Clint Eastwood: Political Speaker and Friend of Chairs
Many of us had imaginary friends when we were children, but very few of us kept them past age nine, let alone developed new ones when we were 82 years old. Clint Eastwood, however, is a very imaginative person. How else could he have become such a prolific actor, director, and producer? And did I mention surprise guest speaker?
At the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, 2012, movie star Clint Eastwood gave a roof-raising speech in Tampa, Fla. for an excited Republican audience that lapped up every insult thrown at the absent President Obama. Pretending that the President was sitting beside him in an empty chair, Eastwood directed biting questions at him, such as, “How do you handle promises you’ve made?” And when Obama began to protest, Eastwood was quick to put him in his place: “What do you mean, shut up?” Biden was not free from ridicule either, as Eastwood proclaimed him to be “a grin with a body behind it.” It was the improv/stand-up comedy routine of the night.
All joking aside, Eastwood gave the crowd his opinion of what comprises the bad and the ugly of the Obama administration. He mentioned Guantanamo and unemployment, which he described as “something to cry for.” Eastwood also criticized Obama for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, without acknowledging that he inherited these wars from President Bush. If this was a veiled attack on Bush, it went over the heads of the convention’s audience, who cheered at any and all abuses of the current administration.
With all of the partisan rhetoric that Eastwood was employing, I wonder if any Republicans watching his speech that night would be surprised to learn about his bipartisan background. In the past, Eastwood has supported both Republicans and Democrats and he himself has been described as a libertarian, economically conservative; and socially liberal. The first time Eastwood voted, he gave his support to Eisenhower: “So I became a Republican,” Eastwood said in a Daily Mail interview, “but I’ve supported Democrats at times, and I don’t necessarily adhere to one line. Sometimes parties make mistakes – they both have. And our parties are in terrible shape – these days we don’t know where the hell they are.” This was certainly not the sentiment expressed by Eastwood at the convention: he was all-American and pro-Republican in that moment.
Indeed, the crowd was right behind Eastwood throughout his pro-conservative speech, giving him a standing ovation in response to: “Now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem.” Eastwood suggested that the right person for the job is a businessman, more specifically, a “stellar businessman” (*cough* Romney). Eastwood has always been a proponent of the alliance between politics and business and was a supporter of small businesses when he was mayor of Carmel, California from 1986 to 1988. He evidently considers himself more of a businessman than a politician: “I’ve never been a really astute political person,” he said.
One thing is for sure, however, which is that Eastwood is a proud American. “It’s important that you realize you’re the best in the world,” he told his audience, to enormous cheers. This exceptionalist sentiment, one shared by presidential candidate Mitt Romney, seems to sit well with Republicans, who for some reason seem believe that non-Americans are lesser beings.
All in all, Eastwood’s speech was part political commentary and part popularity contest. He ended by leading the audience in reciting one of his most famous lines, “Go ahead, make my day.”
The act on the whole was cute, and were Eastwood my elderly grandfather, I would have humored him. The Romney campaign, on the other hand, may have judged Eastwood’s 12-minute, unscripted speech as politically damaging, due to the fact that they decided to exclude him from a video mash-up of the Republican National Convention speakers. Romney may have realized by now, along with the rest of America, that an actor does not always a good political speaker make.