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Just how wrong did the media get Clint Eastwood?

posted at 12:45 pm on September 2, 2012 by

Admittedly, I am late to evaluating Clint Eastwood’s RNC performance. However, the fact that the pundit class is still critiquing it days later is one indicator of how shrewd it was as political theater. Accordingly, it is worth noting just how wrong some of the Eastwood analysis has been, even from those defending the speech.

The harsh, conventional wisdom about Eastwood’s decidedly unconventional approach to the convention is that it was the ramblings of a senile old man. Even may of Eastwood’s defenders have described it as rambling. This likely makes Eastwood’s day.

After all, who is Clint Eastwood? He is one of the top actors, directors and producers of motion pictures in the world. Most of the world — and almost certainly everyone tuning in to the RNC Thursday night — knows this. Yet most of the analyses of his RNC appearance are based on the notion that we were not witnessing acting. That mass suspension of disbelief may be the highest tribute Eastwood will ever be paid as an actor. If you think the Eastwood on stage was the only Eastwood there is, watch him promoting J. Edgar on The Daily Show last November. I have little doubt he will be equally sharp promoting Trouble With the Curve in the next few weeks.

Moreover, as a director, Eastwood has a reputation of knowing exactly what he wants. Also, he does not prefer to do many takes: “The big question, for me, is how to do it *** so the actors can perform at their very best and with the spontaneity that you’d like to find so that the audience will feel like those lines have been said for the very first time, ever. Then you’ve got a believable scene.” That approach is entirely consistent with Eastwood’s talent as a jazz pianist, someone who enjoys improvising within a framework. The fact that Eastwood’s performance was not loaded into a teleprompter does not mean it was unplanned.

If you doubt that Eastwood was not simply winging it, don’t watch his performance — read the transcript. There may be no better indicator of just how intentional Eastwood’s performance is than to compare the visual impression he gave with the text delivered.

Eastwood begins with a touch of Admiral James Stockdale, but Clint answers the question of why he is there. The fact is that everyone really knows why Clint is there — to make a political statement. But Eastwood, in mentioning that Hollywood is perhaps not as monolithic as the stereotype suggests, is making a subtle suggestion to the audience he wants to reach: you may be part of some left-identifying group, but it’s okay to disagree and there may be other quiet dissenters in your group.

Eastwood then introduces the dramatic device of the empty chair, which in this context also echoes the political metaphor of the empty suit. This has been remarked upon, particularly as an echo of comedic dialogs from people like Bob Newhart, so I won’t dwell on it here, although it reappears below.

Eastwood then proceeds to use this comedic device to deliver — as Mark Steyn noted in passing — some of the toughest political attacks on President Obama heard during the entire RNC. A number of the traditional speakers strove to play on swing voters’ disenchantment with the failed promises of Hope and Change. But notice how tired and traditional that just sounded in your head. Mitt Romney (likely with help from a professional political speechwriter) did it pretty well: “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.” But did anyone do it as powerfully and emotionally as Eastwood’s segue from everyone — himself included — crying with joy at Obama’s historic victory to the tears we now shed over 23 million still unemployed, which Clint bluntly called a national disgrace?

This was the first part of Eastwood’s simple and effective argument. Eastwood points out — in a prodding, joking manner — that Obama was elected to bring peace and prosperity, but failed to bring either. That Eastwood may disagree with the GOP on some war issues is perfectly alright in this context, because, as suggested earlier and explored further below, Eastwood is not really targeting Republicans.

Eastwood then arrives at his Joe Biden joke: “Of course we all know Biden is the intellect of the Democratic party. Just kind of a grin with a body behind it.” That last part is not accidental in a performance featuring an empty chair. But the first part is even more dangerous. For the last 3+ years, we have been accustomed to having Biden as safe material for humor, while Obama has been kept off-limits. Eastwood leverages the latter into the former, suggesting that Sheriff Joe is the real brains of the operation. Ouch! No wonder Team Obama got annoyed enough to respond.

Having delivered these punches regarding our dire situation with velvet gloves, Eastwood then does the softest of sells for the Romney/Ryan ticket. As Jesse Walker noted, it was almost more of a pitch for Not Obama. Again, there was nothing accidental about the nature or placement of this speech withing Clint’s imagined dialogue.

Eastwood concludes by summing up the GOP case to undecideds and rebutting the main point Dems seem to advance for Obama. First, “[p]oliticians are employees of ours… And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let ‘em go.” Second, “we don’t have to be metal [sic] masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t really even want in office just because they seem to be nice guys or maybe not so nice guys if you look at some of the recent ads going out there.”

Eastwood was not “rambling.” He improvised within a structure, making a clear and concise case for dumping Obama.

