While some people sail off into the sunset when they reach retirement age, Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood has gone on something of a roller coaster ride these past few years – at least in terms of his off screen activities. For those with shorter memories, here are a few of the highlights, and we don’t need to peer too deeply into history to find them.

During the Super Bowl, just a little over one year ago, Eastwood appeared in an advertisement at half time talking about Detroit, the auto industry and America. The outcry was instantaneous. Obviously Eastwood – a long time, well known rarity in Hollywood as a successful conservative – was a traitor. He was “endorsing” the bailout of the auto industry or “helping Obama” or something. He was widely pilloried in conservative circles.

Fast forward only a few seasons and he was featured at the RNC in Tampa, speaking to an empty chair and taking Barack Obama to task. All was forgiven and Clint was a hero of the conservative movement once again. Gone were worries about his Republican bona fides and he was featured on virtually every conservative site – including this one – which you’d care to name.

But now the worm seems to be turning again. Eastwood has signed on for a Friend of the Court brief supporting gay marriage.

He’s one of the few big-time celebrities who is also a big-time Republican.

But Clint Eastwood has veered from the viewpoint of many Conservatives in one regard: the actor signed the American Foundation for Equal Rights’s “Friend of the Court” brief this week.

In doing so, the actor became one of over 100 prominent Republicans to support this gay rights organization’s document, which it has filed with the Supreme Court.

I’m already seeing grumbling on Twitter and elsewhere about this “stab in the back” from Dirty Harry. How quickly we forget what a star he was in the weeks and months before the last election. But once the dust from this particular flap settles out, Clint may have something even more valuable to teach us.

He’s a Republican. He’s a conservative. But beyond any of that, he is is own man with his own opinions on each and every subject in which he takes an interest and he doesn’t much give a fig if you disapprove of his position. He doesn’t agree with the text book position of the “real conservatives” on every single issue. And I suspect that, like many of us, he doesn’t pay much attention to what anyone else chooses to define as the “texbook conservative” stance on hundreds of different policy points. He goes where his own beliefs lead him.

The story here about Clint Eastwood has nothing to do with gay marriage. It has to do with the idea that somebody – anybody – can define conservatism for you on each and every issue. There will be disagreements inside the tent on both sides. That’s a sign of a healthy, open minded debate. Declaring anyone who doesn’t fit a predefined mold on each and every discussion point as being “not one of us” leads you down a path toward irrelevance and extinction.