by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The spot stuck out for how thoroughly un–Super Bowl it was. It’s a wonder that CBS didn’t refuse to air it on grounds that it wasn’t appropriate for the occasion. It was simple. It was quiet. It was thoughtful. It was eloquent. It was everything that our celebrity-soaked pop culture, which dominates Super Bowl Sunday almost as much as football does, is not.
All the fantastic glitz and sometimes hilarious vulgarity that define the events around the Super Bowl — the halftime shows and the ads — can’t make up for a desperate poverty of expression. No one has anything to say and, in any case, wouldn’t know how to say it. Not Paul Harvey. His speech is a little gem of literary craftsmanship. It shows that words still retain the power to move us, even in a relentlessly visual age driven from distraction to distraction.
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.