For the second year in a row, Chrysler used a Superbowl ad to make Americans feel good about the bailed out and resurging domestic car industry, the rust belt, and the country in general.
"Its half-time, America," Clint Eastwood rasped, suggesting the country is rebounding from punches and ready to rumble like an accelerating Dodge Charger. (Politics aside, the ad was about selling cars, let's not forget.) The Eastwood ad - and one starring the rapper Eminem, which aired during the 2011 Superbowl, appeal to Americans' sense of nationalism - through cars. It's a message designed to elicit that tingly feeling in viewers, viewers proud to be American, even if more than 50 percent of Chrysler is now owned by the Italian car company Fiat.
Politics cannot be separated from this type of nationalistic appeal, particularly since the government bailout of GM and Chrysler promises to play so prominently in the 2012 campaign.
White House Spokesman Dan Pfeiffer took the ad as a sort of thank you to the U.S. government from Chrysler for the bailout.
"Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on," he tweeted. Eminem was featured in last year's Chrysler commercial.
Democrats saw the ad as something of a validation.
But some Republicans had the opposite reaction. "I was, frankly, offended by it," said Karl Rove on Fox News Monday. "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."
There is no indication that the Obama administration had anything to do with Chrysler's ad. When asked, White House press secretary Jay Carney simply replied, "No."
And Eastwood, for his part, has said nice things this year about Ron Paul, the most anti-bailout of all the Republican candidates.
Efforts to reach Eastwood were not successful today but he did speak to a Fox News producer, denying that the ad was meant to be political or that the Obama administration had anything to do with it.
"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain," Eastwood said, according to Fox news. "I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK."
President Obama has made the government help that delivered GM and Chrysler through bankruptcy, a major plank of his economic platform.
Obama has subtly used the issue to jab former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, whose father was a top executive at the American Motor Company, famous for the Jeep, and which was later bought by Chrysler, during an earlier era. Romney has been critical of efforts to give GM and Chrysler government funds to help them turn around. The president, while visiting an auto show in Washington, D.C., last week, told reporters it was "good to remember the fact that there were some folks who were willing to let this industry die. Because of folks coming together, we are now back at a place where we can compete with any car company in the world."
Romney has said the government should not have taken money from the Wall Street bailout - a process the Bush administration initiated - and redirected it to GM and Chrysler.
"Some people believe in bailouts. I believe in the process of the law," said Romney in June, while in Michigan. "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."
As for Chrysler, its new ad looks successful, if getting people talking is any indication. And as for the company's politics, they must have more to do with the zeitgeist of the moment than an agenda. It should be noted that in 2010, at the height of the popularity of the Tea Party, and just before Republicans swept to control of the House of Representatives promising a renewed adherence to the letter of the Constitution, the freshly bailed-out company released an ad featuring George Washington driving a Dodge Charger at British forces, who made a hasty retreat.
"Here's a couple of things America got right," intones the narrator of the 2010 ad, as George Washington stands, smiling, next to a Charger with an American flag on its antenna, whipping in the wind. "Cars and freedom."