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Contentions

A Disturbing Conservative Reaction to the Coke Ad

Several figures on the right–including Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling–had strongly negative reactions to this ad by Coca-Cola that aired during the Super Bowl.

The ad featured a rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung in seven different languages. It was intended to showcase the country’s “incredible diversity,” in the words of the soft drink company. That was simply too much for Beck. “So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’” Beck said. “And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’ Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: to divide people.”

Fox News’s Bolling, while agreeing that “America is a melting pot,” said he thought Coke “used the wrong song” to demonstrate that point. “The problem here,” Bolling said, “and it’s not even bad if you have all the different cultures singing a song, showing America is a mix of different cultures, but don’t put it to ‘America the Beautiful.’ You used the wrong song. You ticked off a lot of Coke drinkers, you ticked off a lot of Americans.”

What a weird and disturbing reaction. The ad was hardly “in your face.” It was in fact an affirmation that people from different cultures and lands and tongues are drawn to America and can love her, not because it’s their native land but because it’s a special land. America is, in the words of Ben Wattenberg, the “first universal nation.” The Coke ad beautifully captures the spirit behind the phrase on the Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one.” 

This is something that not all that long ago nearly all conservatives would have understood. Yet today the ad by Coke is interpreted by some figures on the right as divisive and offensive, a Trojan Horse for immigration reform, as part of the Culture War. And the unmistakable message being sent by these individuals is that people of other cultures are aliens and threats and are therefore unwelcome. “Keep your mouths shut when it comes to our patriotic songs” is the message Messrs. Beck and Bolling are sending. What a brilliant way to appeal to a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse and multicultural.  

Such troubling views are not unknown in American history, of course. But what’s worth noting is that they are deeply at odds with the outlook and capacious spirit of Ronald Reagan. I don’t so much have in mind the fact that Reagan was an outspoken advocate for amnesty and that he signed legislation granting amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. What I’m referring to goes deeper than that. Reagan continually emphasized the great and vivifying diversity that immigrants brought to this country, and that flowed into and became as one with the national fabric. As he put it:

We have a statue in New York Harbor . . . of a woman holding a torch of welcome to those who enter our country to become Americans. She has greeted millions upon millions of immigrants to our country. She welcomes them still. She represents our open door. All of the immigrants who came to us brought their own music, literature, customs, and ideas. And the marvelous thing, a thing of which we’re proud, is they did not have to relinquish these things in order to fit in. In fact, what they brought to America became American. And this diversity has more than enriched us; it has literally shaped us.

So it has. And Reagan’s words remind us that his generous and welcoming attitude was worlds apart from what we see in the likes of Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling.