Chrysler Gets America Talking

By Bill Moore

Posted: 06 Feb 2012

Some call it brilliant. Some hate it. It's Chrysler's 2012 Super Bowl television message entitled, 'It's Halftime in America.' It features gravel-voiced tough man actor Clint Eastwood talking about the problems Americans have been facing, especially those whose livelihoods are dependent on the American auto industry, of which Motor City is symbolic.

The transcript of the "message" (I really think it shouldn't be classified as a "commercial or advertisement in the traditional, mercantile sense) is reprinted below. Visually and symphonically, it is a very moving message with almost Steinbeck-like tones. Using the metaphor of an American football game with its half-time break, Eastwood draws a parallel between the teams huddling in their locker rooms going over their second half strategy and the down-and-out-of-work who are "all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback."

"And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game."

There are long, lingering montages of families, single mothers, firefighters and Wisconsin teachers and union members protesting in Madison last year (though the union signs have been digitally erased from videographer Matthew Wisniewski's clips).

At its core, the Chrysler piece is an homage to the company's employees and the American people, who through their President acted to salvage a company that was on the brink of completely shutting down, according to then-Chairman and CEO Bob Nardelli, for lack of cash. At the time, with the financial establishment in disarray in the wake of the mortgage meltdown, the lenders of last resort were the U.S. and Canadian governments, which despite loud and long opposition, especially from Republican Party leaders, loaned the company US$5.1 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively. Twenty-four months later, it had repaid both loans with interest amounting to US$1.8 billion, bringing the total loan payment in May 2011 to $8.5 billion.

Republican Machivellian Karl Rove said the ad "offended" him. "[I]t 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," he responded

As for Eastwood's political views, he's on record of saying he can't remember ever voting for a Democratic Party candidate. In 2008 he supported Senator John McCain. Adds the Washington Post, Eastwood "went on to explain that he’s liberal on social views but economically conservative. In fact, Eastwood opposed the auto bailout."

To the LA Times in 2011 he stated, "We shouldn’t be bailing out the banks and car companies. If a CEO can’t figure out how to make his company profitable, then he shouldn’t be the CEO.”

Yet, Obama Administration critics see the ad as an endorsement of government loans to Chrysler that helped save it from Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Why the seeming change of heart?

In a GQ interview shortly after the 2008 elections, Eastwood said that, "[O]ver the years, I realized there was a Republican philosophy that I liked. And then they lost it. And libertarians had more of it."

Since libertarians are even less enamored with government intervention, it would seem that Mr. Eastwood is far more nuanced than the gritty characters he's portrayed on film.

Still the central question remains, was the Chrysler clip a political piece? When someone gets around to asking Eastwood, I'll bet he says "Hell no! It's about America and Americans of all shades: racially, politically, economically, especially those that have been hurt the most the last few years. It is what it is and nothing more, an America taking stock of itself in the middle of the roughest "game" it's played since the end of World War Two. It's about deciding where we go from here, how we respond to the competition. How we win."

And in that appraisal are several subtexts. Obviously, it's about what Chrysler's next move will be. It has, with taxpayer assistance, stepped back from the brink. It is returning to profitability. It's introducing new, fuel efficient, Fiat-inspired models, along with its quintessentially American Jeep and Ram offerings. Throughout the Super Bowl message, there are fleeting glimpses of Chrysler production lines, workers and vehicles. Where does Chrysler go from here? Smaller cars? Hybrids? Plug-ins? Fuel cells?

Yet, as Eastwood states in the film, Detroit is just a metaphor for America.

"How do we come from behind?" he asks. "How do we come together? And, how do we win?

"Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And, what’s true about them is true about all of us."

For conservative pundits bent on making President Obama a one-termer, the Chrysler commercial was nothing more than a campaign ad apparently paid for by a Chrysler super PAC, endorsing a "second half" for the President in the form of another term.

Yet, the larger message is, What does America do next? What's our game plan now to get the nation back on its feet and competitive in a very competitive world. What policies do we pursue to get people back to work and working at what? Service sector jobs, manufacturing, green tech? What is the right vision for America: empire, policeman, entrepreneur?

More critically, how does a nation so apparently divided, actually find enough common ground to "come together?" A Hollywood scriptwriter would find a way to resolve the conflicts and give us a happy ending. Life seldom works that way.


'It's Halftime in America' Transcript'

It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.

It’s halftime in America, too. People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.

The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again.

I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.

All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And, how do we win?

Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And, what’s true about them is true about all of us.

This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.

Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin.

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