Monday, February 6, 2012

Halftime in America Commercial

Chrysler ran a commercial during the superbowl which is generating a fair bit of controversy; if you didn't see it, feel free to youtube it. Opinions vary: some people think it was inspirational, others pandering. What is more interesting, to me at least, is that if the news media is to be believed, there are two ways to view the political slant of the commercial, depending on your own viewpoint; in fact, one of the articles described it as a rorschach test for political views. Meanwhile, both Clint Eastwood (who narrates the commercial) and the producers insist it's not intended to be political, which is odd, since it clearly is.

What struck me, though, is how dumb the message actually is. Essentially, the commercial is holding out Detroit, and Chrysler, as examples of doing what's necessary to "right" the country, and that if the rest of the country can follow their example, we can forge a path back to prosperity. I don't think that logic holds up, though, regardless of the inspirational tone of the message.

Consider Chrysler, for example. This was an auto company which received a government bailout, which ultimately cost taxpayers $1,300,000,000 (not as much as the GM bailout, but still pretty substantial). Its bankruptcy was the model of government corruption, with the government manipulating the proceedings to deprive shareholders of their value in the company, while transferring large amounts of value to the unions. The emergence from bankruptcy is a metaphor for the outsourcing of manufacturing, as the company is now majority owned by a foreign company (Fiat). Meanwhile, the "restructuring" did nothing to fix the systemic problems of union labor costs and underfunded retirement benefit obligations; it did save some jobs in Detroit, at least for now, but at a huge cost, and uncertain future.

What of Detroit, then... is that the shining example we should all aspire to emulate? Detroit is a city in crisis, budget-wise, trying to stave off state takeover due to fiscal disaster. It's trying to negotiate concessions from the unions, but they may not be enough, even with the high tax rates and regulation which drive business away. Detroit has some of the worst slums in the entire country, and aside from the auto industry bailouts, would have virtually no industry left. If anything, it's a prime example of what happens with a socialist-style government and the destruction of a manufacturing base: this may be an apt metaphor for what the country might look forward to, but seems hardly an example to emulate.

America is at a crossroads, to be sure, and we could really use some beneficial new direction to get back on a solid path. However, there's not a small amount of irony in holding out Detroit and Chrysler, two of the worst examples of the "wrong" path, when pointing out the need to change direction to fix what's wrong.

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