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OP ED: Super Bowl ad scores touchdown

I'm not the dyed-in-the-wool football fan I used to be.

But I tuned in Sunday to watch the New York Giants snatch the momentum away from the New England Patriots late in the second half, and saw Eli Manning march his team down to a sure winning field goal and accidentally stumble in for the winning touchdown instead.

The Patriots had a desperation shot at it, but it was only fitting that Eli Manning, who has struggled with infamous clutch mistakes over the years, would play a virtually mistake-free game and reap the accolades in the 46th Super Bowl.

I didn't think he'd pull it off, but good for Eli. He deserves his day in the spotlight.

Even more stunning than the game's outcome, however, is that the Monday-morning quarterbacking is not about football. Rather, it's about Clint Eastwood starring in the Chrysler Group commercial that ran at halftime of the Super Bowl. The 2-minute ad starts with dramatic backlighting focused on a man walking out of a dimly lit stadium, then there's the unmistakable voice of 81-year-old actor and director Clint Eastwood:

"It's halftime," he says in his raspy baritone with his Dirty Harry seriousness. "Both teams are in their locker rooms discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.

"It's halftime in America, too," he continues as the camera pans to faces of worried Americans and their families, then switches to old factories coming back to life. "People are out of work, and they're hurting. And they're all wondering what they're gonna 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."

The ad is unabashedly pro-American. It's a feel-good ad recognizing that we, as a nation, met a potential crisis, backed the automotive industry with taxpayer-supported loans, watched them recover and recognize that now the Chrysler group has fully paid back their loans (with interest) and are posting sizable profits, while General Motors has recovered significantly - and both are employing tens of thousands of people with good paying jobs. It is an unqualified success story of which all Americans can be proud.

The Monday-morning quarterbacking, however, is coming from the Conservative side of the aisle. Republican campaign wizard Karl Rove, who also oversees several large PACs that produce attack ads on behalf of the Republican Party, called the ad "offensive" and went off on a terror about Chicago-style politics.

Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin jumped in on Twitter with her take: "Agh. WTH? Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad? Super Bowl!"

Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, told CNN's "John King, USA," "Chrysler got the bailout money, and now they're doing this ad. ... A lot of people have a problem with it."

A lot of people have a problem with what? That Chrysler is now back on its feet? That Chrysler paid back the loan in full with interest to taxpayers? That thousands are employed in the Motor City? 

No, as a Monday morning quarterback, that's not only bad form, it's a bad call.

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But the discord coming from the Conservative right makes you wonder if the Republican naysayers will pick a fight about almost everything - even those things that turn out well.

Have they forgotten that as recently as 2010, the nation was still in the depth of the worst recession this nation has seen since the Great Depression in the 1930s. That Detroit had lost 300,000 jobs since 2005 and the region's unemployment rate was 16.6 percent in 2009. Have they forgotten that George W. Bush initiated the auto loan bailouts in late 2008, which was implemented by President Obama and his administration. In that package, $60 billion was provided to help bail out the industry. Chrysler went through bankruptcy protection and received $12.5 billion in bailout money and is now also partly owned by Fiat, while General Motors got a $50 billion bailout while giving the government a 60.8 percent stake in the company. Ford, alone of the big three, didn't need the help.

Chrysler has since paid back its loans and is again profitable. In fact, Chrysler posted a $225 million profit in the fourth quarter of 2011.

It's only political because of the times we're in, said one commentator, but it's also because the Republican Party has been hard at work over the past two decades trying to discredit the very idea that government can play a helpful role in economy. And the Republican front-runner Mitt Romney made a big deal of the bailout when he ran as the Republican nominee for president in 2008 against John McCain. In a New York Times op-ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," Romney wrote just after President Obama took office:

"If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed."

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Cut back to Clint Eastwood's voice in the commercial:

"The fog, division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead… Sometimes it seems as if we lost our way, lost our heart."

Perhaps that is because the fight has become more about politics than the issues. In this very small instance, it's not about whether Chrysler's success should be hailed, but about the whether there was a political slant in the advertisement.

But why all the speculation? Just ask the source.

Chrysler Group Chairman and CEO Sergio Marchionne told WJR radio in Detroit on Monday that Eastwood's words were his own, and that he is donating his fee to charity.

"He felt really deeply everything he said," said Marchionne. "There was not a single doubt in my mind when he spoke in the commercial that he was expressing his views."

And he denied that the ad had political motives.

"It had zero political content," he said. "God knows I can't stop anybody from associating themselves with the message, but it was not intended to be any type of political overture on our part… The message is sufficiently universal and neutral that it should be appealing to everybody in this country."

Cut back to the commercial and what Eastwood captured in his delivery - the positive image of a country determined to get up from a setback and climb back on top.

"That's what we do," he says with the camera focused tightly on his rugged face. "We find a way through tough times, and if we can't find a way, we'll make one.

"Yea, it's halftime in America. And our second half is about to begin."

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The ad was gripping, not just because it was done well but also the public had to be fascinated to learn who the sponsor was: Clint Eastwood, after all, is not known as a liberal, supported John McCain in the past presidential election and made statements against the auto bailouts at the time.

Then, there it was. The camera fades to black and there's one line of simple text along with the emblems of Ram, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler: "Imported from Detroit."

It was brilliant. It made you feel good about the nation, and about Chrysler… but also about all American car companies. There is strength, optimism and hope in building things up, not tearing things down.

That's the message the ad sends and why it is so powerful. It taps into the patriotism that portrays Americans as gritty, determined, victorious - and united.

That Conservative commentators would be so eager to tear apart the commercial says a lot about their modus operandi and their perspective - and that they'd be terrible at quarterbacking.





Tagged: super bowl