Everyone seems to be talking about Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican Convention, and opinion seems to be split right down the middle: either it was a stroke of genius, or a terrible embarrassment.
I myself am of both opinions, in a way. The first time I saw it, on YouTube, I had to cut away; it was too wince-inducing. Then I read a transcript. Impressive. The transcript is so good, especially considering that it was ad libbed, that I cannot believe Eastwood is really the doddering old man he pretended to be in the speech. No, he’s an actor. He was deliberately playing the part, and so well that at least half the audience thought it was real. Why?
Because old folks, like fools and children, have a special license to tell the truth. The problem is that because Obama is black, one cannot criticize him without immediately being accused of racism. Hence the entire Republican Convention had to be rather muted, lacking in oratorical “red meat.” Notably, Obama is never the butt of jokes among late-night comics. One does not dare.
For the same reason, many people may feel obliged to vote for him or at least say they are going to vote for him, or be accused of being a racist.
Eastwood got around that by pretending to be a senile old man, complete with disheveled hair. Can’t blame him for what he says, then, can you? But he took that issue on head-on, and he said it at the climax of his speech, showing this was all deliberate:
when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.
… we do not have to be … 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, I don’t know.
There you are. The emperor has no clothes. He gave folks permission to joke about Obama, and he gave folks permission to vote against him.
Sure, he made half the audience think he was a doddering old fool. Does that matter to him personally? Perhaps, perhaps not. As an actor, as an artist, it might well have been worth it to him as a choice role; he really is pretty old and probably past caring what people think of him; it is unlikely to hurt his box office, on the standard premise that no publicity is bad publicity in his business.
And that does not matter in the least to the political effectiveness of his message. It helps. Now everyone who is told Eastwood made a fool of himself is going to have to watch the speech for themselves, and discuss it. Damned effective for getting the message out.
The first iteration of the speech I find on YouTube already has over a half a million hits, and likes are outpolling dislikes 2 to 1. Looks like most folks got the joke.
OK, we knew Eastwood was not only a pretty decent actor, but also a pretty decent director.
I’d say he’s carved himself a place in political history with this one.