Karl Rove had a visceral reaction to the Clint Eastwood Chrysler commercial during the Super Bowl on Sunday. This led to a great many on air conversations about whether or not the commercial was, in fact, political -- not to mention excuses to run bits of the Chrysler commercial over and over again. Now, I would contend that all commercials carry underlying political messages. Commercials for easy-to-make dinners and the most absorbent paper towels carry messages about the roles we expect women to play in the household. Commercials for anti-depressants and allergy medications deliver messages about the nature of happiness and the ways in which we relate to our world and our environment, not to mention messages about our relationship to and dependence on the pharmaceutical industry. All commercials in general carry underlying messages about the importance of consumerism and serve as pro-capitalist propaganda. These political messages come through all the time, slipping under our radar.
The question we need to ask is not whether this ad was deliberately more political in content than other ads that we see every day. The question that must be addressed is why this ad so affected Karl Rove that he felt he must speak out against it; the answer to this question reveals more about Rove and the Republican party than it does about Chrysler or its two minutes of heart-warming, pro-industry salesmanship. The text of the commercial that so offended Mr. Rove's delicate sensibilities was about coming together as a nation. It referenced the rebirth of Detroit and the auto industry as a microcosm of the nation, as proof that people working together can accomplish great things.
Karl Rove, a powerful figure in the architecture of the modern Republican strategy, depends on polarization and animosity. The very thought that people can come together, can unify as a nation is anathema to the Rove doctrine. Rove and his cohorts do not believe in coming together, in compromise, in cooperation. They thrive on conflict. This political philosophy shows in every aspect of their discourse.
When non-Christians seek inclusion, the Republican politicos frame any conversation in terms of a war on religion. When gays seek equal rights, the right wing sees it as an attack on marriage. Multi-cultural studies become an assault on traditional American values. If one's base philosophy demands that any disagreement must be seen in terms of combative opposition, the very idea of coming together becomes not just distasteful but a direct attack on an ideological level.
Thus, it makes perfect sense that, in this case, Mr. Rove sees the political underpinnings of this particular advertisement very, very clearly. These political underpinnings sting. They strike him as powerfully as the sexist underpinnings of a Victoria's Secret ad strike a feminist, as powerfully as the underpinnings of the "Beef -- It's What's For Dinner" ads strike a committed vegan.
This leads me to the next questions we ought to be asking ourselves. Do we want to live in a nation whose critical thinking skills are so eroded that we are shocked to realize that the messages we receive every day actually contain messages? Do we want to live in a nation in which we are so inured to the messages with which we are inundated that it makes sense to vilify an advertisement simply for having a message that might be perceived and not just absorbed unconsciously? Do we want to live in a nation that sees the idea of cooperation and unity as inherently dangerous to the status quo?
Let's say it is halftime in America. How about this? When we get out there on the field, let's play the rest of this game with our eyes open.