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GUEST COMMENTARY: 'Halftime in America': Missing the point

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:44 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I hope you caught the Super Bowl ad "Halftime in America," featuring Clint Eastwood. It’s amazing. Like Chrysler’s ad with Eminem, this one captures the country’s mood and people’s aspirations for moving forward. But the response to the ad reflects the sheer silliness and shallowness of our politics. Now, we must disregard the political posturing and tune into what we really want.

Here’s a brief snippet of the ad which Eastwood narrated:

I've seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life and times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times when the fog of division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one. Because that's what we do. We find a way through tough times, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.

All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And how do we win?

No sooner than the ad went live, those on the right and left took up sides. Some said the ad was mere cheerleading for the government bailout of auto companies. Karl Rove, the Republican strategist, wrote on FOX Nation: "… administration officials and Obama campaign leaders immediately took to Twitter to draw attention to the ad as support for their man … Why did Team Obama need to put this ad in a political context?" It's true the administration has tried to get as much mileage from the ad as possible.

The responses reminded me of a discussion I heard yesterday between House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Steve Case, founder of AOL and other high tech businesses. Case was making the point that there is much agreement in the nation to support better conditions for entrepreneurialism — and thus job creation. He said he comes at this issue as neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but as an American. Like the Chrysler ad, he too believes there is much Americans can rally around together.

But as Case was talking Cantor interrupted him, and rather than address Case's substantive points, Cantor launched into a broadside attack against Obama and what he sees as the president’s ongoing quest to divide America and the gap between the president’s rhetoric and action.

In both instances — the ad and Case's comments — there were attempts to "bring people together," "find a way through tough times" and "win" for the country, not a political party (all quotes from the Chrysler ad — see above). It's not impossible. For instance, just consider for a moment that Eastwood says he votes Republican, his political leanings are libertarian, and yet there he was in the Chrysler ad.

Nowadays everything seems to become immediately politicized. But we don’t need to fall for this approach, its negative rhetoric and its predictable outcomes. I see Chrysler's ad and Steve Case's comments as moments of piercing through the silliness and shallowness of politics and offering an alternative way to see and engage in community and public life. It can — it does — happen.

So what's the takeaway for each of us?

1. Sometimes when we see or hear something that inspires us, calls us forward, taps into our deepest aspirations, we must disregard all the political chatter and let it touch us so we and others can see an alternate path forward. We must ward off the negativity and finger-pointing and literally open ourselves up and make room for seeing the possibility of a different path. Will you do this?

2. Too often in our own daily lives we are confined by our knee-jerk responses to something and the desire to take sides. But in doing so we forfeit the possibility there might be ways to come together with others and get stuff done. We must be willing to suspend our knee-jerk responses and listen, engage, debate and figure out where progress is possible. Will you do this?

The endless acrimony, divisiveness and finger-pointing that contaminate society will give way, in large part, when each of us decides to take a different path and when our individual actions roll up into a larger collective purpose. Make the choice — it’s ours to be had.

Richard C. Harwood is the founder and president of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation. Reprinted with permission.


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