Consider that politics and football are both contact sports. Both involve lots of money. Both encourage blind allegiance to a team. Both are objects of fanatical support (fanatic is just the long form of fan).
In both, unsportsmanlike conduct prevails and plenty of flags are thrown. The only difference is that in politics, the flags are thrown by people in rumpled suits (the press) and are ignored. In football, they are thrown by officials in striped uniforms and must be obeyed.
In both, the flag throwers are routinely despised.
Football players have muscles in places where ordinary people don’t have places, whereas politicians have conceits where ordinary people are not conceited. Of course, ordinary people don’t have their egos on steroids.
My theory is illustrated by the “It’s Halftime in America” ad, featuring Clint Eastwood, shown during the Super Bowl on behalf of Chrysler.
In the ad, Clint Eastwood emerges from the shadows, his low, smoke-cured voice preceding him. The two-minute spot is a tribute to the hard-working men and women of this nation, as symbolized by the resurgence of Detroit. A sometimes-divided America is coming back, and the world will hear the roar of our engines.
It was good stuff, the only problem being that it didn’t feature dogs, sex, babies or beer, which I gather from most of the other Super Bowl ads are necessary to get America’s attention before any engine-roaring can go on.
But this is a quibble. I like and admire Eastwood, and here I must make full disclosure. I met him a couple of times when I was editor of The Herald in Monterey, Calif., in the late ’80s and early ’90s. And on one occasion, he called me up to make a complaint.
That morning, The Herald featured a front-page story about the restaurant he then owned, the Hog’s Breath Inn in Carmel, which had been cited by local health officials. If memory serves, restaurant workers were shelling peas outside the premises in the lot next door, this in strict contravention of hygienic pea-shelling practices.
So the phone rang, and I answered it. A distinctive voice said, “Hello, Mr. Henry, this is Clint Eastwood.” Well, you know what I immediately thought, don’t you? That one of my idle pals was playing a joke, and I was just about to tell the prankster: “You can pull my other leg, it’s got a bell on it; in fact, you can pull both my legs and imitate a church bell choir” — when I realized that it was, indeed, Mr. Eastwood.
If that were not surprise enough, he was extremely gracious. Dirty Harry turned out to be Polite Clint. And as I am a veteran of being told that my parents were never married, he made my day, but not in the way usually associated with him. In fact, in 40 years of fielding complaints, Eastwood’s call was the nicest and most polite I ever received.
So, being completely unbiased, I believe whatever Eastwood says must be the truth, and what he said about his Super Bowl ad was that it doesn’t have a political message, according to The New York Times.
“It is about American spirit, pride and job growth,” he said.
Little Nellie and her dog could have told you the same thing. But to the political football players on Karl Rove’s team, where the hits never stop, the ad was a sinister thank-you to the Obama administration for the bailout of the auto industry. Never mind that Detroit first got help from the Bush administration.
Even the tiniest suggestion that the bailout succeeded in saving the American auto industry has to be thrown for a loss, because President Barack Obama is carrying the ball now. Why, if the idea spreads that the bailout wasn’t socialism but just a smart thing to do, who knows what effect it might have on the game? It might bring people together, and that would never do.
So it has come to this: Even uplifting news of America’s spirit and pride has to be tackled by the opposing political team. When halftime in America is over, will the political game stop being so pathetic?
Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.