we win? Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And what’s true about them is true about all of us. This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again, and when we do the world’s going to hear the roar of our engines.”
The ad for Chrysler was intended to be a call for people of all ideological stripes to come together for the common good. But coming as it did at the dawn of a presidential election year and touching upon the highly controversial government bailout of automakers, it didn’t take long for that “fog, division, discord and blame” to assert itself.
“Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad?” groaned conservative pundit Michelle Malkin on Twitter.
Meanwhile, David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief reelection strategist, cheered in a tweet. “Powerful spot,” he said.
On Monday, Karl Rove, the former aide to President George W. Bush, said that he was “offended” by the Eastwood ad, suggesting that the Obama administration had a role in its production.
“I'm a huge fan of Clint Eastwood. I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management which is benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they'll never pay back," Rove charged on Fox News.
At the White House media briefing Monday, Jay Carney, the press secretary, said neither the administration nor the Obama campaign had anything to do with the spot.
Still, that doesn’t mean Carney passed on the chance to talk up the auto bailout.
The ad, he said, “does point out a simple fact, which is that the automobile industry in this country was on its back and potentially poised to liquidate three years ago. And this president made decisions that were not very popular at the time that were guided by two important principles: one, that he should do what he could to ensure that 1 million jobs would not be lost; and two, that the American automobile industry should be able to thrive globally if the right conditions were created.”
The man likely to Obama's Republican opponent in the general election, Mitt Romney, has been slammed by Democrats for opposing the bailout of the industry.
"Some people believe in bailouts. I believe in the process of the law,” Romney said last year in Michigan, the state where his father served as governor. “The idea of just writing a check, which is what the auto executives were asking for, was not the right course.... It would have been best had the auto companies gone through the bankruptcy process without having taken $17 billion from government.”
The Treasury Department sunk $12.5 billion into Chrysler in 2009 to help prop up the auto giant. Italian automaker Fiat purchased the government’s 6% stake in the company last year, closing the books on the government’s involvement. All in all, the U.S. lost $1.3 billion on its investment.
The ironic thing about the small-scale brouhaha is that Eastwood is a Republican who opposed the bailout of the industry. (The Chrysler ad never mentions Washington’s capital injection at all, which annoyed some Democrats.) Asked about his presidential leanings last week at an event, Eastwood only allowed some fondness for Ron Paul, saying the libertarian was “as good as anybody else” in the race.
Eastwood said he will decide on a candidate in another month or two after “listening to all that crap on television,” according to the Daily Caller.
Chrysler's chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, on Monday said the ad wasn’t intended to be political.
“It was not intended to be any type of a political overture on our part,” Marchionne said in an interview with WJR radio in Detroit. “Nobody inside Chrysler was attempting to influence decisions. The message is sufficiently universal and neutral that it should be appealing to everybody in this country, and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t get utilized as political fodder in a debate.”
Not even Dirty Harry, however, can prevent that from happening.
Christi Parsons of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.