It shouldn’t have come as any surprise when Clint Eastwood was announced as the “surprise” speaker at the Republican National Convention on the night Mitt Romney would accept his party’s nomination for president. What other big name right-wing celebrities did they have to choose from? Jeff Foxworthy? Hank Williams, Jr.? Ted Nugent?
Since the RNC had already decided they were going to distance themselves as much as possible from yesterday’s Republican heroes, like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Sarah Palin, they needed someone with real star power. Fortunately for the RNC, actor/director/American icon Clint Eastwood had recently endorsed Mitt Romney “[b]ecause I think the country needs a boost somewhere.”
Earlier this year, when Eastwood appeared in the Chrysler Super Bowl ad “It’s Halftime in America,” he specifically named an American city that had received a boost: “The people of Detroit…almost lost everything. But we all pulled together, now Motor City is fighting again…Detroit’s showing us it can be done. And what’s true about them is true about all of us.”
This is the heart of the ad. Clint has said of the commercial, “If Obama or any other politician wants to run with the spirit of that ad, go for it.” The only problem is that Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood were against the auto industry bailouts. Romney went so far as to write a New York Times op-ed titled “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” President Obama was the man who wanted to save the American auto industry, and he was the candidate who ran on the ideas of optimism and unity that the ad promoted. Perhaps that’s why Republican Strategist Karl Rove was so outraged by the Super Bowl spot:
“I was, frankly, offended by it,” Rove told Fox News. “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.”
By “tax dollars,” Rove is referring to auto industry bailout money, which did not pay for that (or any other) ad. In fact, the U.S. Department of Treasury has confirmed Chrysler’s statement that it has paid its debt “in full, with interest, six years early.”
Considering the RNC’s failed attempt to resurrect Reagan via hologram, the next best thing was to get Clint Eastwood. Like Reagan, Eastwood is an actor turned politician. (Some might not remember Eastwood served one term as Mayor of Carmel, California.) His Western-styled acting pedigree greatly exceeds that of Reagan’s, who played stock cowboy characters on shows like Wagon Train and Death Valley Days.
Clint, however, was the High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales. And if that wasn’t enough, the RNC would also be getting as its guest speaker the trigger-happy NRA poster boy, Dirty Harry. After all, the GOP of recent years seems more interested in having its day made by blowing some punk’s head off with a .44–the most powerful handgun in the world–than in winning one for the Gipper. Although, while speaking at the American Business Conference in 1985, President Reagan himself cited the Dirty Harry catchphrase: “I have my veto pen drawn and ready for any tax increase that Congress might even think of sending up. And I have only one thing to say to the tax increasers: ‘Go ahead—make my day.’”
August 30, 2012: Clint Eastwood walks out in front of an ecstatic crowd at the Republican National Convention. So ecstatic, in fact, that he tells the audience to “Save a little for Mitt.” A nice little icebreaker, even as it suggests there might not be much left for Mitt. What follows next though is a rambling, off the cuff speech that makes up its own facts as it slips into the fantasy that Eastwood is having a conversation with a seated, foul-mouthed and invisible President Obama. How do we know this? Why, there’s an empty chair beside him, of course. (Why not also imagine the chair? Or have the invisible President stand?)
Eastwood says he just wants to ask him a couple of questions, but then he starts talking about all the crying at Obama’s inauguration: “I was even crying. And then finally—I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there’s 23 million unemployed people in this country.”
Now that’s a shocking statistic—that Clint pulled out of the same thin air as his invisible Obama. The most recent United States Department of Labor Statics show that there are 12.8 million unemployed. Again, if you are going to make up your own reality, why not go all the way and double it? And instead of an 8.3% rate of unemployment (as the reality-based Department of Labor indicates) why not make it 16.6%? What neocon at the RNC is going to question the gospel of the Reaganesque Clint Eastwood? This is where Clint starts to matter.
When Eastwood finally gets around to asking one of those questions he mentioned, he does it with a sort of Jimmy Stewart stammer that is more annoying than charming: “So, so, Mr. President, how do you, how do you handle, how do you handle promises that you’ve made when you were running for election and how do you handle, how do you handle it?”
