Why Clint Eastwood's Chrysler Ad Was Pitch Perfect

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Political undertones aside, the commercial's message holds true: Teamwork, community, and investing in American workers are a smart strategy.

Carlo Bishop, the president of United Auto Workers Local 551, didn't see the Clint Eastwood Super Bowl ad for Chrysler Corp. But he knows it galvanized the blogosphere and talk radio, regardless of whether it helps to sell any Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep cars, trucks and minivans.

He also appreciates how his Ford Motor Co. plant on Chicago's South Side is humming, albeit without the sort of federal bailout that helps to partly explain conservative ire toward Eastwood's commercial. He's got more than 3,000 members producing the Taurus, Lincoln MKS luxury sedan and the Explorer sport-utility vehicle, with another 1,200 jobs coming in mid-April when a third shift is added to turn out versions of the Taurus and Explorer for police departments nationwide.

Meanwhile, his UAW union confreres at the Belvidere, Ill., Chrysler plant about 75 minutes northwest of him are more than happy with the federal help they got. Last week the company said it's hiring 1,800 new workers and will jack-up production of a new Dodge Dart and existing Jeep Compass and Liberty models. It already employs 2,700, which doesn't include nearby parts suppliers and vendors, but laid off nearly 1,000 workers in 2008 during the industry's dark days.

So it's a tale of two corporate successes, one unfettered and one with emergency assistance from the Obama administration. But, together, they underscore a pretty basic message of the Eastwood ad: teamwork, community, and investing in American workers are a smart strategy.

As propaganda, the "Halftime in America" ad was pretty effective and perhaps will rank right up there -- or down there, depending on your perspective -- with the 1984 "Big Brother" Super Bowl ad by Apple introducing the Macintosh personal computer. I suspect history will show that Apple's products were distinctly superior to Chrysler's often uninspiring cars.

And forget the hokiness of the whole matter of a coach rousing his minions at halftime, even if I have heard very similar rhetorical bombast from coaches of mine long ago. That was a passable rhetorical way to underscore that this is an important time and whether we "win" depends on how well we work together. Madison Avenue doesn't subcontract to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for creative help.

Some liberals were chagrined, finding the athletic imagery and frame of reference somehow too combative. Conservatives were far more exorcised, it seems, and for multiple reasons. In large measure, they saw it as homage to the Obama Administration auto bailouts.

Playing amateur shrink, I might posit that what also irked them was the rich irony of the front man being Eastwood, whose movies roles seemed to symbolize the angry, alienated individual willing to take matters into his own hands back during the heady Ronald Reagan era. Now, here he was waxing melodramatic over team work and community; in the process saying nice things about people who got all that money from President Barack Obama, a man many of them hate with a visceral rage.

So here was a guy that they assumed was a conservative just like them -- whom they once idolized -- talking about America coming back and how with some breaks and some investment, those often-belittled blue-collar workers can actually produce great stuff and achieve great things.

It spoke, too, to a degree of cooperation simply not in evidence in the political system. Blame both parties if you desire. But the passion on the conservative side seems more intense at the moment, perhaps epitomized by conservative zillionaires Charles and David Koch convening a private meeting of like-minded souls and procuring commitments of a reported $100 million to defeat President Obama.

Imagine if the Koch brothers and chums actually heard the Eastwood message about cooperation and sacrifice and then considered the world in which, say, auto workers actually exist?

It's a realm of dramatic budget cuts and stratospheric state deficits, crappy public schools, myopic regional competition to steal plants, huge pension liabilities, declining social services, and block-long lines at food pantries, such as one I volunteered at Tuesday in an upscale residential neighborhood on Chicago's North Side.

A little cooperation and sacrifice wouldn't be a bad thing, even assisted by some government investment.

I suspect the Koch brothers and anti-Obama allies would gag at the notion of driving a Dodge Dart. But perhaps it would serve us all if they took a trip to somber Belvidere and summoned up memories of the Clint Eastwood character they most revere -- Harold "Dirty Harry" Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department.

They could then exhibit Harry's merciless gall and tell those 1,800 new workers, and their families, that the brothers think they're government parasites.

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James Warren is the Chicago editor of The Daily Beast and an MSNBC analyst. He is the former managing editor of the Chicago Tribune.

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