Eastwood’s approach to this performance was not accidental. Eastwood is — by reason of his resume — the foremost expert in the world on Clint Eastwood fans. Harry Callahan may have understood that a man has to know his limitations. Eastwood knows his… and he also knows his strengths. A man does not produce and star in dozens of Clint Eastwood movies without having thought deeply about and received the benefit of copious market research into what appeals to people about Clint Eastwood.

From the standpoint of political science, it would be fair to hypothesize that appeals to both disaffected and libertarian voters (which is something of a feat) in a way that Mitt Romney could never hope to do. More colloquially, it would be fair to suggest that Eastwood appeals to the sort of people who gravitated to H. Ross Perot in the Nineties. He appeals to people who distrust institutions, who think that conventional politics fails the American people. The sort of people for whom Harry Callahan, Will Munny, Frank Horrigan, Luther Whitney and Walt Kowalski have an emotional resonance.

So why would Eastwood deliver a conventional political speech? Had he delivered his material as a series of slick-sounding zingers, it would have been the sort of speech the media expected from Chris Christie’s keynote address. But that would have been: (a) not in keeping with the Romney campaign’s softer approach; and (b) diminishing and disappointing to Eastwood’s target audience. Most of the chattering class failed to grasp this. Some on Team Romney failed to grasp this. But the evidence coming in, both anecdotally and from polling, suggests Eastwood still has his finger on the popular pulse in a way pols and pundits never will.

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Great article Karl!
L

letget on September 2, 2012 at 12:59 PM

As Rush would say, “Right on, right on, right on.”

HopeHeFails on September 2, 2012 at 1:01 PM

In comparison to the rhetoric of the journolist psychofants of bygone days, I understand that immediately following the Gettysburg address Lincoln was slammed as most ignorant in some newspaper columns.
Not to compare this to the incredible Gettysburg address per se, the truth of this performance will come out none the less.
Good one Karl.

onomo on September 2, 2012 at 1:24 PM

BTW, as I was posting, this appeared on Twitter from Patrick Ruffini:

So, just found that “We own this country” the #1 line of the convention… with 74% positive sentiment.

That I didn’t quote it is another measure of how good Clint is.

Karl on September 2, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Eastwood then proceeds to use this comedic device to deliver — as Mark Steyn noted in passing — some of the toughest political attacks on President Obama heard during the entire RNC

I would go a lot further than that. The reason the media are reacting so spastically to this is that it’s completely unprecedented.

This is the first time anyone has MOCKED Barack Hussein Obama on national TV. OK, technically, Eastwood didn’t actually do that; but this is the closest anyone has ever come to a direct mockery of The Absolute-Moral-Authority-In-Chief.

An old man feigning senility has done what no child could. If this innocent gibe isn’t punished crushed quickly and ruthlessly enough, the floodgates will open, and everyone will be free to finally admit that the clothes have no emperor.

logis on September 2, 2012 at 2:17 PM

I’ve been seeing previews of Trouble with the Curve on TV all weekend–looks like classic Clint and involves baseball which is good. And I’ll say this again–I believe Eastwood’s rambling and mumbling was actually imitating Obama with his endless uhs and stutters when he’s w/o his precious teleprompter security blanket.

stukinIL4now on September 2, 2012 at 3:14 PM

Nice piece, Karl. An unpacking, as the lib humanities profs say, of a superficially simple, complex message.

I would only add one thing: Eastwood broke down the fence that protects Obama from mockery. Not only did he reduce Obama to an empty chair, but he made him a pusillanimous, mean-spirited, incapacitated occupant of that chair. An invisible Spike Lee taunting Reggie Miller.

Exquisite!

MaxMBJ on September 2, 2012 at 3:27 PM

Intelligent people got the zest of Clint’s empty chair immediately and many, many missed the significance of it until told by the intelligent ones. Remember when Bush said that Obama was articulate and the media went nuts thinking it was a disgraceful remark until someone informed them of the meaning of the word. I laughed myself sick when that happened.

mixplix on September 2, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Perhaps the chair was a metaphor for a throne since Obama views himslef as Emporer.

DaveDief on September 2, 2012 at 3:30 PM

Totally right on. Romney seemed to be a weather vane and totally willing to compromise anything. I was still going to have to vote for him and hope to have admit his business and organizational skills are way mad.

I thought Clint was brilliant and the hype about him being unscripted was cover. He stuck it to Obama, the empty chair. Clint turned a metaphor into a meme. Obama will always be the empty chair.

Lonetown on September 2, 2012 at 3:36 PM

Clint reminds me of Laurence Olivier’s bit part in the movie Pompey. Althought a small role it was classic example of a master at his craft.

wukong on September 2, 2012 at 3:37 PM

It was far better than that “HomeSpun” Humor we were hyped up by the MSM for in ’88. You remember that hilarious speech with such take away lines as, “George can’t help it though, he was born with a Silver Foot in his Mouth.” (Haw Haw Haw)

People will be remembering what Eastwood said for a Long Time.

jaydee_007 on September 2, 2012 at 3:39 PM

Well said…
-
The Empty Chair… I have joked that an empty suit would have at least been understood by the left, but as you make clear it was a direct hit and a stroke of genius. One not lost on the higher ups in the Dem/MSM/Leftist machine.
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The Chair will follow Obama into history, and it is based on truth.
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One of the most ironic lines of indignation that I’ve seen is when some Clint criticizer makes a big deal out of the implied ‘go f yourself’ comments from The Chair. Obama voted against trying to save the lives of babies after botched abortions but this ‘gfys’ gag is a bridge too far! Please.
-
Barry’s list of sins and nastiness is long indeed… Clint hit a homer, and you are right… this smack-down was a first for Obama… and I’ll bet the MSM propagandists are losing sleep over it.
-

RalphyBoy on September 2, 2012 at 3:42 PM

I thought Clint was brilliant and the hype about him being unscripted was cover. He stuck it to Obama, the empty chair. Clint turned a metaphor into a meme. Obama will always be the empty chair.

Lonetown on September 2, 2012 at 3:36 PM

You are So Right!

http://twitchy.com/2012/09/02/monday-is-empty-chair-day/

jaydee_007 on September 2, 2012 at 3:43 PM

All that those on the left heard were the ahhs and umms, the stammers and the stutters.

That was all diversion, a trap for them to fall into.

Those on the right heard the weapon go clean through to the bone over and over again.

A person that was truly addled would not be able to cleanly deliver the kill shots that Eastwood did.

And he wielded them like a Samurai wields his sword. The victim does not know he has been beheaded until his is looking up at his body falling down.

turfmann on September 2, 2012 at 3:46 PM

We own this country…
Politicians are employees of ours… And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let ‘em go.

I wonder if “we own this country” was a deliberate riff on Reagan borrowing a line from Spencer Tracy’s “State of the Union” character, “I’m paying for this microphone” during a debate for the New Hampshire primary in 1980.

I’ve been saying since I first saw Eastwood’s performance live that it was brilliant and if not completely scripted, Eastwood knew exactly what he was doing. All the left leaning critics are playing right into his hands by driving more people to watch the video, hear him critique Obama’s failure and laugh at the failed president. Even Bill Maher said that Eastwood “killed” with the bit. The live audience was laughing their asses off.

Watch how his eyes smile as he goes from rambling doddering old geezer to skewering Obama, time after time. The pacing was perfect.

That Obama felt the need to respond with “This seat’s taken” shows how thin his skin is and how well Eastwood hit the mark.

rokemronnie on September 2, 2012 at 3:47 PM

Empty chair day is going to be awesome.

Cindy Munford on September 2, 2012 at 3:56 PM

“When somebody doesn’t do the job, you gotta let `em go”

Clint got the job done.

dont taze me bro on September 2, 2012 at 4:10 PM

Perhaps the chair was a metaphor for a throne since Obama views himslef as Emporer.

DaveDief on September 2, 2012 at 3:30 PM

And it took the High Plains Drifter to do what logis pointed out, “no child could”. Extrapolate on the emperor’s obvious lack of wardrobe.
Man’s gotta know his limitations.

onomo on September 2, 2012 at 4:23 PM

rokemronnie on September 2, 2012 at 3:47 PM

Clint is living in Zero’s head…rent free.

dont taze me bro on September 2, 2012 at 4:25 PM

Second, “we don’t have to be metal [sic] masochists

He said mental masochists. So no need for the [sic].

John the Libertarian on September 2, 2012 at 4:26 PM

Eastwood broke down the fence that protects Obama from mockery. Not only did he reduce Obama to an empty chair, but he made him a pusillanimous, mean-spirited, incapacitated occupant of that chair. An invisible Spike Lee taunting Reggie Miller.

Exquisite!

MaxMBJ on September 2, 2012 at 3:27 PM

Exquisite Indeed!

monique on September 2, 2012 at 5:03 PM

The fact that people are STILL talking about this moment in history………. and the fact that the imposter in the WH actually personally responded by tweeting to this “useless old man” and his “ramblings” speaks volumes.
.
.
Clint made his point.
Heh!

avagreen on September 2, 2012 at 5:07 PM

I second the motion to read the transcript. It is obvious that Eastwood does not think Obama is a nice guy.

Jasper61 on September 2, 2012 at 5:09 PM

I don’t doubt that there are celebrities in Hollywood who have seen the “real” Obama, and KNOW that he’s not a nice guy. It’s kind of like how (or so I’ve heard) that everyone knows John Travolta is gay, but celebrities protect other celebrities. Gotta keep the fairytale facade up! I doubt if Clint would have so boldly outed Obama if he hadn’t seen it up close. He felt very strongly about it to have gone where he went with it. And it was awesome!

