Harvey picks up the story of creation: “And on the eighth day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker’ — so God made a farmer.” It goes on to describe characteristics of the dutiful farmer, punctuating each riff with the same kicker: “God said, ‘I need somebody willing to get up before dawn, milk the cows, work all day in the field, milk cows again, eat supper, then go to town and stay past midnight at a meeting of the school board’ — so God made a farmer.”
In its pacing and its imagery, the speech is a kind of prose-poem. Delivered by Harvey, who could make a pitch for laundry detergent sound like a passage from the King James Bible, it packs great rhetorical force. Listening to it can make someone who never would want to touch cows, especially before dawn, wonder why he didn’t have the good fortune to have to milk them twice a day. In short, it is a memorably compelling performance, and without bells or whistles, let alone staging so elaborate it might challenge the logisticians who pulled off the invasion of Normandy.
That was left for Beyoncé. Someday a cultural historian will write the definitive history of the Super Bowl halftime and how it morphed from a showcase for the likes of the Grambling State University marching band to a platform for gyrating pop stars. (Michael Jackson started the trend in 1993.) Beyoncé dressed like she was headed for a shift at the local gentlemen’s club, and put on a show that was an all-out assault on the senses. She was stunning and athletic, as well as tasteless and unedifying.
The Harvey ad was schmaltzy rustic romanticism, to be sure, but it celebrated something worthy. It was uplifting rather than degrading. It spoke of selflessness and virtue in moving terms.
The farmer is patient. He is willing “to sit up all night with a newborn colt, and watch it die, then dry his eyes and say, ‘Maybe next year.’” He is ingenious. He can “shoe a horse with a hunk of car tire.” He is hard-working. He “will finish his 40-hour week by Tuesday noon and then, paining from ‘tractor back,’ will put in another 72 hours.” He is a family man. He bales “a family together with the soft, strong bonds of sharing.”
Harvey’s speech has such resonance because what he describes aren’t agrarian qualities so much as stereotypically American qualities. They represent what we want ourselves to be like — even if God didn’t make us farmers.
Shortly after Beyoncé’s performance — the most intense booty-shaking ever seen at the Super Bowl; the pure physical strain of the effort was written all over her face — a minor Twitter battle erupted over whether social conservatives who immediately blasted the whole strip-club flavor of the performance (followed soon after by an ad for 2 Broke Girls that featured actual pole dancing) were putting further distance between us and the pop-culture-worshipping masses. After all, Michelle Obama was hip enough to immediately tweet her congratulations to Beyoncé.
Then came the Paul Harvey Dodge Ram ad. And it stopped us in our tracks.
I was home alone with the flu (wife and kids were off attending the annual Super Bowl party), and I’ve got to admit that it may have put a tear in my eye. There’s an old saying amongst First Amendment lawyers that the proper cure for bad speech is better speech, and that Paul Harvey ad was, without doubt, better speech. To be clear, I’m not opposed to some good, old-fashioned cultural hand-wringing when the occasion demands it. Indeed, it’s important to call out the wrong, but calling out the wrong without providing a compelling right will ultimately get us nowhere.
It is far more difficult to cultivate artistic talent — and to navigate young artists through a pop culture as heavily dominated by the Left as academia — but it’s a project that deserves at least as much attention as we give to finding young political stars like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. Otherwise, the booty will overwhelm the beauty, and hand-wringing will be all we have left.
This article was adapted from an article which first appeared on National Review here.