When the news broke that Republicans would use Clint Eastwood as a “mystery speaker” at the Republican National Convention, most observers shrugged. It wasn’t viewed as a terrible move, but neither was it seen as a game-changer. No doubt, the actor-director would say some bland things supporting Romney, and maybe plug his new movie. The morning shows would use the video of Eastwood speaking as a background visual, and soon enough, people would forget it.
After Eastwood’s speech, nobody was shrugging.
Eastwood gave a rambling, off-color and at times angry address, at one point arguing with an imaginary President Barack Obama in an empty chair placed on stage. Eastwood went over time, off-script, and overshadowed Mitt Romney on a night that was supposed to re-introduce the GOP presidential candidate to the nation.
“So I — so I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here. And he’s — I was going to ask him a couple of questions,” Eastwood said. “remember three and a half years ago, when Mr. Obama won the election. And though I was not a big supporter, I was watching that night when he was having that thing and they were talking about hope and change and they were talking about, yes we can, and it was dark outdoors, and it was nice, and people were lighting candles. They were saying, I just thought, this was great. Everybody is crying, Oprah was crying.”
Eastwood continued, “I was even crying. And then finally — and I haven’t cried that hard since I found out that there is 23 million
unemployed people in this country.”
Eastwood’s unemployment figure was over by 10 million, but this was not a speech that called for fact-checking; this was a speech that called for cringing, which even Republican Gov. Scott Walker admitted to doing.
Eastwood ad-libbed most of his address. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told CNN that Eastwood had been given a script, but decided not to follow it.
Instead, Eastwood began arguing with an invisible, inaudible Obama.
“So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?” Eastwood asked. “I mean, what do you say to people? Do you just — you know – I know — people were wondering — you don’t — handle that OK. Well, I know even people in your own party were very disappointed when you didn’t close Gitmo. And I thought, well closing Gitmo — why close that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an excuse – what do you mean shut up?”
Eastwood did not take invisible Obama’s advice, however, and continued rambling, at one point saying, “I wondered about when the — what do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that. I can’t tell him to do that to himself. You’re crazy, you’re absolutely crazy. You’re getting as bad as Biden.”
Eastwood’s speech wandered badly off the policy reservation, when Eastwood seemed to suggest that it would be better to bring American troops home from Afghanistan now than wait for a draw-down, as Obama has proposed. Romney has opposed any timeline for bringing troops home.
Eastwood also said that he “never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president, anyway,” and that, “it is maybe time — what do you think — for maybe a businessman. How about that?”
Romney has a degree from Harvard Law School, and Eastwood probably didn’t mean to reference our last businessman-president, George W. Bush.
Eastwood wasn’t just rambling. He was also threatening. At one point, he said, “When somebody doesn’t do the job, you gotta let ‘em go,” and then made a throat-slashing gesture. He also said angrily, “I would just like to say something, ladies and gentlemen. Something that I think is very important. It is that, you, we – we own this country.”
Delivered to the invisible, inaudible Obama, the line had more than a hint of racism, an insistence that somehow, Obama had taken the country from its rightful owners.
Eastwood finished with a call-and-response, “Go ahead, make my day!”
Mockery, Condemnation, Befuddlement
Reaction to the speech was swift and overwhelming. On MSNBC, a nonplussed Rachel Maddow called the address “the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen at a political convention in my entire life, and it will be the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen if I live to be 100.”
Film critic Roger Ebert called the speech “sad,” tweeting that Eastwood “didn’t need to do this to himself. It’s unworthy of him.”
The American Prospect’s Jamelle Bouie tweeted, “This is a perfect representation of the campaign: an old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama.”
The criticism was not limited to the political left. CNN commentator Erick Erickson said Eastwood was “very entertaining, but holy hell it is weird.”
Steve Schmidt, who managed the presidential campaign of John McCain, said that coverage of Romney’s speech would “be cut into tomorrow in the coverage because of the sloppy Clint Eastwood decision.”
The Romney campaign tried to put the best face on the speech, saying it “can’t be measured through a typical political lens.” The Obama campaign declined comment, though they did get in a dig. Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said by email that they were “referring all questions on this to Salvador Dalí,” the late surrealist painter.
Perhaps the most amusing reaction came from the newly-minted Twitter feed of InvisibleObama, who wondered, “When Mitt Romney says ‘Mr. Chairman,’ do you think he’s referring to me?”
The reviews weren’t all bad. Fox News wondered if Eastwood’s appearance showed that Hollywood was becoming more accepting of conservatives. And Breitbart Editor-at-Large John Nolte decided to ignore reality, and praise Eastwood.
“Eastwood was F***ING AWESOME !!!” Nolte tweeted. “Finally someone has the sand to mock Obama. That. Sh*t. Ruled. 82 and edgier than Chris Rock.”
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