By the vote of the twitter universe, the most memorable moment of the first Presidential debate was Governor Romney’s Big Bird comment. The same group and almost everyone declared the most memorable moment of the Republican convention as Clint Eastwood’s appearance.
We’re not certain what the full impact of Big Bird will be – although it’s generated some great tweets and you tubes. We have had sufficient time and distance from the event, however, to reflect on Mr. Eastwood’s stage time in Tampa.
And, we have concluded that Mr. Eastwood did not make our day with his rambling diatribe at the convention. It’s not because he tried to diminish the President but because he diminished himself in the trying.
His off the wall, over the top, below the belt comments reduced his stature and will forever haunt him. Eastwood will still have considerable standing as a legendary Hollywood director and actor and more importantly as an American icon. But, whenever his career and accomplishments are reported there will now also be an asterisk and a recounting of his Republican convention “talk”. Goodbye Dirty Harry! Hello Crazy Clint!
The reaction from critics and pundits immediately after Eastwood spoke varied greatly with comments including “brilliant,” “bizarre,” and “bumbling”. The problem with most of the assessments that we saw is that they tended to evaluate Eastwood’s presentation as if it was a screen or stage performance. Little attention was actually devoted to the content or context of his remarks.
We have to admit that at first we were mystified by the true meaning or significance of Eastwood’s time at the podium at the convention. Upon reflection, though, it came to us what Mr. Eastwood did said much, much more about him than it did about President Obama or Republicans.
What we witnessed along with 20 million+ other TV viewers was a totally revelatory moment of the “inner” Clint Eastwood. It is one of those rare instances when you see a major star not in a role but as himself unscripted and unrehearsed.
There are a variety of perspectives and interpretations that can be applied to that Eastwood Moment. The three that came top of mind for us were: A Senior Moment; A Spontaneous Moment; and A Sullen Moment.
A Senior Moment
We thought we might be the only ones who contemplated that Clint might have succumbed to a senior moment and that was what accounted for his inability to maintain a simple and coherent conversation – even with himself and an empty chair. Then we stumbled upon a column by Marilyn Preston, fitness expert, in which she wrote, “Care for the elderly can be so challenging. You want to be kind, you want to make them feel comfortable, you might even want to give them five minutes of prime time at the Republican convention to say nice things about Mitt Romney -and then Great-Grandpa Harry pulls down his pants on the bus, and everything goes to hell.”
Well, Clint didn’t pull down his pants but he did expose himself. And the Republican and general public’s reaction to that was exactly as it should have been says Ms. Preston quoting Walter St. John from a new book Solace, “Let the person speak. .. The best course of action is to listen as objectively as possible, with an open mind and an encouraging attitude.”
The rebukes, in general, after Mr. Eastwood’s comments were gentle and kind. Even so, according to The Carmel Pine Cone (Pine Cone), Clint’s local paper in Carmel, California, there was an outpouring of support and positive reinforcement from many members of the blogger and twitter universe in response to the negative comments. That’s proof that if this was indeed a senior moment for Mr. Eastwood, then we’ve all become a nation of caregivers – even if the person receiving the care could care less.
A Spontaneous Moment
Clint Eastwood didn’t speak for the record about his convention appearance for five days. Then, he broke his silence in a lengthy interview with the Pine Cone. The paper reported that Eastwood “said he had conveyed the message he wanted to convey and that the spontaneous nature of his presentation was intentional, too.” The Pine Cone also reported that Eastwood hasn’t given a lot of speeches and quoting him as stating “I really don’t know how to.” And, that’s why he decided to speak extemporaneously.
We believe that this was a spontaneous moment – or more correctly twelve minutes in a time slot of five. Given the results, however, it was more a case of spontaneous combustion than of high quality improvisation or of a persuasive presentation. The empty chair was one thing. The empty suit talking to the chair was altogether another. We have to admit we thought the chair had the better lines.
Nonetheless, Mr. Eastwood should be commended for appearing in person and being willing to work without a net in a medium with which he is unfamiliar. That took guts. The outcome unfortunately was inevitable. No script. No teleprompter. No glory.
A Sullen Moment
This brings us to the final possible interpretation of the moment and that is this was just an angry movie actor saying mean spirited things in a condescending way that would appeal to the Republican conservative base. As Eastwood made his entrance onto the stage in the convention hall, the theme music from the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly was played. During his twelve minutes, we don’t know if we saw any of the Good but we know that we definitely saw a lot of the Bad and the Ugly.
Eastwood criticized President Obama for a variety of things including not revitalizing the economy as he had promised, the “stupid idea” of thinking he could close the detention center in Guatanamo Bay, and considering trying terrorists in New York City. He made “joking comments” about Vice President Biden’s intelligence and the President in the empty chair telling Eastwood and Romney to do things that were “physically impossible” to themselves.
All of this should be and is fair game. But, when the barbs and the jokes fall flat or worse are tasteless, the joke is on the joker and the last laugh belongs to the intended victim rather than the perpetrator.
A senior moment? A spontaneous moment? A sullen moment? Probably a little bit of all three – but, most definitely a sad moment. A sad moment for Clint Eastwood fans like us.
In his interview with the Pine Cone, commented, “I may have irritated a lot of lefties but I was aiming for people in the middle.” Clint may have been aiming at the middle but he did not hit a bulls-eye. He should not confuse tons of twitters and chatter in the conservative blogosphere as having reached a broad-based and independently minded audience. This movie was not ready for prime time and was not a box office smash in theatres across the country.
On the other hand, in January of this year, on Super Bowl Sunday, Mr. Eastwood did send a message targeted to the middle that resonated with most of the nation in his Super Bowl “Half Time in America” ad for Chrysler. In that ad, Eastwood celebrated the American spirit and Americans. He decried a “fog of division, discord and blame”. Then he asserted, “But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one.”
That’s the Clint Eastwood moment we prefer to remember. It’s Clint Eastwood the uniter and not the divider. It’s Clint Eastwood speaking to the heart and soul of America and not to an empty chair. As we think about that moment, Mr. Eastwood’s star begins to shine a little brighter again. Now, that makes our day!