An excellent article in Clint Eastwood’s local newspaper shows just how canny the octogenarian actor was in developing his speech in support of Mitt Romney at the Republican convention. I watched Clint Eastwood’s speech more than once, looking for all the flaws and noting the leftists’ criticisms that it was a speech of an old fool. Old fool like a damn wily fox. The article notes he had specific goals in mind:
For five days after he thrilled or horrified the nation by talking to an empty chair representing Obama on the night Mitt Romney accepted the Republican nomination for president, Eastwood remained silent while pundits and critics debated whether his remarks, and the rambling way he made them, had helped or hurt Romney’s chances of winning in November.
But in a wide-ranging interview with The Pine Cone Tuesday from his home in Pebble Beach, he said he had conveyed the messages he wanted to convey, and that the spontaneous nature of his presentation was intentional, too.
“I had three points I wanted to make,” Eastwood said. “That not everybody in Hollywood is on the left, that Obama has broken a lot of the promises he made when he took office, and that the people should feel free to get rid of any politician who’s not doing a good job. But I didn’t make up my mind exactly what I was going to say until I said it.”
Just so. Eastwood’s speech was a performance, not a conventional address, and was intended to draw in people turned off by well turned out speeches on politics. He was not just cogent and pointed in an amiable way; he put together a low-key evisceration of a man with so many pretensions the list is endless, the guy who used reverb in his public address systems and appeared at his Denver coronation like Julius Ceasar.
If you think Eastwood’s speech was a doddering, mumbling affair, recall that William F. Buckley had all kinds of stuttering mannerisms. I believe that these were intentional stagecraft which he used to keep people’s attention. Stuttering and stammering are not exactly a neurological problem or an illness; they are a speaking habit that serves o keep people attentive—similar to filler phrases such as “the fact of the matter is,” “in my opinion,” and “when all is said and done”—all those little crutches and mannerisms.
When one stutters or stammers or uses such filler phrases, the audience hangs in waiting, and it thus serves as an attention-getting device.
Rhetorically, Eastwood—who has spent fifty-plus years figuring out how to get people interested, sometimes with the smallest possible number of words and big ideas—hit home and scored big with his intended audience, the people in the middle, people who would respond better to some humor and irony and would enjoy a not too agitated, not too well developed attack, but would like better his amused but irritated, performance-art-style dig at the lies and the pathetic performance of the current POTUS, who still apparently needs training wheels and someone to blame and is probably still seething, since he has the usual thin skin of a narcissist.
Eastwood made fun of Obama, which beats 100 hours of pointed criticism with charts and power points.
A friend of mine said that most of the convention speakers were way too stiff and formal and not easy to feel comfortable with, and another said that this effect happens when someone gets up with a list of objectives and goals and the burden of articulating some complicated or at least not simple critiques. I think that those are accurate assessments of the speakers and the effect they had.
Most people think of speaking as a chore—and treat it as one—but the entertainer in Clint enabled him to make the best speech of the RNC. I’d bet that if you checked his heart rate you’d find it didn’t increase one bit, even though he was appearing before a huge crowd of people in a unique and unfamiliar situation.
Eastwood clearly knows himself and is comfortable with who he is. It’s also evident that someone who has made his living presenting himself to the public for several decades would know that his hair was rather unkempt when he hit the stage—and hence meant to say something with it. And if you think that Eastwood scratching his head during the speech was due to dementia, consider how sharp George Burns was at the age of 96, and how simple, unaffected, and straightforward Eastwood’s pauses for thought, unkempt hair, head-scratching, and other gestures made him seem.
No, this was no accident. As the Carmel Pine Cone article noted,
Even into his 80s, Eastwood has an unprecedented record of success in Hollywood, and is still making two movies a year. He’s currently starring in “Trouble with the Curve,” and is about to direct a remake of “A Star is Born” — things he obviously couldn’t do if he were a befuddled senior citizen. To locals who know him, the idea that he is uninformed or senile is laughable.
Although the words were improvised, Eastwood’s speech was a calculated public performance meant to contrast his tough but personable cowboy manner against Obama’s legendary aloofness and assumed sophistication. Eastwood’s apparent simplicity was clearly meant to connect with undecided voters and buttress his message that the central issue in the pending election is perfectly simple: “When somebody does not do the job, we‘ve got to let ’em go.” It’s precisely the kind of thing Harry Callahan or Josey Wales might say, and it’s quite obviously true.
Far from being an embarrassment, Eastwood may well have put Romney-Ryan over the top, making a crucial contribution to the effort to send our under-performing president on to some other form of socialist enterprise, such as taking over the garrulous Bill Clinton’s job as an itinerant, peripatetic, over-the-hill politician.