Wow ! That’s a tough question…to have to listen to. (Fortunately, the President wasn’t there to hear it.) That question seems better suited to Mitt Romney, anyway. Romney ran for governor in Massachusetts as a pro-choice candidate; after he was in office, he switched to pro-life. As an example of Obama’s promise breaking, Eastwood reminds the chair that it failed to close Gitmo. The very thought of it must infuriate him; how dare the President not close Gitmo! But instead of voicing his outrage, he said, “I thought, well closing Gitmo—why close that? We spent so much money on it.” This is clearly a man who is comfortable in an argument with himself. (Or a chair.)
At this point, the chair tells Clint to shut up. He ignores the advice and starts talking about terrorists being tried in “downtown New York City.” Then he gives the chair credit for overruling that idea. The viewer has to wonder why Clint Eastwood is interrogating a chair that, overall, he seems to agree with: “I know, in the, you were against the war in Iraq and that’s okay.” Clint was against the Iraq War, too. Obviously, a sucker punch must be coming. And Clint lands it by asking Invisible President Obama/visible chair why the United States didn’t “check with the Russians” before going to war in Afghanistan. How can you argue with that? Unless you know the war in Afghanistan started in 2001 when George W. Bush was President. (It was Bush who forgot to ask the Russians.)
After suggesting Romney’s plan to bring the troops home “tomorrow morning”–because it really is that easy—the chair tells Eastwood to “shut up” for a second time. This is followed by the chair telling Clint to tell Romney to go fuck himself. Clint responds to this by insulting Vice President Biden for no apparent reason. Then has the audacity to call the chair and Biden “absolutely crazy”–which is strange, because when Biden talks to the President, he’s actually there.
Finally, Clint thinks of something to say about Romney: “See, I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president, anyway, because…Yeah.” Because what, Clint? Because Romney graduated from Harvard Law School? Wow! This is another reason why Clint Eastwood matters.
Not wanting to waste any more time talking about Romney, Clint puts forth his idea to get rid of “that truck,” AKA Air Force One.
Here, the chair snaps (and who could blame it?) telling Clint Eastwood to go fuck himself.
Clint, who has claimed at times to be a Libertarian, concludes his hallucinatory ramblings with what seems to be a thinly veiled endorsement of Ron Paul: “We don’t have to…vote for somebody that we don’t really even want in office.” Like, say, a Libertarian having to settle for voting for a Republican.
The RNC wanted the image, the myth, of Clint Eastwood. They either ignored or were ignorant of the fact that he is pro-environment, pro-gay marriage, pro-choice, and has a wife who is the same racial make-up as Obama–all things that would make neocons uncomfortable. Eastwood has even said that “I don’t consider myself conservative.”
He’s described himself as a “moderate” and “a political nothing.” He’s contributed to and fundraised for Democratic candidates. In the Republican primaries, Eastwood said he wasn’t crazy about Obama but that he wasn’t sure that any other candidate was any better (“flip a coin”). He seemed slightly less wishy-washy on the subject when he said Ron Paul was “as good as anybody else”.
Clint Eastwood matters because most people respect and revere him. He is an American icon. What he says could actually have an impact on what is promising to be a close election, particularly when the Republican nominee is so lacking in charisma, personality and likability. Yet we expect more from our heroes than for them to blatantly misrepresent the truth.
One would hope we are responding to the man, not just the myth. The RNC was expecting the myth, and they got the man. An ill-prepared, incoherent and insulting 82 year-old man whose weak attempts at humor mainly revealed his ignorance. But the audience was cheering the icon, and the icon didn’t have to be rehearsed, polite or informed. In the end, all the audience at the RNC wanted from Clint Eastwood was a “Go ahead—make my day.” And they got it.
When President Obama was asked about Eastwood’s antics, he only had nice things to say: “I am a huge Clint Eastwood fan.” What had appeared at the time to be an attack riddled with insults was now a “skit” filled with “ribbing.” As for the empty chair, the Obama camp had quickly responded via the President’s Twitter account, posting a photo of Barack Obama seated in his chair in the Oval Office and shot from behind, with the caption: “This seat’s taken.” The Sunday after the convention, Twitter announced it was the most retweeted message of the GOP event, leaving little question as to who had the last laugh and whose day had been made.
Chris Denny is a Birmingham writer.