Commentary Magazine


Topic: Super Bowl

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.” 

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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.   

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Cheerios, Coca-Cola, and the Left’s Tea Party Obsession

In a Friday blog post on yet another MSNBC controversy in which the network made biracial families the punch line of awkward joke, Pete asked an interesting question–and received something of an answer during the Super Bowl. Pete’s subject was the MSNBC tweet noting a Cheerios ad that featured a biracial family; the MSNBC Twitter feed snarked that the “rightwing” would hate the ad. This had come on the heels of an MSNBC television segment that ridiculed black children adopted by white families, which itself had been preceded by numerous troublesome race-related moments on MSNBC.

So Pete asked why the controversy over the Cheerios ad prompted an apology from station President Phil Griffin, and not any number of others. One explanation is that in this case an apology was demanded of him by the RNC, which threatened to boycott the network, working under the questionable assumption that people watch MSNBC. (The evidence suggests otherwise.) But another answer could be found in a different ad controversy during the Super Bowl, and what it says about the mindset of today’s leftists.

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In a Friday blog post on yet another MSNBC controversy in which the network made biracial families the punch line of awkward joke, Pete asked an interesting question–and received something of an answer during the Super Bowl. Pete’s subject was the MSNBC tweet noting a Cheerios ad that featured a biracial family; the MSNBC Twitter feed snarked that the “rightwing” would hate the ad. This had come on the heels of an MSNBC television segment that ridiculed black children adopted by white families, which itself had been preceded by numerous troublesome race-related moments on MSNBC.

So Pete asked why the controversy over the Cheerios ad prompted an apology from station President Phil Griffin, and not any number of others. One explanation is that in this case an apology was demanded of him by the RNC, which threatened to boycott the network, working under the questionable assumption that people watch MSNBC. (The evidence suggests otherwise.) But another answer could be found in a different ad controversy during the Super Bowl, and what it says about the mindset of today’s leftists.

A major difference between the Cheerios tweet and, say, the bizarre outburst on Melissa Harris-Perry’s political talk show is that the latter at least had a tangential connection to politics. Harris-Perry and her guests were mocking Mitt Romney’s adopted grandson, and so could at least claim they had a political target in sight when firing away at the innocent youngster. It is still appalling and inexcusable, but it could plausibly be portrayed as a political segment gone awry.

The same cannot be said for the tweet about the Cheerios ad. That tweet was much more revealing about MSNBC and the American left today. It’s true that, as Pete notes, MSNBC created an atmosphere in which it’s easy to imagine the tweeter (who was fired, apparently) following suit. But it was indeed a new low. When an MSNBC host like Chris Matthews accuses Newt Gingrich of racist word pronunciation, he’s trying to delegitimize an opponent of the president, to whom Matthews and his network are disturbingly loyal.

Behind the Cheerios tweet, however, was the assumption that conservative Americans–not Republican presidential candidates taking advantage of a wedge issue, but citizens throughout the country–are inherently bigoted people. Not only does this display the disdain leftists have for their fellow Americans, but it shows they can’t look at a biracial couple without thinking about the intersection of race and politics. If that’s the case, we’ve reached a troubling level of politicization of breakfast cereals, to say the least.

And that dynamic was again on display last night during the Super Bowl broadcast. Though the Cheerios ad went off without a hitch, there was another “controversial” ad: a Coca-Cola commercial presented a mash-up of people singing America the Beautiful in various languages, to emphasize the U.S. as a melting pot of immigrants who embraced their new country while retaining their cultural roots. Considering the pessimism at home and the anti-Americanism abroad, the ad was subtly uplifting without being too saccharine.

Allen West disagreed. The former congressman thought it “disturbing” and insufficiently pro-assimilation. West was not representative of the broader conservative political movements such as the Tea Party. News organizations that tried to push a conservative backlash story relied on unknown Twitter commenters–though by such a standard the entire left can also be painted as racist, misogynistic, etc.

