Frank Rich on the Eastwood Super Bowl Ad

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

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.


Frank Rich

Comments [37]


Rove's single political strategy is to attack an opponent at the point of his greatest strength and the point of your candidate's greatest weakness. The classic example is the way that Kerry, who by any real standard showed great patriotism and valor in military combat, as a foreign-influenced wimp who lied about his service, while Bush was clearly a playboy and dilettante who used family connections to avoid serving in a warzone.

Rove demonstrates his fear-- and recognition-- that Obama, of all people, is the true patriot and defender of his country's interests, a strong leader who has steered the USA through incredible difficulty, while his Republican opposition has shown itself to be enemies of American prosperity. In this regard, the Eastwood ad itself follows the Rovian formula very effectively. In fact, the ad was even MORE effective than Rove could ever manage to be, as the ad itself was a reflection of culture, not of politics.

Feb. 08 2012 03:03 PM
bforsyth99 from PA

To me, the ad was successful on several levels, and ultimately made me cry--both when I watched it during halftime, and again while listening to it during the show. The reason for the tears was the section about how America can't be taken down with one punch, and how when we are at our lowest points, we come together as one country. This section immediately took me back to 9/11. The fear, the apprehension, the cost in human life, and how, regardless of political stripe, the country came together as one following the attacks. It was also successful in proving the point that given the opportunity, American industry can--and WILL come back, hopefully stronger than ever. It will be a struggle of course, but it can be done. We just need to work together to achieve the goals alluded to in the ad.

Feb. 08 2012 02:13 PM
Barbie Doll Deluxe from midtown

The divide in the why can't we get along congress and with media coverage is like professional wrestling, all the bluster and antics between the opponents is fake, for entertainment, because the match is fixed. In Congress the lines in the sand are created by politicians whose services are already paid for by large campaign donations. The deeper issue in creating a functional democracy is the economic infrastructure that captures and determine to a greater or lesser degree the integrity of our democratic political system (this is not new or big news). The irony is the debate is now being driven by the most expensive ad spot on the planet and the purpose of the add is to benefit Chrysler economically. To benefit their brand (their ideology). Like the fanatic fans at a fixed pro wrestling match we cheer and comment on our political circus as if it is real, instead of focusing on real change like campaign finance and super-packs, And now we allow the literal, surface message of TV commercials that give us little shot of fee-good hope, of how we can overcome, run the conversation, while all the ad is really doing is driving the psuedo-conversation, as we merrily roll along (emotionally, fist pumped primed, after a beer or two during real time viewing), not noticing the elephant in the room, but nostalgically reliving the surface rhetoric. Go Giants.

Feb. 08 2012 12:45 PM
John D from Collyfornia

At one point he says something like, "we all rallied around and did the right thing," but sometimes we have all rallied around to do the wrong thing. Think the War in Iraq as one example. Bailing out the Banksters leaving their bonuses intact, for another.

Then, when the ad ends on that "roar of our engines," muscle car theme, I was even further convinced how wrong headed this ad was. American automakers dependence on big profits from ever bigger SUVs and big oil dependence on profits from gasoline and unions dependence on big pensions for auto workers is one part of how Detroit and this country got into trouble.

Feb. 08 2012 12:43 PM
Ed from Larchmont

It is half-time, but do we want to change our strategy? Or go on the same path?

Feb. 08 2012 12:29 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Ernie from UWS- if it was a thank you to Obama for saving the auto industry (and I don't think it was) then you are acknowledging that he did save the auto industry and with it thousands of jobs. Isn't the rallying cry of the Republicans- "jobs, jobs, jobs"? So shouldn't the Republicans be thankful that he did save jobs? Of course not because it is more important for Obama to lose his job than for American workers to get theirs.

Feb. 08 2012 12:23 PM
art525 from Park Slope

Dear Gilbert from NYC- how does it help American workers when Fiat owns Chrysler? Why don't you ask those American workers in Detroit who have jobs and are working because Chrysler is succeeding. Chrysler products are made in Detroit by American workers.

Feb. 08 2012 12:19 PM
Sylvia Hack from New York City

A terrific ad because it tell us that as Americans we can do anything - that when people come together, they can achieve anything. Thank you Clint Eastwood for reminding us of who we are.

Feb. 08 2012 12:17 PM
carolina from Brooklyn

It's sooo obvious!! The ad had nothing to do with politics--it was a plea for people to watch the second half of the football game instead of switching to Downton Abbey. And why would Chrysler pay for that? Wait, gotta think about that.

Feb. 08 2012 12:02 PM
Gilbert from NYC

FIAT bought Chrysler so how is that supporting America or jobs for America?

