Heaven help us. Mitt Romney is stealing the inspirational call and response catchphrase from Friday Night Lights.
On that poorly rated but dearly beloved TV show, Coach Eric Taylor would call out, “Clear eyes, full hearts,” and his beaten-down team would shout, “Can’t lose!” before staging an improbable comeback. Of course, when Romney says it on the stump, it comes out, “Full eyes, clear hearts, can’t lose.” I Mitt you not.
Romney isn’t alone in co-opting “clear eyes, full hearts.” Last May, Obama used the phrase when he tweeted a photo of himself at Soldier Field, but when Mitt and Ann Romney act like they’re Eric and Tami Taylor incarnate, my heart hurts.
Romney says he is Coach Taylor’s rightful heir because Buzz Bissinger endorsed him. Bissinger wrote Friday Night Lights, a 1990 book about West Texas high school football that bears little relation to the fictional television series. The Taylors aren’t in Bissinger’s book, and no one ever says, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
But that’s not why Romney misquoting “Clear eyes, full hearts” offends TV fans. Football is religion in Texas, and Coach Taylor is our pope. He gave halftime speeches that were sermons about the pain and possibility of life and about how cooperation trumps selfishness. In short, Coach Taylor preached hope and change.
In the pilot, he led his team in a halftime prayer that would have made Bill Graham feel inadequate:
“Give all of us gathered here tonight the strength to remember that life is so very fragile. We are all vulnerable, and we will all, at some point in our lives… fall. We will all fall. We must carry this in our hearts… that what we have is special. That it can be taken from us, and when it is taken from us, we will be tested. We will be tested to our very souls. We will now all be tested. It is these times, it is this pain, that allows us to look inside ourselves.”
In another episode, he counsels his troubled quarterback Vince Howard to strive to be a better man.
“Coach, my dad just got out of prison. He’s staying with me in my house… and I can’t stand him. My mom, she asked me to forgive him. To be ‘better.’ And you’re asking me to be ‘better.’ I don’t know how to be ‘better’ because he never taught me how!” said Vince.
“Listen to me. I said you need to strive to better than everyone else. I didn’t say you needed to be better than everyone else. But you gotta try. That’s what character is. It’s in the try,” said Coach Taylor.
Character is also what you do on hidden camera: “Forty-seven percent of Americans pay no income tax. So our message of low taxes doesn’t connect. So he’ll be out there talking about tax cuts for the rich. I mean, that is what they sell every four years. And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Mitt Romney’s idea of reaching out to the 47% is rapping, “Who let the dogs out?” to connect with a group of black voters. He believes quoting “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose” could replicate an emotional connection with actual human beings.
For what it’s worth, the man who created the television series, Peter Berg—as well as the Taylor myth, and the “clear eyes, full hearts” phrase—has accused Romney of plagiarism and ruled the Republican’s politics were “clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series.”
Unfortunately, Berg’s red flag did not overturn that call. A weekend later, the cover photo on Romney’s Facebook page still displayed “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose!” on a photograph of a solitary man standing in the rain, blurring the line between a craven politician and an inspirational, if imagined, football coach.
Friday Night Lights remains a holy text for many of us here in Austin, Texas, where they filmed the TV show. Coach Taylor did not sneer upon the least of us. And when the rich boosters ran him out of West Dillon, he lifted the poor kids of East Dillon to a state championship by getting them to take personal responsibility and care for their lives. Over the series’ five seasons, we lived with Coach Taylor. We knew Coach Taylor. Coach Taylor seemed like a friend of ours.
And Mitt Romney, you’re no Coach Taylor.