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Clint Eastwood's Super Bowl ad riles Karl Rove

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Karl Rove claims Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl ad for Chrysler was a devious pitch to promote the Obama reelection campaign.

Apparently the bulb-headed Pillsbury Doughboy of the political right thinks he’s man enough to pick a fight with America’s most virile octogenarian. Go ahead, Karl, make his day.

In the sweepstakes for most memorable advertisement from Sunday’s Super Bowl game, the Eastwood halftime ad was the clear winner. Gritty, moody, yet uplifting, the ad interspersed images of beleaguered but resilient Americans with shots of Eastwood walking toward the camera along a shadowy passageway.

“It’s halftime in America too,” Eastwood said in his sandpaper voice. “Seems that we’ve lost our heart at times. The fog, the division, the discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead. 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.”

What got Rove’s size 46 tidy whities in a bunch was his presumption the ad was a thank-you note to President Obama for the 2009 auto industry bailout. Rove said he was offended. He said it was Chicago-style politics at work. He said it was an example of the president and his minions using tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.

He was joined in his outrage by other conservative activists, such as Michelle Malkin, who sent out a tweet asking, “Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad?”

On “The O’Reilly Factor” Monday night, Eastwood blasted the paranoid punditry: “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. I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message just about job growth and the spirit of America.”

It was also an ad very much in the style of other Chrysler advertisements trumpeting the theme of a resurgent Detroit, including one shown during a past Super Bowl featuring the rapper Eminem. But for a spinner like Rove, nothing is what it seems on the surface. And even if he does not truly think the car company and the president’s campaign are in collusion, he certainly saw in the ad a theme that Obama would be crazy not to use in the campaign. All it really needs at the end is a tag line: "I am Barack Obama and I approved this message."

As Rove knows, in 2009 the American auto industry was on the brink of collapse. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were on the edge of disappearing. The heart of what is left of American manufacturing was close to flat-lining. When Obama proposed lending billions of tax dollars to save the industry and protect jobs, Rove and other conservatives shrieked. Better to let General Motors and Chrysler die than allow the government to briefly intrude in the marketplace. They said it was a government takeover. They said it was socialism. Obama did it anyway.

Today, GM is back as one of the world’s biggest corporations, all the automakers are profitable, good American products are rolling off the assembly lines and tens of thousands of workers who would otherwise be standing in unemployment lines are earning good wages and supporting their families. Does the end justify the means? Rove and friends do not think so.

But Rove must surely understand it will not be easy to convince voters that saving the auto industry was a bad idea. Sure, conservatives can argue, as Mitt Romney did, that the car companies should have simply gone into bankruptcy. That’s the Wall Street way, after all, and the first people to lose in such a scenario would have been the workers. But is that really the argument they want to make in a campaign where issue No. 1 is jobs?

The auto industry bailout is Obama’s biggest bragging point in that regard, so it is no surprise Republicans wish they could take it away from him. But revisiting a debate in which the Republican alternative would have been a massive job killer does not seem to be an astute way to do it, especially for the man George W. Bush dubbed the "boy genius."

Then again, anyone who picks a fight with Clint Eastwood can't be that smart.

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