Feb. 08 2012 12:02 PM
Dr Sherlock Litter from BROOKLYN

YOU want healthy middle class job growth? Then support USA AUTOMAKERS not foreign automakers making non union cars here. like coach coughlin says: talk is cheap. join the new united USA TEAM and buy Detroit's great new creations. see youtube search dr sherlock litter for my entertaining USA JOBS TEAM MANUFACTURING VIDEO MADE THREE YEARS AGO

Feb. 08 2012 11:59 AM
David Aronowitz from Riverdale

Disclaimer - I am married to African American -so my views are advocating for my wife.

Clint Eastwood for long time excluded African Americans as part of the society since this ad - my wife seem to forgive him thus I will take a second look at what he is selling.

Feb. 08 2012 11:58 AM
Deidre from Harlem

I was 2 beers and 3 cocktales in. I heard the voice and said, "Hey! It's Clint!" And we (me and my two friends watching the game) just thought it was a great commercial. We chattered about if he had directed it and then we tried to decide if we should make more to eat.

It wasn't until Monday afternoon I saw that there was political controversy. Surprised!

Feb. 08 2012 11:57 AM
Ernie from UWS

Of course it was a political ad. This was Chrysler's payback (and thank you) for Obama saving the auto industry.

Feb. 08 2012 11:56 AM
Don Myers from Suffern, NY

Shouldn't it be noted that Chrysler is now owned by Fiat? Will the Europeans be responsible for America's second half. They were instrumental in our first half.

Feb. 08 2012 11:56 AM
Bennett Windheim from New York

I have serious issues with this ad. To start with, its tri-level structure. This first part portrays a country that's down-and-out and needs to get up off the mat. It all feels dire in the extreme and overwrought and Clint's voiceover only adds to that which, of course, was intentional. The third part suggests hope, as illustrated by a revived auto industry. That's a good message but I think you can there without projecting a nation in deep depression, one that, sometime in the future, will "get right back up again, and when we do the world's gonna hear the roar of our engines." A better analogy would be a nation that's already fighting back, just like the auto industry.

Then there's that middle part, which feels like a political ad. Yes, we need a return to civility in our political discourse but, frankly, I think that horse has long left the barn and is never coming back. We're at a turning point, agreed, and how we approach it will determine how - or if - we can align our vision of a united people with reality. Anyway, that's another conversation for another time.

I also think the half-time conceit is a big stretch. If this is half-time in America then regardless of what happens henceforth this game of ours is half over. As a creative director and copywriter, I've been in the position of trying to make a concept - one that everybody's excited by - work, but at some point you realize it just doesn't, that you're pushing it; that's what I'm recognizing here.

Finally, I've never been a fan of Patriot Act advertising: that which makes an appeal to an idealized image of America and Americans, suggesting that if you really love your country you'll buy our beer, watch our news network, drive our car. Ads for Ford, Chevy and other cars have been quite affecting over the years pushing patriotism. I just don't buy it.

Feb. 08 2012 11:56 AM

looks like a thank you to obama

Feb. 08 2012 11:53 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

I can only *hope* that furor over this ad gets more Democrats to the polls. The Democrats vision is an America that pulls together to get things done.

The GOP version is that we need to pull the place apart and sell it to the highest bidder...preferably for the benefit of their donor/owners.

Feb. 08 2012 11:53 AM
Leeam from Queens

It seems to me that the rhetoric and language of the ad is pretty similar to the one characteristic of Obama's speeches (centrist, inspiring, etc.). I could definitely imagine him delivering it. There is even a certain similarity between the way Obama and Eastwood pronounce the work "America" (a-mur-ka)

Feb. 08 2012 11:52 AM
Bruce Rauffenbart from Manhattan

Prediction: Which ever party signs on Clint Eastwood to advertise for them wins.
The ad ties in to one of Eastwood's best "Gran Torino".

Feb. 08 2012 11:52 AM
Danny Pudelek from Park Slope, Brooklyn

The response to the ad has been overblown. It's a car ad that is saying buy American

Feb. 08 2012 11:52 AM
john from office

I am a Republican and am embarrassed that the party cannot love this ad, It was great and Obama will clean house with these lightweights, that are running. My god, Where is Ronald Reagan!!!!!, He would have loved that ad and seem the "Morning In America"!!

Feb. 08 2012 11:51 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

So we should stay divided and depressed as a country because Karl Rove whats to sell more books?

Eminem was featured in a similar ad in last year's super bowl. The critics didn't say anything - why, because the auto industry wasn't back yet. Some people simply want to see this country fail & burn.

Feb. 08 2012 11:50 AM
Freddy Jenkins

Amazing how an ad that's supposed to inspire unity is still being picked apart as partisan.

Feb. 08 2012 11:50 AM
Michael Serafino from LIC

Clint Eastwood predicts the end of America in 2246 AD.

Feb. 08 2012 11:50 AM
T from Brooklyn

It's designed to look like politics, because politics gets people talking. But it's not politics. It's consumerism. The conversation we're having right now is exactly what they had in mind in vacuously invoking a political veneer.

