As a friend of mine* once said, quotes from Karl Rove aren’t important for what they say. They are important for what they reveal. Rove’s statements about Sunday’s Super Bowl ad from Chrysler are a case in point.

By now, you’ve probably seen or heard about the ad, which Chrysler calls “Halftime in America.” It stars Clint Eastwood, narrating the story of Detroit's comeback and turning it into a metaphor for America. The message happens to dovetail with the story that President Obama has been telling, about his rescue of the auto industry and the country’s slow climb out of economic despair.

During a Fox News appearance on Monday morning, Rove suggested the similarities were not coincidental:

I was, frankly, offended by it. ... it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.

I have no idea whether Rove really believes Chrysler produced that ad in order to do President Obama a political favor. But the fact that he and other Republicans are so worked up could mean that they are scared—not of the advertisement itself, but of the themes it contains.

Those themes are optimism and national pride. As Salon’s Joan Walsh noted on the Ed Show Monday evening, Republicans have basically owned those themes since the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan won an election with them. But lately President Obama has been the one making the case that it’s morning in America or, at least, just before dawn. He did it in the State of the Union and he’s done it in a series of major speeches since.

The message wouldn’t resonate if it had no basis in reality. But the latest economic indicators suggest the economy really is starting to grow, albeit slowly and tentatively. And nowhere is that more obvious than in the Midwest and Michigan, where the auto industry’s rebound has helped reduce unemployment to levels not seen since before Obama took office.

The industry, like the national economy, could still regress. Trouble in Europe could deal a serious blow to both. But if the recovery continues, Obama will have a pretty powerful claim to reelection: That his economic policy choices, made in the face if fierce Republican opposition, are paying off.

Rove knows this as well as anybody. I suspect that’s the real reason he’s so angry.

* It was Jonathan Chait, as former TNR intern Sam Sweeney just reminded me.

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