by 99 Seats
So, yeah, that happened. And yeah, we all watched it. Except for the folks who watched the US Open. And it was as bizarre, as unsettling, as disturbing as everyone said. When I watched, I was confused, certainly. And then I got the gag and it was...lame, yes. Occasionally funny-adjacent, with built-in laugh and applause lines. But mostly, I was confused. And I still am. I'll get to that in a second. It did, though, show the exact problems with the modern Republican Party and modern conservativism that I was talking about.
Most of the post-show talk has hovered, probably rightly, around Mitt, his reaction and the decision process that ended with Clint Eastwood on stage, doing improv with an empty chair for eight minutes. It does say a lot about Mitt, his speech, our politics and our media that we're all talking about the appetizer and not the main course. But that's not what I'm wondering about, nearly 24 hours later. Here's my question: Why did Clint Eastwood do this?
Let me be clear: I'm a fan of Clint Eastwood, as an actor and a writer/director. I get the complaints that people have about his recent work, but I still like him. I'm under no illusions about his politics, though and never have been. I thought I knew his politics pretty well, in a basic way: he's a moderate Republican in the classic modern mold. Pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-women's issues (relatively), environmentally conscious. And the record bears that out. He identified more as a "libertarian." Which is how most of my right-leaning friends identify and often with the same basic profile: to the left on "social" issues, big on a lack of government influence in their lives, hawkish on war. He's eschews labels and such, has endorsed Dems and Republicans, votes the person, not the party. And yet...he endorsed both McCain and Romney and, at the very least, agreed to introduce the guy who was going to introduce Mitt Romney at the RNC in a significant primetime slot. Why would he do that? I'm asking seriously. Mitt Romney is running as a pro-life, hard right on social issues, who is hawkish on war and "pro"-business. In terms of beliefs, there doesn't appear to be a lot of overlap there. What was Clint endorsing?
For the last few years, there have been near-constant conversations about the end of the moderate Republican, the person exactly like Clint Eastwood (and, frankly, like Mitt Romney of a decade ago). Giving a moderate a prime spot at the convention seems like the perfect time for a full-throated defense of moderate conservatism. Or at least to have a major American figure stand up and say, "I don't agree with Mitt on everything, but we share these values and that's important. This party can stand disagreement." That would have been an impressive thing that we'd all be talking about. Even if it wasn't about Mitt (pretty much like all of the other significant speeches), it would have been about something.
Instead, what did Clint say? A cheap joke about the "lefties" in Hollywood. An Oprah joke. A Biden joke. Jabs about Obama being a hypocrite, an attorney, his inauguration. A complaint about Obama not closing Gitmo. A complaint about trying terrorists in civilian courts, followed immediately by noting that Obama doesn't actually do that. A complaint about Obama both not bringing the troops home from Afghanistan AND about Obama setting a date for the troops to come home. He did also note that 23 million people are out of work. That was largely it. And the crowd ate it up. Seriously. I watched it and they all loved it, every second.
What does that say about what's important to the Republican Party. Not policies, reality, the problems facing the country. Jokes and jabs that get laughs and cheers. Substance-and logic-free attacks. And attacks that are mostly about things that are about how Republicans feel about things. Even if the bit had worked perfectly, cleanly and clearly, it doesn't seem like the substance would have changed.
I can hear the arguments winding up right now. "But...it's the convention! It's a big show! It doesn't mean anything!" Except...it does. Because the question still stands: why would Clint appear here? Why would he want to endorse someone who doesn't agree with a number of his beliefs? Why would he stand on a platform that calls for the outlaw of abortions, gay marriage and critical thinking? (No, really, the GOP platform speaks out against critical thinking.)
Parties are supposed to be about the things you believe, the way you want the world to be. Does Clint want to live in Mitt's world? Does Mitt want Clint to have a say in his? It doesn't seem like it.
But Mitt was glad to trot out a cardboard cut-out of a tough guy to make jokes and throw cheap shots and pretend that it's tough talk. And Clint was certainly happy to go along with it. I'm willing to bet that, for Clint, it had to do with the Super Bowl Chrysler commercial, which, in conservative circles, was seen as an endorsement of Obama. (Odd enough that we get the whiplash of Obama both being blamed for not keeping a factory open and for being blamed for saving Detroit in the first place, all by people who claim that the free market should have no interference from the government.) It doesn't strike me as impossible that Clint felt his brand was damaged by the Chrysler ad and wanted to make peace. Maybe not. Maybe he just wanted to do it.
Either way, given a national stage and audience, he opted for nastiness and cruelty, for an incoherent litany of things that largely add up to "We don't like you, President Obama." And his party loved it. Because, at the end of the day, modern Republicanism is defined by that: they don't like things. Period. They don't have solutions to problems, they don't have answers to questions. They're trading on dislike, disdain and anger. Lindsey Graham said as much. It's a party of pure id.
The other moment that should define the Republican Party was this:
That is the modern Republican Party. Doing something about global warming is a silly, silly notion that has nothing to do with helping your family. Which should come as a surprise to the good people of Louisiana. And Tampa.
Jamelle Bouie nailed the line of the night about Clint Eastwood: "This is a perfect representation of the campaign: an old white man arguing with an imaginary Barack Obama." I say take it one step further: Clint Eastwood's speech was the perfect representation of our politics. Tearing down someone who believes most of the things you believe in defense of someone who looks like you and makes you feel better about yourself. It's not a good place for us to be.