Chrysler Ad Becomes Political Football

DETROIT MainStreet) -- Who would have thought that, as the result of a compelling Super Bowl ad featuring an iconic actor, Chrysler would become a political punching bag?

Surprisingly, after the automaker somehow managed to follow the most talked-about ad of the 2011 Super Bowl by making the most talked-about ad of the 2012 Super Bowl, that is what happened, as some Republicans attacked the ad as promoting President Barack Obama's re-election campaign.
An ad featuring Clint Eastwood thrust Chrysler into the world of bitter politics.

"People are always going to spin things for their own benefit," said Rebecca Lindland, director of research for IHS Automotive. "It is absolutely an unintended consequence. But there are often unintended consequences in the world of politics."

"What's so fascinating about it is that peoples' perceptions vary so dramatically," Lindland said. "There are people who will never buy a Chrysler product and people who will only buy a Chrysler product. It's the people in the middle: Does this sway them one way or the other?"

Perhaps someone at GM ( GM) might have seen this coming. GM developed the car of the future, one intended to diminish our reliance on oil, something it would seem we can all agree on, and has been roundly attacked as a creature of the Obama administration.

"We engineered Volt to show the world what great vehicles we make at General Motors," GM CEO Dan Akerson told a House subcommittee last month. "Unfortunately, there is one thing we did not engineer. Although we loaded the Volt with state-of-the-art safety features -- we did not engineer the Volt to be a political punching bag."

"And that, sadly, is what it's become."

In the Chrysler "Halftime in America" commercial, Clint Eastwood proclaims that the U.S. should take a lesson from Detroit, which toughed it out and emerged stronger after the recession.

"The fog of division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead," Eastwood said. But "we find a way through tough times, and if we can't find a way, then we'll make one." It seems, on the surface, to be a tribute to American resourcefulness, as epitomized by Detroit, and on top of that it is an ad for Chrysler products. But some see a conspiratorial element.

"The leadership of auto companies feel they need to do something to repay their political patronage," Republican strategist Karl Rove said Monday on Fox News. "It 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."

Others seem to share this view. A reader, commenting on a story here Monday, wrote: "Everyone is ignoring the fact that the Obama administration gave Chrysler to the Italian company Fiat. Check the fact that Fiat now owns one of the Big Three. I have certainly bought my last Chrysler."

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne discussed the controversy in an interview on Detroit's WJR radio Monday.

"It has zero political content," Marchionne said. "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. We are as apolitical as you can make us."

"The message is sufficiently universal and neutral that it should be appealing to everybody in this country, and I sincerely hope that it doesn't get utilized as political fodder in a debate," he said.

Eastwood, a conservative who has opposed the government bailouts that saved Chrysler and GM, also denied that the ad has political overtones. "I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama," he told Fox News on Monday night. "It was meant to be a message about job growth and the spirit of America."

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