Monday, September 3, 2012

Thoughts on Clint Eastwood's Empty Chair Speech

I. Last Friday, after watching a video clip of Clint Eastwood's entire talk at the Republican National Convention, I showed it to one of my students. We agreed that it is possible Eastwood punked the RNC attendees whooping, and chanting "Make My Day!"

 Shortly afterward, I wrote this diary for firedoglake:  
Misunderestimating Clint Eastwood’s RNC Rant
By: EdwardTeller Saturday September 1, 2012 1:11 am
I pulled up a chair next to the woodstove in my shop.  With the help of a student, we conjured up Eugene Ionesco’s ghost.  I grabbed a chair and invited the ghost to sit there……
I think most pundits, newsies and bloggers have had a hard time grasping what Eastwood did for at least two reasons:  He WAS doing improv, and he was too old to put himself in Steven Colbert’s shoes.
I was working when he gave his “warmup” for “save it for Mitt.”  When I finally got around to watching his RNC speech late Friday night, I was struck by the dissonance between what occurred and how it has been looked upon.
Eastwood did not endorse Romney.
He certainly didn’t endorse Obama, but, other than criticize the president for many things the real left dislike about him, Eastwood didn’t go there, let alone throw out the red (black) meat this convention might have expected for a highly touted “mystery” warmup.
Here’s the nub:
I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK.
Yo know, I mean — you thought that was something worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how did it — they did there for 10 years.
But we did it, and it is something to be thought about, and I think that, when we get to maybe — I think you’ve mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question, you know, he says, “Why are you giving the date out now?
Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?”
And I thought — I thought, yeah — I am not going to shut up, it is my turn
So anyway, we’re going to have — we’re going to have to have a little chat about that.
Are we?
No, we are not.  The only candidate who has consistently  advocated withdrawal from Afghanistan has been Ron Paul.
Was Eastwood trying to be a contrarian?  Might he have been attempting to use the place the RNC had given him in this event – the warmup for what the insiders knew was going to be a lackluster closer – to appeal for something he couldn’t manage to articulate?
We should ask Mike Gravel what he thought of Eastwood’s speech.
As one can see from the comments on the post at firedoglake, some agreed, many disagreed with my point of view.
II.  Over the weekend,  several other blog posts appeared that took a similar point of view.   My favorite was written by Lambert Strether at Naked Capitalism.  It is titled Two Cheers for Clint Eastwood.  Strether concentrates on coverage of Eastwood's talk by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, illustrating how Maddow sort of blathered about technique and other matters, in descriptions he attributed to newsies' describing politics as if it were sport:

That makes the entire Inside Baseball discourse a giant time sink, a cancer, an exercise in “Look! Over there!” After all, when everybody’s talking about how Eastwood hosed the Romney campaign because he misused a prime time slot, nobody’s talking about Gitmo, Afghanistan, or 23 million unemployed, are they? (There are entire lists of what we’re not talking about.) 
And wasn’t that the real story? That, for one brief moment, a speaker turned human asked some questions that both candidates, and both parties, find very unpleasant?
Hey, when the Ds counter-strike and bring out Betty White for her star turn in Charlotte — kidding! — maybe she can bring up single payer? Or take a stand that not one penny should be cut from Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps, or an other social insurance program? 
As long as she gets the timing right?
Some of the comments at Strether'sblog post are interesting, and a big debate ensues on what Eastwood meant.

As one commenter noted Sunday evening at another one of the many firedoglake diaries about Eastwood's talk:
There was NOTHING in Clint’s speech to justify this idea that the empty chair was an attack on Obama being black or that Clint played to racism and resentment. 
Here are the points Clint made:
1. There are conservative actors.2. It was moving that Obama was elected3. 23 million are unemployed and Obama doesn’t seem to really care.4. Obama hasn’t kept his promises5. He didn’t close Gitmo6. It was a mistake to try and do a terrorist trial in NYC7. He is wrong extending the war in Afghanistan8. Romney is a business man9. Obama rides in a gas guzzler plane10. We own this country and we have the right to replace our leaders when they haven’t done the job.11. It doesn’t matter whether they are nice guys or not.—-Now a lot of those points are things we on the Left, who are frustrated with Obama, agree with.
Maybe Eastwood will be able to clear this up. He will be in front of the media a lot, promoting his upcoming movie.

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