After I saw the new Chrysler ad — starring Clint Eastwood and titled “Halftime in America” — I walked from our kitchen to my home office and picked up the rusty wrench my father used during his 30 years at the power plant in Ashtabula, Ohio.
The wrench is nearly 2 feet long and weighs 12 pounds. Dad had been gone five years when one of his former bosses gave me a tour of the empty plant where he used to work. It was like visiting a tomb full of ghosts. As I was leaving, the supervisor handed me the wrench for a souvenir. “Yes, your father used this,” he said. “Probably every day.”
Sometimes I pick up the wrench and think of how my hulk of a father used to smile and wink at me whenever some guy bragged about lifting weights. Other times, I hold the wrench in both hands and try to imagine what it was like to lug that thing around for a living. I can only guess. Despite my many questions, Dad always refused to talk about his job. The only thing he wanted his kids to know about his work was that it was a family tradition that would die with him. And it did. He was 69.
By now, most of you have seen Eastwood’s Chrysler ad, if not during its Super Bowl debut then on any number of news and cable shows or on the Web. It’s getting a lot of free play because Republican strategist Karl Rove has complained that it was a partisan pitch for President Barack Obama.
Rove explained to Fox News, “I was, frankly, offended by it…”
Let’s stop right there. I’ve spent a little time with Rove. The man is an expert on what’s offensive, which I discovered way too up close and personal last fall during a private dinner for 30 or so people hosted by a liberal arts college in Ohio. During Rove’s short after-dinner talk, he ridiculed the intelligence of both Sarah Palin and Meghan McCain and repeatedly trashed Democrats. He did this knowing that half his fellow diners were women and that most of them were liberals who had set aside considerable political differences to welcome him to their campus. Classy guy.
On Fox, Rove went on to complain that the Chrysler ad “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 and the best wishes of the management which is benefited by getting a bunch of our money that they’ll never pay back.”
“I just want to say that the spin stops with you guys, and there’s no spin in that ad,” he said in a statement to Fox, read by Bill O’Reilly. “On that I’m 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. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK. I’m not supporting any politician.
“Chrysler, to their credit, didn’t even have cars in the ad. Anything they gave me went to charity. And if Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of the ad, I say go for it.”
The thing is that Rove wasn’t just picking a fight with Eastwood; he was taking on every American who saw his or her own story in that two-minute ad. I hate to champion a commercial, but this video wasn’t about a car. It was about the rest of America, and for a lot of us, it felt personal.
Eastwood talked about how the people of Detroit lost almost everything, and I thought of the labor strikes our family barely survived.
He said America can’t be knocked down with a single punch, and I saw all the dinners Dad missed because he was working overtime.
He vowed that we would get right back up again, and I heard the voice of my father promising that none of his kids ever would carry a lunch pail to work.
Rove was offended? I see my father’s smile.
How Dad would have laughed at that, had he lived to see this day.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine.