They almost lost everything," Clint Eastwood growled in the best ad of the Super Bowl, a celebration of Chrysler's resurrection. "But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again." Any normal person watching this ad had to be thrilled--Eastwood's voice, the rousing script, the fighting spirit: "This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again, and when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines." But somehow, Karl Rove was "offended." The master Republican strategist saw the ad as a Chicago-style payback from Chrysler to Barack Obama for bailing out the company. Now, Rove is not a stupid man. He is a relentless partisan, but usually a clever one. And yet he managed to denigrate an American icon (Eastwood) known for his flinty integrity, expressing opinions most people would consider patriotic. How could he get it so wrong? The answer relates directly to the Republicans' muddled and inept campaign this year.
Rove lives in the hermetically sealed world of GOP fantasy. He's integral to the relentless pounding of wing-nut talk-show spin. In that world, Obama is the Antichrist--a combination of cynical Chicago pol, socialist, naf and teleprompter-reading tool of unseen forces (and maybe even, who knows, a secret Muslim immigrant). In that world, the notion that the auto bailout, or any Obama policy, actually worked is insidious. In that world, the notion that the government might organize us to "pull together" for the common good is a threat to individual liberty.
Rove would argue that this is business as usual. Certainly, more than a few Democrats saw George W. Bush as a force of unrelenting evil rather than as a well-intentioned man pursuing unwise policies. But there is a paranoid edge to the Republican fantasy. I've seen evidence of it in Republican audiences: the woman in Florida who called the President an "avowed Muslim," the Glenn Beck--inspired crowd in New Hampshire who saw U.N. Agenda 21, a mousy environmental resolution, as a secret plan for world government. Rick Santorum has played to these folks. He refused to correct the woman who called Obama a Muslim; he called climate change a "hoax" in the last debate. (I mean, how can he--or anyone--know for sure?) Newt Gingrich has summoned the entirely obscure ghost of Saul Alinsky, a Chicago community organizer more devoted to tactical democracy than to revolutionary socialism, to tar Obama as the "most radical President in American history."