It makes sense that Chrysler would want Clint Eastwood to narrate its “Halftime in America” Super Bowl ad; the stoic, gravelly 82-year-old actor exudes old-school charm. His mere presence harkens back to a pre-auto-bailout day when people paid for American cars by actually purchasing them, not by filling out their 1040EZ tax forms. (Although Eastwood represents modern America fairly well, too, as he has fathered seven children with five different women.)
The ad, which declares it to be “Halftime in America” (no word on whether Chrysler is predicting a Mayan-style apocalypse in the year 2248), urges us all to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get moving, so once again the world will “hear the roar of our engines.”
The Chrysler spot merely stitches together a few vacuous bromides, masquerading as profundity — yet it immediately provoked a reaction from political observers around the country. David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief strategist, called it a “powerful spot.” Roll Call White House Reporter Steven Dennis said the ad “couldn’t have been scripted any better for the Obama reelect campaign.” Filmmaker Michael Moore tweeted, “And Clint, the consensus is u done a good thing standing up 4 Detroit–& your sermon seemed 2 b a call 2 give O his ‘second half.’” (It should surprise no one that Moore is a supporter of the current American public-education system.)
But in Wisconsin, where the entire state is still grieving over the Packers’ loss to the Giants three weeks ago, the reaction was much different. While most cheeseheads saw the Super Bowl as a rare night off from the sucking hole of union politics, there it was in the ad — an image of the state capitol occupation by union protesters nearly a year ago.
While the video of the capitol’s illuminated east wing plays, Eastwood growls, “I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. [Edit. note: “Huh?”] And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. The fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.”
Of course, the “division, discord, and blame,” in Wisconsin began when unions tried the burn the state down over Governor Scott Walker’s plan requiring them to begin paying into their own pension accounts, and to pay a little more toward their health insurance (although still half the private-sector average.) Walker scaled back their ability to collectively bargain, although they still retained more bargaining rights than federal workers, who can’t bargain for wages and benefits.
Everyone knows the results. Union protesters calling the Lieutenant Governor a “f***ing whore” to her husband’s face after a Walker speech. Screeching demonstrators being dragged out while attempting to disrupt Walker’s State of the State address. WWII veterans being greeted with Nazi salutes at a capitol Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony. Protesters disrupting a Walker-led ceremony for Special Olympics award recipients. Forged recall petition signatures. Lawmakers having beers dumped on their heads. The list goes on and on.
According to Chrysler, these are times when we just “didn’t understand each other,” and where both sides can be ascribed “blame.” In fact, it was the union protesters that understood perfectly — that their boorish behavior would probably one day land them in an ad lauding their activism. (Wisconsin viewers were also treated to a deliciously awkward ad by this guy, who is planning to run against Governor Scott Walker as an independent.)
It also seems somewhat incongruous that Chrysler would lionize the Wisconsin union movement in such a way. Organized labor’s pay and benefit demands are what brought U.S. auto makers to their knees in the first place. As George Will is fond of saying, American car companies actually became health-insurance companies that happened to sell automobiles. It’s no coincidence that the American entities who have struggled the most in recent years — car companies, the American educational system — are the ones that are the most heavily unionized. (Wisconsin, of all places, should recognize this, as a major GM plant in Janesville closed in 2008, tearing the heart out of that union town.)
Instead of pouring millions into pseudo-political Super Bowl ads, Chrysler should return to making taxpayers whole again. Plus, if Super Bowl viewers needed something old from Michigan to remind us of decades past, there was already the Madonna halftime show.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and a co-author of the Campaign Manager Survey.