The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

February 25, 2013

Marta Mossburg, columnist: What Super bowl ad tells us about ourselves

— I wonder what Mitt Romney thought when he saw the Dodge Ram commercial during the Super Bowl. It’s the one narrated by the late broadcaster Paul Harvey featuring still shots of farmers that everyone is still talking about because it is so powerful. Here are some other adjectives for the paean to an almost lost way of American life: humbling, gritty and, most of all, human.

My guess is that Mr. Romney wished he had hired the Richards Group, which produced “So God made a farmer,” to work for him because the company said more about who America is and what it should be in two minutes than Mr. Romney did in years of campaigning for president. Its overwhelming popularity verifies that Americans still believe in and admire self-reliance and hard work, qualities Mr. Romney championed but that never felt believable in him — by design.

His opponent, Barack Obama, played a large part in that, defining him early on as rich and out of touch. But Mr. Romney and his running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, cemented Mr. Obama’s narrative by acting like robots who kept trying to convince the American people about math equations when what they wanted to know first was who they were.

And when Mr. Romney was caught being “real,” he alienated people, as with his comments about the infamous “47 percent” who don’t contribute to society.

Americans are neither business turnaround artists like Mr. Romney nor wannabe accountants who analyze Social Security reports into the wee hours like Mr. Ryan. We frequently make rash and economically irrational decisions to the chagrin of people who see the country as a giant spreadsheet, but we can be convinced to do the right thing when you earn our trust.

Messrs. Romney and Ryan were right about the economy, but they couldn’t open the door to discuss the hard choices necessary to fix it because their campaign felt ultimately more about aseptic balance sheets than about America.

That ironically helped to hand the win to the guy who wanted to redefine the American dream to one of dependency on government throughout every stage of life.

But the success of the ad, at least in page views if not in trucks sold at this point, should give liberals and progressives pause. As corny as some might say it is and as dependent on government aid as so many farmers are, that doesn’t change the fact that the virtues it celebrates were fundamental to the founding of this country and still endure.

It’s impossible to imagine an ad celebrating the life of “Julia” — the Obama campaign’s embodiment of the new woman whose success hinges on government aid from cradle to grave — that could arouse such a visceral response.

As one commenter said after watching the ad, “I sure want to buy a farmer.” About half of Americans are subsidized by the government, but do they want to “buy” that image of themselves? Not yet, in my opinion.

Why else would a heartfelt speech about the demanding life of farmers given in 1978 at a Future Farmers of America convention win so many fans across the country in 2013? And to give another example, why would Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel “Atlas Shrugged,” a celebration of the individual against the tyranny of the government, remain on all-time bestseller lists?

Those two items should scare those who think that God and the Constitution are dead and government is the solution to civil society’s ills. They may be winning, based on statistics of government dependency, but they are not yet the legitimate heirs to the American political throne. That means those who believe in limited government still have a window of opportunity.

One more thing: It’s worth noting that the Richards Group is in Dallas. I don’t think an agency in New York City, San Francisco or Washington, D.C., could have produced the ad it made because the worldview celebrated by “So God made a farmer” is foreign to those who live in those places. Republicans, take note.

Marta H. Mossburg writes about national affairs and politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her at www.martamossburg.com. Write her at marta@martamossburg.com.

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