Fight over Clint Eastwood Super Bowl ad evidence how distorted our political culture has become
He's a movie star who endorsed Republican John McCain for president in 2008, known for playing characters whose solution to urban crime comes in .44 caliber slugs.
But Clint Eastwood has somehow managed to offend leading GOP figures by voicing a Super Bowl commercial which dared to argue that the country's auto manufacturing industry -- and by extension, America itself -- was off the ropes and headed for economic victory.
"I was frankly offended by it," said Karl Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's presidential victories, postulating that the spot was some sort of payback for the huge financial bailout the company got during the economic downturn. "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...The President of the United States' political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising and the best wishes of the management, which has benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they'll never pay back."
The ad featured Eastwood's familiar growl assuring viewers "it's halftime in America, and the second half's about to begin," as images of factory workers and families flashed by. Another section of the ad decried the "fog, division, discord and blame" which made it tough to see the way forward.
Debuting at the start of a contentious election season, the commercial felt like one of those non-specific "image ads" politicians use to tout policies without specifically endorsing a candidate. And for a GOP establishment intent on criticizing the economic bailout of auto companies, Eastwood's ads were a deep pocketed argument in the other direction.
The star himself saw it a different way. "There is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain," Eastwood said in a statement to Fox News. "I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. ... If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it."
Seems to me that Republicans who complain about this ad look as if they are rooting against an American recovery for their own political gain. The ad, listed among many critics picks as one of the Big Game's most effective spots, essentially served as a pep talk for an audience presumably weathering tough times during a protracted recession.
As the Tampa Bay Times fact checking website PolitiFact noted, the auto manufacturers who took money in the bailout have paid back most of the federal money they took, and a senior editor at Forbes has calculated that taxpayers made money on the bailout program.
It's an odd circumstance, which finds Republicans arguing against an ad celebrating the rescue of an auto industry that still employs hundreds of thousands of middle class and working class Americans. Yet, the front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination has been accused of profiting off failing companies while building a $250-million fortune, much of it taxed at a lower rate than paid by auto workers saved in the industry bailout -- which began under Republican President Bush.
Everyone knows: The best thing politically for the GOP is for the economy to languish until after November's elections. But showing that sentiment too prominently turns the Republicans into the party willing to hobble the country just to win the White House.
I'm betting that, if the GOP decides to stack the popularity of Rove and Mitt Romney against Eastwood, they won't fare much better than that bank robber in the iconic Dirty Harry movie.
Go ahead, Karl Rove. Make his day.
Check out the ad below and decide for yourself: Is it a disguised, pro-Obama advertisement?