Clint Eastwood brings the Colt.
The Republican National Convention was a well-run, brilliant spectacle: beautifully staged, wonderfully timed, and with fantastic speakers. But no one decision showed that the Romney campaign gets it more than their decision to invite Clint Eastwood to speak just before Marco Rubio on the night of Mitt Romney’s nomination.
Andrew Breitbart (and David Horowitz) was fond of saying that politics lies downstream from culture. In other words, culture changes how people think and feel; politics is a reflection of that change. And Hollywood is the central component of American culture.
And Clint Eastwood represents the last gasp of classic Hollywood: old-fashioned heroes and anti-heroes who stand strong for American values of justice and freedom. Eastwood is the same Eastwood in Dirty Harry (1971) as he is in Gran Torino (2008). In the former, he won’t stand for Americans’ safety and property rights being violated by criminals, no matter what the liberal niceties require. In the latter, he stands up for private property against the forces of thuggery.
That’s the Clint Eastwood who strode onto the stage.
And then he did something no leftist Hollywood figure would do: a comedy routine. Eastwood stood up there and ad libbed a routine … with an empty chair. The chair, of course, represented President Obama in all of his indecisive glory.
“I remember three and a half years ago, when Mr. Obama won the election,” said Dirty Harry:
“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. 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.”
The left went insane over Eastwood’s routine, calling it unfunny, wandering, and bizarre. There was some of all of that – not every moment was blockbuster. But overall, it was genius. The meme took hold: Obama was an empty chair. And this week, conservatives across the country celebrated National Empty Chair Day over Labor Day, placing empty chairs on their lawns to signify an empty presidency.
That’s the power of imagery and narrative. Perhaps the two most powerful takeaway moments from the RNC were Eastwood’s empty chair routine, and Paul Ryan’s tremendously powerful line: “College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters and wondering when they can move out and get going with life.” Ryan’s line spawned an entire ad showing a college student removing his faded Obama poster after recognizing that Obama hasn’t lived up to any of his promises.
Eastwood did what he was supposed to do: he shifted the debate. Actually, he did more than that: he bravely lifted the entertainment industry taboo against knocking an incompetent president of the United States. And he took fire for it. James Lipton, who stopped asking actors about their favorite colors long enough to respond, called Eastwood’s performance “not his best … What he gave to Barack Obama was, well, not the best lines. It was a couple vulgarities.” Other celebs went further. Roger Ebert, fresh off humiliating himself in his latest review, wrote, “Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic. He didn’t need to do this to himself. It’s unworthy of him.” Jason Biggs, who was most recently tweeting about Paul Ryan’s wife’s anus (seriously), wrote, “Clint Eastwood talking to a non-responsive stool sorta sums up Christianity in a nutshell, huh Republicans? #RNC.”
But that was fine. In fact, that was the point: if Eastwood had been Betty White doing that same routine at the Democratic National Convention, the left would have feted him as a comic genius.
Nonetheless, Eastwood’s appearance highlighted the fact that President Obama is now worthy of becoming the butt of jokes. Most important, it’s clear that the Republican Party is beginning to recognize the necessity of Hollywood. If they are willing to reach out to Hollywood, to use its talents and let them help craft the conservative narrative, conservatives will reap the benefits in the same way the left has.
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