I thought conservatives liked cars. Not that I can remember any particular moment when I figured out that conservatives liked cars. It’s a feeling born of a lifetime of meeting people and talking with them about their cars and their politics.
But conservatives didn’t like any car. They liked American cars. The early VW owners, who waved at each other on the highway, usually decorated their bugs and vans with flowers and peace signs. Maybe the country club set imported cars from Europe, but the typical American, the Marlboro Man, the NASCAR fan who really cared about cars, bought only from Detroit.
In the 60s, when I first began to care about cars and politics, the guys with the muscle cars, the jacked-up cars, the loud cars, did not usually march with anti-war protesters. They were more likely to be leaning on their cars, staring at them and their funny clothes.
So Detroit is a perfect conservative symbol. A family can put love of country right in its driveway. Buying a car is the biggest investment in American manufacturing that a family can make.
Americans didn’t invent cars, but we invented cars for the masses, a triumphant blend of capitalism and individualism. Millions of vehicles coming out of Detroit were especially suited to the American landscape. Station wagons and pickup trucks made the promise of individual freedom in transportation come true for any American family.
Any white American family, that is. No black family could travel as freely as whites until the 1960s, and it’s still iffy. But white or black, buying an American car was an affirmation that we make what we need, we support each other. As much as flying a flag, a car from Detroit was a symbol of American patriotism.
How natural then for an American car manufacturer to pay millions of dollars for two minutes at halftime on Super Bowl Sunday to herald their triumphal return from the near-dead just three years ago. What a coup to recruit Clint Eastwood, the most famous Republican ex-mayor in the world, who rarely does commercials.
Here is what Detroit asked Eastwood to look us in the eyes and say:
We’re with you, Clint!
Well, not all of us. Conservative political voices went nuts. The next day Karl Rove appeared on Fox News to say,
Taking Back Our Lives