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Super Bowl's Political Ads Stir Emotions Amid Beer, Chips And Car Ads

Clint Eastwood provided a Super Bowl surprise.
Chrysler ad screenshot
Clint Eastwood provided a Super Bowl surprise.

Super Bowl XLVI brought a few surprises, not the least of which was the New England Patriots all-universe quarterback Tom Brady giving the eventual champion New York Giants a two-point head start on the scoreboard by incurring an intentional-grounding penalty.

But not all the shockers were on the field. Some of them were ads. One in particular was Chrysler's "It's half-time in America" ad full of political meaning.

Suggesting that the U.S. would enjoy an economic comeback to rival that of Detroit's auto industry, it featured none other than Hollywood megastar and libertarian Clint Eastwood who actually opposed the Obama administration's auto bailouts and economic stimulus.

It's hard to know how Eastwood squares that circle (he left many conservatives and progressives bewildered) but if you're President Obama, you probably don't care.

Eastwood said:

"Detroit's showing us it can be done. And what's true about them, is true about all of us. This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world's gonna hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime America. And our second half's about to begin."

That ad, despite the somewhat jarring mixed metaphors from boxing and auto worlds, made a more emotionally gripping argument for saving the auto industry than perhaps anything the president has said on the subject to date.

Coming from an American icon like Eastwood, it may prove a durable counterargument to those like Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney who have argued that Detroit's automakers should have been allowed to face the uncertainties of the regular bankruptcy process.

Conservative Michelle Malkin's Twitter response during the game likely spoke for many who share her ideology:

"Agh. WTH? Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad??? #SuperBowl "

The Chrysler ad was just one of several ads with political payloads that got some of that valuable Super Bowl real estate. There weren't a lot of them but they certainly were noticeable amid all the dogs and sexy women featured in the ads for chips, beer, cars and Internet hosting.

There was the anti-union ad by the Center for Union Facts, which describes itself as "a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization supported by foundations, businesses, union members, and the general public. We are dedicated to showing Americans the truth about today's union leadership." The progressive watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy describes the CUF as a "secretive front group for individuals and industries opposed to union activities."

The ad showed a worker at an auto repair shop complaining about having union dues taken from his check despite not having voted to be in the union, then hearing from his fellow mechanics that none of them voted to be in the union either.

Among the obvious ironies about the ad were these: the Super Bowl took place in a state where Gov. Mitch Daniels just signed into law right-to-work legislation making Indiana the 23rd state with such laws, and the members of one of America's best-known unions — the NFL Players' Association — were the reason millions of people were watching the Super Bowl in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, the organized labor hated the ad. Someone at Working America, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, tweeted:

"Despicable to run an anti-union ad drinh #SuperBowl - a celebration of unionized players. @aflcio @nflpa"

The gun-control ad by mayors Michael Bloomberg or New York City, an independent and erstwhile Republican, and Tom Menino of Boston, a Democrat, was meant to demonstrate bipartisan support for new firearms restrictions.

Sponsored by, the ad featured the mayors wearing the jerseys of the their respective city's team's and asserting their support for the Second Amendment but desire to see "common-sense" restrictions which could save lives, Bloomberg said.

In response, irate gun owners are retweeting a list provided by the NRA's legislative activities office, of members of the mayors' group accused of criminal activity. Not exactly on point, but this is a political fight, after all, which means sullying the adversary, in this case the mayors, is viewed as an effective tactic.

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Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.