DETROIT – People rarely pick a fight with Dirty Harry. But Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” ad featuring quintessential tough guy Clint Eastwood has generated fierce debate about whether it accurately portrays the country’s most economically distressed city or amounts to a campaign ad for President Barack Obama and the auto bailouts.
The 2-minute ad holds up Detroit as a model for American recovery while idealistic images of families, middle-class workers and factories scroll across the screen.
“People are out of work and they’re hurting,” Eastwood, 81, says in his trademark gravelly voice. “And they’re all wondering what they’re gonna do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared because this isn’t a game. The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now, Motor City is fighting again.”
Conservatives, including GOP strategist Karl Rove, criticized the ad as a not-so-thinly veiled endorsement of the federal government’s auto industry bailouts.
“I was, frankly, offended by it,” Rove said Monday. “I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics.”
Others questioned basing a story of economic resurgence in a city that remains in fiscal disarray, with a $200 million budget deficit and cash-flow concerns that have it fending off a state takeover.
But is it political? That depends on whom you ask.
“I can’t stop anybody from associating themselves with a message, but it was not intended to be any type of political overture on our part,” Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said.
Last year was a pivotal turnaround year for Chrysler, which nearly collapsed in 2009. The company and its financial arm needed a $12.5 billion government bailout and a trip through bankruptcy protection to survive. Chrysler has since repaid its U.S. and Canadian government loans by refinancing them, but the U.S. government says it lost about $1.3 billion on the deal. Eastwood had previously slammed the bailout.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney said the White House had no role in the ad’s production.