Saturday, February 11, 2012

It's Halftime, America

We are all workers. Imported from Detroit. It's halftime in America. The common thread is the Wieden+Kennedy agency in Portland, OR. The Rust Belt ethos can sell jeans and cars. It also signals a swing in political fortunes:

The two-minute commercial is a magisterial piece of film-making. The choice of 81-year-old Mr Eastwood, a movie hero revered by both conservatives and liberals as the face of this new spirit of American industry, ranks as a stroke of genius. Over moody shots of everyday American life, he talks of a nation where “people are out of work and they’re hurting”, but promises: “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.” The ostensible purpose – selling cars – emerges only at the end, when Chrysler’s brands appear on screen.

For critics on the right, such as Republican strategist Karl Rove, the message of re­vival was a payback from the carmaker to its patrons. Chrysler was bailed out with federal loans and equity investment in 2009; and was part-owned by the government until last July, when the Treasury sold its remaining stake to Italian carmaker Fiat. Of the $12.5bn taxpayers committed, about $1.3bn will not be recovered, the Treasury says. “I was, frankly, offended by it,” Mr Rove told Fox News. “The president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.”

At Chrysler’s Jefferson North plant in Detroit, where part of the advert was filmed, they see the advert differently. When it is mentioned, workers puff out their chests in pride. “It expressed how we feel,” says Sean Love, a 41-year-old assembly line worker from west Detroit whose enthusiasm is infectious. “There’s a primal, real, tangible sense of optimism here now.”

Emphasis added. I hazard to guess that Karl Rove was thinking exactly what I was thinking while watching the spot during the Super Bowl. It's Morning in America:

The over-the-top optimism propelled Reagan to a second term in the White House. And there was Clint Eastwood, last Sunday night, standing before viewers as a vintage Reagan Republican selling the success of Barack Obama. That's all well and good if there is actual optimism to tap.

As I recounted yesterday, workers are sticking around Michigan instead of looking for greener pastures. The state is a leading indicator of economic recovery. Migration is a useful measure of optimism. The timing of the ad couldn't have been better.

Obama is banking on the Rust Belt Reset strategy. His campaign will align itself with success stories such as Pittsburgh's:

Six days from now, Eve Picker, cityLAB’s intrepid CEO, will be meeting at the White House and wants to hear from you:

Help wanted! 6 days from now I’ll be at the White House, in a meeting with the administration and other Pittsburgh business and civic leaders.They want to hear how they can help spur job creation and economic development in Pittsburgh.They want to hear our ideas about what they could be doing more or, or less of.

While I have ideas, I’ll bet all of you have more. Send them to me and I’ll write them up and take them along!

The White House is putting its chips down on Rust Belt cities. That's a smart bet. The Republicans, on the other hand, are hoping for failure. It's halftime, America and the GOP doesn't want to leave the locker room.

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