But the more interesting reason the left pushed those stories was not because they found a genuine Tea Party backlash but because they predicted one. Twitter lit up in the moments during and after the ad with leftists proclaiming this to be yet another ad conservatives wouldn’t like, with the Tea Party specifically named. That is, the left cannot hear foreign languages or look at immigrants without being filled with politically-based revulsion.

This trend is yet another example of what Sonny Bunch has been calling the “emptiness of a politicized life.” It’s worth reading through Bunch’s various discussions of the phenomenon, because he pulls together a broad array of examples that get at the depth of the problem. But how obsessed by politics do you have to be to see a cereal or soda commercial during the Super Bowl and immediately think about what Tea Partiers might say? It’s unhealthy, and–as Phil Griffin seems to understand–it’s a far more problematic iteration of the ever-deteriorating political rationality of the left.

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The Perils of Professors

Obama is getting flack from his own party for lacking the common touch, failing to connect with ordinary voters, and struggling to identify with Middle America. The mainstream media is baffled because, they say, he came from a middle-class background. What’s the problem? They are stumped.

Much of the problem is that his background isn’t so much middle class as it is academic. A large chunk of his adult life has been spent attending, teaching in, and living in close proximity to elite universities. The intellectual bent (e.g., disdainful of American exceptionalism, ignorant of the workings of free-market capitalism, infatuated with the public sector) and the posture (e.g., remote, condescending) of liberal academics are evident in Obama’s persona and governing style. And his saturation in Left-leaning elite schools certainly explain much of what ails him.

Jeffrey Anderson spots some evidence of this in Obama’s Super Bowl interview. Anderson recounts Obama’s explanation of the unwinding of his beloved health-care proposal:

Look, I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, you know, academically approved approach to health care [that] didn’t have any kinds of legislative fingerprints on it, and just go ahead and have that passed. But that’s not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people.

Yes, all that grubby democracy and so much compromise are such annoyances. If only they would swallow his prescribed syllabus whole, we’d be able to move on to the next round. (Micromanaging all carbon emissions, perhaps.) Anderson comments:

Our democratic process, our separation of powers, and our federalist design frustrate Obama. But, far from being unfortunate, the negotiations and multiple levels of approval that they require, from a myriad of different citizens, is largely what secures our liberty — protecting it from those who would otherwise impose their own comprehensive goals from their lofty theoretical perches. The Founders were surely not Obama’s intellectual inferiors, but they were practical men. The Constitutional Convention was nothing if not high-level give-and-take, tinkering and refining. One imagines Obama showing up at Independence Hall with his own plan in hand (probably adapted from Rousseau’s in The Social Contract, with Obama cast in the role of the Legislator) and being surprised when the other delegates resisted his eloquence and, correspondingly, his proposal.

In Obama, that mindset is combined with a prickly personality unaccustomed to criticism. So we get the insular, defensive, and often down-right nasty reaction to criticism from mere citizens and from news or polling outfits who don’t properly reflect the wisdom that the Obami believe is emanating from the White House. We’ve see the smarter-and-holier-than-thou attitude in everything, from the lectures on race in Gatesgate to the demonization of attendees at town-hall meetings.

And, of course, academics don’t do that much but write, converse among themselves, and lecture to unappreciative undergraduates. They aren’t responsible for achieving much of anything. They aren’t obligated to conform their theories to the realities of the world. So too with Obama, we see that his preference for grandiose regulatory and health-care schemes lacks a basic understanding of how private industry operates. He seems oblivious to the incentives and disincentives that motivate employers. And in foreign policy as well, grand theories (e.g., Iran engagement, the effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel to promote the “peace process”) collide with reality, leaving the smart diplomats bruised and embarrassed (if they had enough self-awareness to be ashamed of their results).

