You can add “Eastwooding” an empty chair as a new phrase in the political lexicon, but did Clint Eastwood make Mitt Romney’s day? The GOP’s? Obama’s? (Uh, sorry, I can’t do that to myself.)
This was intended to be a wrap-up of the four-day distraction to Hurricane Isaac known as the Republican National Convention 2012.
Instead, this election has, at least for now, officially turned into a referendum on Clint Eastwood’s communication skills.
Imagine an entire audience of mostly white conservatives, thinking in their heads that an invisible President Obama in an empty chair just told actor Clint Eastwood to go “eff” himself.
A real hoot, right?
I admit to being appalled at first. I mean, even though it is the RNC, for goodness sakes, it’s a national political convention. That doesn’t mean it should have zero standards of decorum. But then, as Eastwood had us eating out of the palm of his hand, I thought his segment was downright revolutionary.
Eastwood, the actor, director, and the former mayor of Carmel, California, exposed pro politics by giving the most memorable speech of the entire convention.
If you missed it, you missed an historic moment in American democracy when an actor showed up the elected gasbags. On a night when we expected to see the humanizing of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, instead we got the political spectacle of the year, where an empty chair upstaged an empty suit.
If you indeed missed it, then you were probably watching some other boring spectacle like a pre-season NFL football game. And that was the problem: political conventions have become so passé. For a party that’s so anti-big government, the GOP sure spent millions on a big party that got play mostly online and on cable. Gavel-to-gavel? A thing of the past. When your A-Team is Romney/Ryan, your convention isn’t exactly must-see TV.
Eastwood changed things. You will hear that he was demeaning to the process, insulting and profane to the president. Yes, he was all that. But no one will doubt Eastwood was the most impactful.
Talking to an empty chair was such a radical departure (though not if you saw the movie, Harvey). Eastwood talked plainly and simply, not like an ideologue. He sounded like the average American, turned off by politics. In his low-key approach, Eastwood acknowledged Obama was a nice guy. But nice isn’t enough. “When someone does not do the job, we have to let him go,” said Eastwood, to massive applause.
Plain as hell, but Eastwood was the first person at the convention to attack an area where Obama has no real rebuttal. It’s that soft spot where politics is all visceral. Analysts always make the mistake of thinking that voters care about policy, logic, and fact-checking. But for the undecided in this close race, something stark and emotional often has more resonance. This election could easily boil down to this: If the president hasn’t found a way to hope and change, shouldn’t we let someone else have a chance? (That ironically says something about Romney’s hopes. The less he talks about himself, the better.)
Eastwood was hitting all sorts of raw nerves. “We own this country,” and “Politicians are employees of ours,” got a huge response from the crowd.
The thing I didn’t like about Eastwood’s message was the notion that Romney is better qualified than Obama to be president just because he was a successful businessman. That doesn’t exactly make the case for Romney.
We’ve been down the “govern like a business” path and it just doesn’t work. Democracy is not capitalism. Its goal isn’t to make a profit, but to serve its people. That’s what bean counters don’t understand. It’s a government for the people, not the bottom line. Business people should stay in business. They lack the temperament to be true public servants.
But that’s not what people turned off to politics and big government will seize on. They’ll like the imaginary swearing from Obama, and the entitled rage. Romney folks will distance themselves from Eastwood the day after. But I believe Eastwood connected with people outside the hall like no other RNC speaker of the week.
RESTORING AMERICA AND ASIAN-SPOTTING
While it’s too bad Eastwood dwarfed Romney’s humanization ceremony, what Romney did wasn’t going to close any deals. Neither charismatic nor memorable, Romney’s address was serviceable. Ever conscious of the gender gap, he followed running mate Paul Ryan’s ploy and talked about his mom. The story of the rose his father gave his mother every day was touching. (Though it reminded me of the reality show, “The Bachelorette.”)
The pandering to women was obvious, but the focus on women may have created another gap among the people he rarely talked about–people of color, already the majority in states like California. Too bad most networks cutaway when a black woman from Massachusetts, one of Romney’s department heads, spoke glowingly about Romney early Thursday night. We needed to see more of that, not some yapping commentators. That kind of editing made Asian-spotting the “convention that did not look like America” a bit difficult. But for the most part, during the times I was watching, on any pan across the room, I hardly ever saw any Asian American, let alone a person of color. I was lamenting the lack of Asian American cutaways, when I spotted one, an Asian American woman, shown while Condi Rice spoke about compassionate immigration policy. (Condi, an old internet startup colleague of mine, gave a good speech. But really, are school children trapped in neighborhood schools the civil rights issue of our day? If they’re illegal immigrant gay people who want to get married, I’d agree with her).
I spotted another Asian American in the crowd, a cameraman, when Romney made his way to the podium. Before the convention, I set the over and under at 10 on the number of spottings or mentions of Asian Americans. I actually think it was under. There was a South Asian small businessman from Wisconsin who was interviewed on Tuesday on the internet feed, but who likely was edited out by the major networks. He was a patriotic, flag-waving, Reagan-loving capitalist. A latter day Yakov Smirnoff. What a country?
As far as people of color were concerned, it was a convention of model minorities, but without many Asian Americans. Sec’y Rice, Sen. Marco Rubio, New Mexico’s Gov. Martinez were essentially just hood ornaments for this GOP. With Gov. Bobby Jindal tending to Isaac, Gov. Nikki Haley was the most prominent Asian American speaker. But she spoke more like a true Southerner than a South Asian, extolling the virtues of discriminatory voter ID practices and harsh immigration laws.
Here’s what surprised me most. Usually there’s at least one speaker who uses the litany that mentions “black, Latino, Asian American” in context of the diversity of the American people. But the rhetoric here was devoid of any of that in almost every speech at the convention. Indeed, it was anti-diversity. Even Romney’s speech would rather have a generic America, where race was whited out.
When he spoke of an America he wanted to “restore,” he said:
“And does the America that we want succumb to resentment and division among Americans?
“The America we all know has been a story of many becoming one. United to preserve liberty, uniting to build the greatesteconomy in the world, uniting to save the world from unspeakable darkness.
“Everywhere I go there are monuments and now for those who have given their lives for America. There is no mention of their race, their party affiliation, or what they did for a living.”
That’s as close as we get to showing up on the radar at a GOP convention.
The America Mitt Romney wants restored is really a step backwards in time, maybe to pre-1965, before immigration, before civil rights. Factory defaults, please.
That’s not the America we’re in. But that appears to be the kind of country Romney feels comfortable being a leader of.
Maybe that’s because of the kind of people who are Republicans these days. When Romney talked about restoring an America to one that “will care for the poor and sick, will honor and respect the elderly and will give a helping hand to those in need. That America is the best within each of us.That America we want for our children,” the line fell flat.
It made me nostalgic for George Bush’s compassionate conservatives. But those people are moderate Democrats by today’s GOP standards.
When the Democrats show up in Charlotte, they’ll likely seem a whole lot more reasonable, diverse, and understanding by comparison.
After this GOP convention, the message is clear. You’re as invisible as Obama was in Eastwood’s chair. That was you.
If you’re black, Latino, or Asian, you don’t show up in their convention. They didn’t see you. But maybe they heard us swearing at them.
The conclusion: Romney seems to have pretty much conceded the diversity vote. He didn’t really have to if he believed in a new America.