The Corner

On Clint Eastwood

I was traveling in a sleep-deprived state much of the day yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to chime in here on the issue of Clint Eastwood’s speech act. I did write about it in the Goldberg File (after the bit about boob glitter and all that). Allow myself to . . .  repeat myself, to paraphrase Austin Powers:

Moreover, I think all of the people attacking Eastwood are doing Mitt Romney an enormous favor. The clips I’ve seen on the news aren’t incoherent, rambling, or even weird, as some of the talking heads are saying. By my lights they’re charming or funny. Chris Rock [See update below] said on Twitter this morning something to the effect of “Clint Eastwood on phone with Obama this morning: Everything went as planned sir.”

I like Chris Rock, but his grasp of politics is ludicrous. Eastwood’s speech is going to be water-cooler talk all day today. If people don’t like what he said, they won’t hold Eastwood’s comments against Mitt Romney. If they like what he said, that’s bad for Obama. And lots of people who haven’t focused on the election will now hear about how Clinton Eastwood — a compelling American badass — thinks it’s time for Obama to go. I understand people who want to say Eastwood’s act wasn’t good for Eastwood or all that useful for Romney. But I’m baffled by the claim that there’s an upside for Obama in what Eastwood said.

But let them attack him. If the Democrats want to berate an American icon for being too old, let them (just please do it loud enough so they can hear you in South Florida). If you want to bleat about how it was inappropriate for an actor, please ask Alec Baldwin or George Clooney to make that case.

But after noodling it and debating it with a bunch of people, let me add some further thoughts. I still enjoyed it — for most of the reasons Mark Steyn lays out — and still think it was a net positive for Romney (or at least a net negative for Obama). Also, I should say I’ve received a remarkable amount of feedback from people polling their families, friends and coworkers. Admittedly, it’s a anecdotal sort of filter, but the gist of nearly all of them is “My wife/brother/coworker/friend isn’t very political/voted for Obama and he watched it and loved it.”  I think when you watch it live with a certain set of expectations, the surprises are a lot more dramatic than when you watch it on YouTube. In other words, it gets better and funnier with time.

I do love how the press corps has been whining for for decades about how these conventions are too scripted, too planned, too inauthentic and inorganic. And the moment we have a genuine TV moment they’re all shocked and horrified. I suspect that the smug condescension wouldn’t be nearly so raw and nasty if the target had been Romney and the act had been performed in Charlotte. But I don’t think partisanship explains it all. There’s a tendency for the political press to get so cozy with the political pros that they start to think alike. Breaking out of the groupthink about how things are done can produce a sharp negative reaction (particularly when you’re watching it live and have some deeply-set expectations about what is smart or even possible). That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that the groupthink is wrong. As conservatives in particular should appreciate, sometimes “the way we’ve always done it” is actually the right way.

Which brings me to a concession to the critics. If Eastwood wanted to do something like this, this wasn’t the best way to do it. Going way long in the precious last hour of primetime was unfair to the Romney campaign. Not working out the sound issues in advance (because he kept turning his head sideways away from the mic, the audience inside the arena often couldn’t hear his clipped lines) was a mistake. There may have been a more artful way to make the same point as the blue-ish material. And so on.

It’s one thing to celebrate Eastwood for being less than slick; it’s another to say the act couldn’t use a little more professional polish. Put it this way, if Eastwood had come in with a a tight, rehearsed and slightly shorter hard-hitting routine, the criticisms would be more muted and none of the people defending and celebrating Eastwood today would be saying “You know, that was great, but it really could have been improved with more rambling and worse sound.”

I still think putting liberals and professional Democrats in the position of attacking Clint Eastwood instead of Mitt Romney is an unambiguous win. I think the controversy and buzz is useful because it’s pulling in the less politically engaged to hear sharp criticisms of Obama. Those who don’t like those criticisms will not hold them against Romney and those who find them persuasive . . . will find them persuasive and that’s a good thing for Romney. Also, the simple fact that Clint Eastwood felt comfortable riffing about how Obama’s got to go, has to help others get over that psychological barrier — which was a big theme of the whole convention — is a significant cultural breakthrough. This wasn’t a game changer, as they say, but it did put points on the board — and not for Obama.

Update: Correction: I’m told that the tweet I saw from Chris Rock was from a parody account. I regret the error and welcome the news. It doesn’t change my basic point at all, given how the sentiment expressed in the tweet is pretty widespread. It just means Chris Rock didn’t express it.

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