The media was mesmerized by an elite-credentialed author and law professor who seemed so very cool and so intellectually compatible with themselves. But the Harvard Law Review and Con Law 101 don’t prepare one for the presidency. Indeed, it turns out that those who are attracted to such endeavors may lack the stuff of successful presidents — common sense, appreciation for the private enterprise, toleration of criticism, attention to the bottom line, etc. Next time, maybe we should look for someone who fits less well into the Ivy League and more comfortably into the private sector and Middle America. The better presidents, after all, can hire academics — and learn when to ignore them when their advice proves impractical or downright foolish.

Obama is getting flack from his own party for lacking the common touch, failing to connect with ordinary voters, and struggling to identify with Middle America. The mainstream media is baffled because, they say, he came from a middle-class background. What’s the problem? They are stumped.

Much of the problem is that his background isn’t so much middle class as it is academic. A large chunk of his adult life has been spent attending, teaching in, and living in close proximity to elite universities. The intellectual bent (e.g., disdainful of American exceptionalism, ignorant of the workings of free-market capitalism, infatuated with the public sector) and the posture (e.g., remote, condescending) of liberal academics are evident in Obama’s persona and governing style. And his saturation in Left-leaning elite schools certainly explain much of what ails him.

Jeffrey Anderson spots some evidence of this in Obama’s Super Bowl interview. Anderson recounts Obama’s explanation of the unwinding of his beloved health-care proposal:

Look, I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, you know, academically approved approach to health care [that] didn’t have any kinds of legislative fingerprints on it, and just go ahead and have that passed. But that’s not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people.

Yes, all that grubby democracy and so much compromise are such annoyances. If only they would swallow his prescribed syllabus whole, we’d be able to move on to the next round. (Micromanaging all carbon emissions, perhaps.) Anderson comments:

Our democratic process, our separation of powers, and our federalist design frustrate Obama. But, far from being unfortunate, the negotiations and multiple levels of approval that they require, from a myriad of different citizens, is largely what secures our liberty — protecting it from those who would otherwise impose their own comprehensive goals from their lofty theoretical perches. The Founders were surely not Obama’s intellectual inferiors, but they were practical men. The Constitutional Convention was nothing if not high-level give-and-take, tinkering and refining. One imagines Obama showing up at Independence Hall with his own plan in hand (probably adapted from Rousseau’s in The Social Contract, with Obama cast in the role of the Legislator) and being surprised when the other delegates resisted his eloquence and, correspondingly, his proposal.

In Obama, that mindset is combined with a prickly personality unaccustomed to criticism. So we get the insular, defensive, and often down-right nasty reaction to criticism from mere citizens and from news or polling outfits who don’t properly reflect the wisdom that the Obami believe is emanating from the White House. We’ve see the smarter-and-holier-than-thou attitude in everything, from the lectures on race in Gatesgate to the demonization of attendees at town-hall meetings.

And, of course, academics don’t do that much but write, converse among themselves, and lecture to unappreciative undergraduates. They aren’t responsible for achieving much of anything. They aren’t obligated to conform their theories to the realities of the world. So too with Obama, we see that his preference for grandiose regulatory and health-care schemes lacks a basic understanding of how private industry operates. He seems oblivious to the incentives and disincentives that motivate employers. And in foreign policy as well, grand theories (e.g., Iran engagement, the effort to put “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel to promote the “peace process”) collide with reality, leaving the smart diplomats bruised and embarrassed (if they had enough self-awareness to be ashamed of their results).

The media was mesmerized by an elite-credentialed author and law professor who seemed so very cool and so intellectually compatible with themselves. But the Harvard Law Review and Con Law 101 don’t prepare one for the presidency. Indeed, it turns out that those who are attracted to such endeavors may lack the stuff of successful presidents — common sense, appreciation for the private enterprise, toleration of criticism, attention to the bottom line, etc. Next time, maybe we should look for someone who fits less well into the Ivy League and more comfortably into the private sector and Middle America. The better presidents, after all, can hire academics — and learn when to ignore them when their advice proves impractical or downright foolish.

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