It’s a little late to comment on Superbowl commercials but I feel compelled to say a few things. This year there were few interesting or creative commercials except one – the Halftime in America Chrysler ad narrated by Clint Eastwood. The commercial paid homage to Detroit, a city that has had its share of misery. The ad started out with Eastwood’s narration: “People are out of work and they’re hurting. And they are all wondering what they are going to do to make a comeback” with a backdrop of factories working away. It was a refreshing change from the fantasy world that most ads attempt to create. Clint referred to “the fog, the division, the discord and blame" that is so prevalent today. The ad ended with a positive message: the auto makers took it on the chin but we’re getting back on our feet. We’re making more cars now. We’re coming back. I thought the ad was a refreshing change from the usual drivel, an attempt to show that America and Detroit have faced some challenges, but we are finding a way through this mess. I thought it steered clear of any political invocations. An exercise in positive thinking. You can’t be offended by that, right?
Wrong. Karl Rove and some other pundits took issue with it. Who is Karl Rove? He’s a commentator on Fox News. He’s also a political operative, and has never held elective office. He was called George Bush’s “brain”, sort of his right hand man and political mastermind. He’s also known for some very dirty tricks, as John McCain can attest to from his primary experience in 2000, but that part of his past never seems to find much airtime. In fact if you look at the so-called body of work that is Rove, you may well conclude that you have finally found the bottom of the political barrel.
And what about Clint Eastwood? Politically he’s a conservative. He’s also a straight shooter. He says what he means and means what he says. I respect Clint a lot. He was a good actor and an even better director.
Here’s what Karl said about the ad: “I was frankly offended by It. I'm a huge Clint Eastwood fan. 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 using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.”
Say what? How on earth does he manage to tie this ad in with “Chicago-style politics.” And just how is the president buying corporate advertising? At least Rove stopped short of claiming that the ad was the product of space aliens seeking to impose Sharia law on the country. Anyone with two functioning brain cells to rub together should conclude that Rove’s statement was something freshly minted by his colon. And yet, these kind of outlandish statements are the new norm in our so-called news media. So what was the problem Rove had with this ad? Well apparently Clint violated a number of rules – Karl’s rules. First, this commercial depicted working people having a hard time of it in America. It showed functioning factories, that possibly might have union members working in them. Well that just won’t do in Karl’s mind. The ad shows a side of America that is not part of Karl’s narrative to the rest of us hoi polloi.
Second, the commercial had the audacity to point out that Chrysler was down and now it’s getting back up. Why does that offend Karl? Some viewers may remember that the car companies were bailed out early in Obama’s term. What offends Mr. Rove are the possible connections that viewers might make when watching the commercial, who might connect Chrysler’s recovery with the rescue. Karl wants control over those connections by controlling what is presented by the media. Karl (and other spinmeisters) want us all to accept his own spin on recent history, and he wants those events discussed in his framework. He wants control - of the language, the words, the very discussion that we have or don’t have, so that all of it fits into his framework. Mr. Rove was “offended” because many people who watch him on Fox News consider Karl and his peers to be standard bearers for the truth. If Karl and his ilk are offended, then they are affronted too. If you think this is not the case, do a little research on Karl, or Frank Lutz. Neither of them have held elective office. They work behind the scenes, they are very good at using advertising psychology to control the narrative. They know how to frame the terms of the political discussions on terms beneficial to the people they serve, and get large numbers of people to think within that framework. They are very good at this. You will hear the same phrases, or talking points, repeated over and over. You will hear statements with no supporting evidence repeated over and over, like a mantra. They know that by constantly stating an opinion as fact many people eventually accept it as truth. It’s a very cynical manipulation.
The pundits and the politicians who endlessly repeat their talking points and catchphrases work hard to create an alternate universe that has its own propietary truths. They don’t just disagree with the president and put forth their own plans, the president and his party are evil tyrants bent on enslaving the people and frog-marching us into green communes using global warming as an excuse. This kind of heated rhetoric is kind of amazing considering their deafening silence when the Bush administration was assaulting the Bill of Rights from every angle, the Patriot Act and warrantless wiretapping being just one example. And yes Obama has been a disappointment in that he has not put an end to many of these abuses but allowed them to continue, but that is not the point here. My point is that the Fox News pundits have different standards for different presidents depending on their party affilitation. There’s a word for what they are doing folks. That word is propaganda, and it is based on a very specific agenda. What they are delivering over the airways is pure propaganda.
I’ll offer one example of how this works to illustrate how far over the cliff our political discourse has gone. A few months ago Newt Gingrich was on Meet the Press (he’s been on MTP more times than anyone) and he was asked about Paul Ryan’s budget plan. Gingrich replied that he doesn’t like social engineering whether it comes from the Right or the Left– a straight answer to a question. Now Newt is an intelligent fellow and has always been known for making some unconventional observations. His answer caused a total shitstorm in his own party. Why? Because Newt had veered from the script about the Ryan Budget Plan, that’s why, and some people in the party got very pissed off. Which is why he had to go on Rush Limbaugh’s program and try to explain away what he said. Newt immediately went into full damage control and tried to walk back from the statement. He said the statement was taken out of context, then he said he actually wasn’t talking about Ryan’s plan, which was simply nonsense. Then later Newt said something really interesting. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that everything in that video clip was a lie. It was as if to say that he could essentially exile the video into limbo by declaring it to be not valid. And when you think about it, since it was video of Newt talking, doesn’t that by extension mean that he was calling himself a liar?
But here’s what really bothers me about his attempt at damage control. Pundits and politicians believe that they can repeatedly state a lie until it is accepted by many as a true statement. They have now become so arrogant that they believe that they can declare something they said as inadmissible in the court of public opinion, simply by declaring it invalid as Newt did. This is truly a bizarro world we now live in, where the political true believers are willing to accept anything that their own sources present to them but will deny anything that conflicts with their belief system no matter who well vetted the information is. And the people who manage the news media have control over the information they release and the way it is presented.
Getting back to the commercial, here’s what Eastwood wrote to Bill O’Reilly after the ad got bounced around the Fox echo chamber a few days:
"I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there is no spin in that ad. On this I am certain. l am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was okay. I am not supporting any politician at this time. Chrysler to their credit didn't even have cars in the ad. Anything they gave me for it went for charity. If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it.”
In other words, you guys started the spin and it's up to you to stop the spin. And by the way, go pound sand. Kudos to Clint.
My last point is this: This is what America has come to. Media talkers have poisoned any attempt to have a rational discussion on the problems that face us, and the problems are huge. You are either on one extreme or the other, and there is no middle ground to work on. I’m 62. I remember the Vietnam war and the upheaval and division it caused, but never in my lifetime has the discussion been so fractured. Other countries are coming to grips with the reality of declining supplies of fossil fuels. They are developing efficient transportation systems, implementing comprehensive energy policies, and investing in education, while we are paralyzed by a mindset that absolutely refuses to accept that the future cannot be the same as the past, and this failure to come to grips with history as it develops will have to be handled by the young people of today. It won’t be pleasant, and they won’t look back at us fondly. As one writer has said, we as a people are totally unserious about our predicament. I don’t have solutions, but I am sure of one thing. The heated up rhetoric, fearmongering and madeup allegations coming from Fox News are poisoning this country, and making it impossible for people to come to grips with any issues. We are now lost in a world of political spin and we can’t get past it.
Maybe it’s past halftime in America. If you got this far, thanks for taking the time to read my rant.