If Clint Eastwood sounded like Obama, it's because the GOP has ceded optimism to the Democrats
I admit it: Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” Super Bowl ad reminded me of President Obama’s best recent speeches. Actor Clint Eastwood, the face of rugged American individualism, talked about “tough eras” and “downturns” and “times when we didn’t understand each other,” but then declared:
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…
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.
“I was, frankly, offended by it,” Rove said on Fox News Monday. “I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it 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.”
Rove wasn’t the only Republican who tried to cast the Chrysler ad as essentially payback to the president for supporting the bailout that kept the domestic auto industry alive. Michelle Malkin tweeted her horror Sunday night: “Agh. WTH? Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad???”
Now, Clint Eastwood is no Democrat – he voted for John McCain in 2008, has been a Republican for most of his life, and now describes himself as having “libertarian” leanings. It’s hard to imagine he’d lend his name to an openly and intentionally pro-Obama ad. Chrysler has denied any political motive behind the Eastwood ad.
The flap over the ad confirms the GOP’s serious branding problem: The problem for Rove and the rest of the GOP is that their party’s narrative has become relentlessly negative, pessimistic and uninspiring. They’ve left the language of optimism and resilience, higher ground and common ground, to the Democrats, and lately President Obama has grabbed every opportunity to employ that language.
Rove is essentially complaining that anyone using rhetoric of resilience and tenacity, or suggests “we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one” sounds like a gosh-darn … Democrat. That’s good news for Democrats. There’s more good news in recent polls showing that Obama is winning back at least some white working-class voters with his feistier message of economic populism. The president’s approval/disapproval ratings have been dismal with whites who make less than $50,000, with his approval dropping into the low 30s and disapproval up in the mid-60s regularly over the last two years.
Now those numbers stand at 43-54, about where they were when Obama was elected. He may not carry that cohort, but holding the share he had in 2008 will make his reelection chances much better. There’s also good news with those same voters in some Rust Belt states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and, yes, Michigan, home of Chrysler.
Karl Rove is angry because he sees the numbers, too, and he’s got to explain them away with dark allusions to “Chicago politics.” But the fact is the president saved the auto industry at a time when Republicans, most notably Mitt Romney, urged him to let it die. If he gets credit for that unpopular decision, that’s because he deserves it.
And if Clint Eastwood sounds like a Democrat when he talks about American ingenuity and optimism, that’s because increasingly it’s Democrats who sound that way – and Republicans who don’t. Ronald Reagan co-opted buoyancy and hopefulness for a generation, painting Democrats from Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis through Al Gore and John Kerry (with a break for Bill Clinton) as Negative Nellies, whiners and complainers always finding fault with America.
Now it’s Republicans who bad-mouth the American people, warning that lax morals and laziness are behind the problems of the poor and working class (including whites), and who paint scary dystopic pictures of America under its Kenyan anti-colonialist socialist black president. Karl Rove’s hissy fit over the Chrysler ad underscores exactly how bleak his party’s vision has become.
I’ll be on MSNBC’s “The Ed Show” at 8 p.m. ET to discuss Rove and the angry GOP.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
More Related Stories
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11