Frank Rich on the Eastwood Super Bowl Ad

A still from Chrysler's "Halftime in America" ad, starring Clint Eastwood.

Recap from It's a Free Country.

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Frank RichNew York Magazine writer at large, discussed the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl ad and the politics around it.

Halftime in America

Veiled, collusive campaign ad, or just plain car commercial? That's the question being asked all week since Chrysler's Super Bowl ad featuring a gruff Clint Eastwood proclaiming "Halftime in America" aired on Sunday.

The two-minute spot certainly doesn't look like a car commercial. There's no loud music and...well, there aren't many cars in it either. It's mostly Eastwood and shots of protesters; factory workers; a waving Michigan flag; people rising and moving, presumably on their way to work.

And if they're on their way to work at those same factories that may have been shuttered if not for the Obama administration's bailout of the auto industry—if the image of a rising, recovering America plays on a stage supported by taxpayer money—then maybe it's not a car commercial after all. Or so the paranoid politico may conclude.

But Frank Rich has a hard time believing that there was any collusion between Chrysler and the Obama administration, or that a man as apolitical as Clint Eastwood would have any interest in making a political advertisement. There's also the little matter of Eastwood's opposing the auto bailout, which undermines the theory that this is somehow an endorsement of Obama's policies.

I don't think politics really is his thing, but it's impossible to imagine he meant this as a political act. That said, imagine the same ad with the imagery superimposed on that Romney op-ed, "Let Detroit Fail." That'd be pretty powerful.

A beacon of optimism?

"People want to hear an optimistic message," Rich said. But they sure aren't getting on from either party this campaign season. Perhaps that's why many are quick to take this ad as a political statement—and perhaps the candidates should take note.

We want to hear that we're coming out of tough times—if in fact we are—and coming together in some way. That's a note that either party could hit if they wanted to...Unfortunately, neither of them is Clint Eastwood. But hearing that said in an authoritative way means something to people and stirs people up.