Some of you may have heard about a football game yesterday, and if you didn’t, you almost definitely heard about its commercials. One in particular starring Clint Eastwood for Chrysler has been getting a lot of attention, but not for highlighting Chrysler’s 2013 lineup. Instead, the advertisment is seen as having something of a political message.
“[M]ore than 111 million viewers were greeted by that tough-talking American icon Clint Eastwood as he delivered what amounted to a locker room speech to the country. “It’s halftime in America,” he intoned, as the New York Giants and New England Patriots went in for their midgame break. He heralded the auto industry’s revival and said it is a model for a nation poised for a comeback. By the end of the stirring message, pollsters could probably have found a majority of the country ready to elect the city of Detroit president.
The message of last night’s ad closely follows Obama’s own re-election pitch—which is maybe why the president’s top strategist, David Axelrod, liked it so much. In many speeches, Obama argues that his intervention is what helped revive the ailing American automobile industry. He is also making a larger pitch that America is on a comeback.
Whatever the president’s official re-election slogan, the unofficial one is “Bin Laden is dead and GM is alive.” In early 2009, the president agreed to an $85 billion bailout of GM and Chrysler. Both companies have come back to life, though not to their previous greatness. In 2011, Chrysler earned $183 million, compared with a loss of $652 million in 2010.
Four years later, Detroit’s revival complicates Romney’s central argument that Obama doesn’t understand how the economy works. Romney must explain why, despite the seemingly good result, Obama’s policies didn’t help, or they didn’t help as much as other policies could have. It is a different version of the same dilemma Romney faced last Friday when the news that 243,000 jobs had been created in January made it momentarily harder to attack Obama’s stewardship of the economy.
Of course, Chrysler was quick to say the ad was not political. It would be dumb if they’d planned it to be—you need Democrats and Republicans to buy your cars. But Chrysler doesn’t get to decide what’s political. By playing on the themes of American greatness during a presidential election year, they’re necessarily embracing political themes.
The best news for Obama and his campaign team is that the admakers calculated that the country was so receptive to a pitch for a Detroit-like comeback that they made it the central thrust of the ad. The bad news for Obama is that—despite his rhetorical gifts on the campaign trail—he may not be able to rally Americans around this message as effectively as Dirty Harry can.”
With an economy that–for the first time in a while–looks on the verge of a comeback, this kind of spirit no doubt helps Obama’s re-election chances. If an economic turn around doesn’t seem to be a reality in November, Obama will need a Hail Mary to keep his presidency.