Feb. 08 2012 11:49 AM
Benny from Jersey City

He is a Republican. Funny because they were "against" the auto bailout.

His voice sounds decimated by smoking. What a fool. This is why Citizen's United is so awful

Feb. 08 2012 11:48 AM
The Truth from Becky

The whispering was annoying and distracting. Why do we care what clint has to say again?

Feb. 08 2012 11:48 AM
David from Hamilton Heights

I'll admit I totally missed the 2nd half - 2nd term parallel when I saw the ad.

But I immediately thought this ad favors the GOP. By focusing solely on the country as a whole taking a hit from the economic crisis it totally passed over how differently the crisis impacted different categories of American people. The ad could just as well have run after Pearl Harbor or 9/11. It thereby plays into the Republican narrative that only American-level issues - like the federal debt - matter and poverty alleviation doesn't.

Feb. 08 2012 11:48 AM
John A.

Think I just caught a seven note riff from "Faith of Our Fathers".

Feb. 08 2012 11:47 AM
art525 from Park Slope

The ad says that the auto industry is back and America is coming back. And the Republicans get all worked up about that? They don't think that that is something worth cheering on? There is no mention of Obama in the ad. And they don't dispute that the auto industry is back. Now that says to me that they do in fact think that Obama can be seen as being responsible for America coming back, which is only fair since they have blamed him for bailing out the auto industry (though it actually started with Bush). And more importantly it says that Obama is responsible for this success and that that makes them mad. Shouldn't they be cheering our success? It seems they are so invested in Obama's failure that they are willing to let the country go down the tubes to achieve that.

Feb. 08 2012 11:19 AM

As I was watching the ad, it became readily apparent that the gigantic 2 ton elephant (excuse the metaphor) in the room is that Obama is the one who came to the rescue of Detroit, while Romney and other Libertarian/ laissez faire/ 1%-ers were saying that Detroit should be allowed to fail. These are the same people who worship Reagan yet seem to forget that bailed out Chrysler, as well as favored higher capital gains taxes; much higher than we have now, btw...

Feb. 08 2012 11:07 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

LOL ..... who doesn’t know that Clint Eastwood has been teetering over to the far Left for quite awhile in his declining dotage. (He almost provides as much good copy for the Leftist media as Warren Buffet’s embarrassing senility.) So, now we need an underemployed Frank Rich to waste precious air time to explain this commercial for Obama 2012 (that’s the real subliminal meaning of “and the 2nd half is about to begin” ....of an 8 year Obama presidency) and in Frank Rich’s usual giggling, silly manner?


Feb. 08 2012 10:59 AM
John A.

I'm not discounting the republican chances until the election is over. Actually I will be discounting them by 1 vote. But GWB winning twice was some pretty scary stuff.
Leonard recently had a show on YouTube. If you want to see where the world's most inane online comments reside, you need look no farther than to press the 'see all' link on this video, BTW.

Feb. 08 2012 10:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

If it's halftime in America, are the Republican primaries the halftime show? 'Cause I gotta say, I'm really not enjoying it.

Oh, & it hasn't been just 1 punch. It's been several, & some have been from the inside.

Feb. 08 2012 10:46 AM

As I watched this ad, surprised, I'll admit, as it seemed so uncharacteristically clumsy and lunky, I just assumed that my man Clint would announce sometime this week some sublimely appropriate charity that would make it all come together brilliantly.

Haven't really followed this -- anybody know what Clint is doing w the $$... or how he got involved in the first place?

Feb. 08 2012 10:09 AM

The Karl Rove/Reaction to this ad is symptomatic of why they will lose big in November. All Rove had to do was embrace the ad as a positive for everyone...instead he ran away from it and condemned it like a Vampire would the sunshine!

The WHOLE Republican "strategy" has been negative. They have consistently trashed the economy in every way they could on the asinine theory that if there was enough pain and suffering that people would forget how Bush created the mess and that we would blame it all on Obama and bring back the Republicans in 2012.

Republicans have CONSISTENTLY obstructing EVERY positive initiative in Congress. They weren't subtle about it...the Republican full court 24/7 press to sabotage America in EVERY way possible just so they could win in 2012 will backfire. That ploy ONLY works in the dark. It ONLY works when people don't see the trick...guess what...the American people are not that stupid or that ignorant, and they won't fall for the Rovian manipulation.

The only way Obama and the Democrats can lose is if they don't have the courage to FIGHT back and to make a strong and honest and overwhelming case that the future IS indeed bright if we advance a truly progressive agenda for the future. If Democrats are cowed by the Republican nonsense and they run as Republican lite...they will lose because they will have lost the votes of all of the progressives and the so called "undecideds" will be turned off by the weakness and cowardice.

Obama must embrace the Eastwood tone and the Chrysler ad. That means taking on the Republican plays on fear and calling them out on the negativity. It means turning on the lights!!!

Feb. 08 2012 09:37 AM

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