It was a bit loud at the father-son Super Bowl party my oldest son threw. But despite the din of clanking bottles, lips smacking on smoked ribs and bawdy references no mother should ever hear, I was startled to see Dirty Harry, former Republican mayor of Carmel, squint into the camera and tell 113 million fans that Detroit/America was bouncing back up off the mat and the world was going to hear “our engines roar” again.
Arthur Bryant super sauce dribbling off my chin, I thought, “Old Clint is making a pro bail-out statement of fact … the usual suspects aren’t going to like this.” And indeed they haven’t. The modern conservative intelligentsia, the “movement’s” deepest thinkers, talk radio jockeys, bloggers like Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity and empire-builder, Karl Rove — all rushed to their nearest microphone to denounce the ad, while being careful not to tar so noted, an old-school, crusty Republican icon as Clint Eastwood.
I am forever amazed at the morbid, faithless messaging of conservative tacticians. The image of America they sell is constantly one where change of any kind, even in the face of obvious failure, equals doom, often full-out apocalyptic doom. Pick an issue. Adequate health coverage for everyone = total government control of whether grannie lives or dies. Full disclosure of SuperPAC funding = socialist assault on the God-given Constitutional freedom to slide hundreds of millions of dollars to whomever without having to admit anything publicly, not to mention suffering the high likelihood that with public disclosure (something the rubes giving $50 have to accept) comes inevitable, harrowing harrassment. From who? From, take your pick, “jack booted union thugs”, Red Hat ladies and/or Occupy protestors who will call donors mean names from the streets beneath their Wall Street office towers.
But that’s their game. Fatalism, and selling the belief that nothing about a vibrant 21st century culture and economy can change without risking (hell, guaranteeing) collapse of everything we hold true and dear is quintessential politics uber alles, the only game and idea modern conservatives really have. (I await an example of an actual policy proposal from Mittens Romney). The status quo, a fossil fuel dependent economy and a massively lobbied tax system works for them, ergo it works for the Tea Party organizer living in a trailer in beautiful exurban Pahrump, Nevada. Everyone wins, by the operative cognoscenti winning most.
The irony of Clint Eastwood lending his Hollywood tough guy gravitas to the message, from Chrysler, which did work a few shots of its better, but still not great, cars into the spot is that he embodies in so many ways the Republican mind set of yore. Iconoclastic guys like Eastwood are the ones the Roves, Malkins, Hannitys and Limbaughs have muzzled and pushed aside in their fantastically lucrative drive to convince the fearful — those who see in Barack Obama “the face of the future they fear” — that health insurance and financial reform are the matches that light the fuse of the Mayan apocalypse.
You don’t turn to Eastwood (or Brad Pitt for that matter) for your deep thinking on socio-political matters. But the truth is anyone who has become successful in the snakepit business of Hollywood knows a thing or hundred about negotiating, collaboration, motivation and bouncing back from the occasional hammering.
Rove et al are rightfully afraid (that word again) that too many Americans will accept the meme that the auto industry bail-outs succeeded. Much as they continue to sell (mostly at rallies with their choir) that all the bail-outs, especially those that maintained a semblance of union authority, failed miserably. Old school characters like Eastwood, with commendable skepticism and disdain for political messaging of all stripes, prefer the more Darwinian approach to human resilience. Namely, that if something worked, it worked. Accept it gratefully and live to prosper.
In modern conservatism’s hyper-partisan fantasy land where the only viable truth is what destroys the opposition, there is no such thing as conceding any fact, even one that put legs back under the “salt of the earth” “real Americans” all their flag-waving messaging purports to care so much about. An outcome for the new school Republican party, which it sounds like ol’ Clint finds as tedious as your average hysterical lefty, is never successful unless and until the check is in the bank.