BettyRuth on September 2, 2012 at 5:21 PM

I second the motion to read the transcript. It is obvious that Eastwood does not think Obama is a nice guy.

Jasper61 on September 2, 2012 at 5:09 PM

The only dialogue he attributed to Invisible Obama was “Shut up!” and “Go F yourself!”

John the Libertarian on September 2, 2012 at 5:33 PM

Clint is 80 plus and he has a voice that is 80 plus. He comes on stage and delivers a strong opening. He then goes into his professional act. He then comes out of the act in a strong ending. Classic acting job.

Here is a classic Bob Newhart.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3JvGyj8pI8&feature=related

wukong on September 2, 2012 at 5:34 PM

I think…uh…uh…that…to convince…to make people think…uh…uh… how truly brilliant…next time I try to convince someone…that…uh…I’m really a genius…the way to uh go is…to sound like an uh, idiot.

Whenever someone on talk radio sounds like this I hit the button. Whatever. I hope it worked.

Buck Turgidson on September 2, 2012 at 5:52 PM

Clint Eastwood is AWESOME.

BetseyRoss on September 2, 2012 at 5:56 PM

The ability to understand “nuance” is being lost. As a culture we understand the vulgar all too well and the refined not at all.

vityas on September 2, 2012 at 6:02 PM

Yes the media got it wrong and it was brilliant, but Karl, you completely missed the irony in Clint’s crying, it was not in joy.

hawkeye on September 2, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Anyone else want to punch S.E. Cupp in the nuts* for saying she wanted to swallow a fist full of cyanide during Clint’s performance? Is she just making sure she keeps the checks from MSNBC coming? Or does she honestly mean it? And, even if she did, she had no know the quote would be picked up and used by the left relentlessly, which, to me, is pretty unforgivable.

*Disclosure: I’m a chick so I can make this comment.

kit9 on September 2, 2012 at 6:37 PM

My first thought at the time before I talked to anyone was that he this is on purpose. I think he thought bringing out “Dirty Harry” was not the theme the campaign was doing. The obvious theme of the campaign now is to give permission to people to let go of Obama. When I rewatched the speech I realize it was perhaps a brilliant approach to that. Who is going to argue with “When people don’t do a job you have to let them go”. EVERYONE can agree with that. Everyone (especially Hillary supporters..HEHE)

Conan on September 2, 2012 at 7:28 PM

PS I like Karl’s thought that if you see him promoting his new movie you are going to appreciate he is all there and you saw a performance at the convention.

Conan on September 2, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Outstanding, Karl!

KendraWilder on September 2, 2012 at 7:46 PM

Many of the Reagan Democrats would have enjoyed Clint’s speech, and they would have got it as well.

He wasn’t talking to the conservative base.

Ozwitch on September 2, 2012 at 8:31 PM

Great analysis Karl

EricPWJohnson on September 2, 2012 at 9:22 PM

I listened to Clint Eastwood’s remarks again.
Then I read the transcript.

Those weren’t an old fool’s ramblings — not even CLOSE.

Clint is one of our Generals, and he was giving his millions of fans their marching orders.

Demonized on September 2, 2012 at 10:55 PM

I think one of the reasons I was disappointed with Clint’s speech or whatever you want to call it, is that I have been listening to conservative talk radio for decades. I have read countless books and digested a considerable amount of conservative thought. Rush Limbaugh says way more of value and depth each and every day than Clint said. But because “he’s a Hollywood director” and “mega-celebrity” we fall all over ourselves because he says, “he didn’t do the job, so it’s OK to let him go”. Wow. Such insight. I’m speechless. I just think we want entertainers to like us so we’ll fall all over ourselves whenever one of them throws us a bone. Sarah Palin would have been better. Screw what the liberals think.

Buck Turgidson on September 2, 2012 at 11:10 PM

You were not Clint’s target audience, Buck. He wasn’t talking ideology or principles. He was talking to the people in the middle who want to like Obama but know in their hearts he has failed at the job.

“[p]oliticians are employees of ours… And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let ‘em go.”

There is nothing ideological about that. Even people who have no clue about our Constitution can understand that.

fadetogray on September 3, 2012 at 2:32 AM

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Comments have been closed on this post but the discussion continues here.

Allahpundit on September 3, 2012 at 2:34 PM

fadetogray on September 3, 2012 at 2:32 AM

Yeah, I understand that. I just struggle with how clueless most people are. I was a big Dem once. I even voted for Clinton the first time. Eventually, I couldn’t reconcile myself with what the left was really all about. Their arguments are so weak and emotionally based. It shouldn’t take a celebrity to make them see simple truths. But I guess maybe it does for some.

Buck Turgidson on September 3, 2012 at 12:00 PM