Talking to an Empty Chair


I keep hearing some people say that Clint Eastwood’s hilarious skit at the National Republican Convention was in poor taste. I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s famous quip that "good taste is the last refuge of the witless."

Indeed, I found it comical watching media insiders, even conservative ones, agonizing over Clint Eastwood's "disrespect" to President Obama as he mimed him telling Mitt Romney to perform an anatomically impossible act.

This is disrespect? To the president who by proxy or surrogate has accused Mitt Romney of schoolyard bullying, murder, lying, felony, dog-whistle racism, and income tax evasion, and who ran a video that showed Paul Ryan pitching granny into a ravine? When did we get so finicky and reverential about the president, particularly this president, who was tutored in the political graces in the corrupt down-and-dirty precincts of Chicago?

The insider campaign wonks who are expert in the art of manipulation claimed that Clint interrupted the touching emotional sweep of the painstakingly choreographed narrative leading up to Mitt Romney's acceptance speech. Mika Brzezinsky, co-anchor of "Morning Joe," said that Clint's shtick was "absolutely disgusting." And even Ann Romney claimed she "didn't know it was coming."

Such sensitive souls!

Governor Scott Walker said that Eastwood's speech made him “cringe,” and Roger Ebert added that he found Eastwood’s performance “sad.” But as the cameras scanned the convention floor I didn’t see anyone cringing or sad. What I saw was the uproarious laughter of an audience previously about to die from an assault of cloying sentimentality. The majority rose to their feet in cheering approbation, and many were laughing so hard they seemed on the verge of crying, if not rolling in the aisles. I have a hunch that many of these embarrassed and shocked TV newsmen were secretly laughing up their collective sleeves as well, and will wake up in the middle of the night and burst out with geysers of uncontrollable laughter.

There was a subtext to Eastwood’s funny, roguish skit: it covered some pretty deplorable behavior of President Obama and his dysfunctional administration; it was, in fact, a serious bill of indictment. But what Clint Eastwood really brought to the proceeding was some much-needed irreverence in a too carefully scripted presentation. It's called comic relief.

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Jon Harrison

It's not that there was something "wrong" or "disrespectful" about Eastwood's performance -- in politics almost anything short of outright slander is considered acceptable. The problem was that Eastwood looked like a doddering old fool out there. He might've carried the thing off thirty years ago, but at the convention he looked like that old uncle suffering from senile dementia, who makes speeches on streetcorners in his pajamas at 3 a.m.

That the convention delegates loved the performance says nothing about its effectiveness or good taste. After all, these were delegates to a Republican convention. By definition they suffer from babbitry (among other ills) in one form or another.


Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. I agree that Eastwood's hilarious performance was badly needed comic relief. Old he may be, but he was right on target!

William Fankboner

I think you missed the point. The hesitancy, vagueness, wandering off topic, etc. were all a part of the skit. I can't describe this better than a fellow by the name of Basman: "I didn't mind one second of Eastwood. I was hooked and felt tingles and thrills going up my leg even as Clint and I waited and wondered what he was going to say next and then next after that. All the sanctimonious tut tutting about his naughty, wildly wonderful, totally unorthodox political incorrectness misses that in his utterly human but authoritative way, his authority deriving from his iconicism, he channeled what many Americans feel about Obama but did that without, I'd argue, going over some invisible line, however daringly he edged up to it. He was a refreshing contrast to the necessary piety of these events which finally starts to weigh them down. His presentation, talking to the empty suit in the empty chair, as the metaphoric argument of his presentation has it, lit up the room and, I dare say, lit up those watching, sympathetic to that argument."

"Sad," "disastrous": I think not. " spectacular," "memorable": more like it.

Jon Harrison

Why "Sad" and "disastrous" in quotes? I used neither word. I didn't miss any point; we just disagree. If you believe Clint's performance was spectacular, that simply indicates that you and I think very differently. I could perhaps agree it was memorable, but not in the sense you mean it.

I feel tingles and thrills when a beautiful woman looks meaningfully at me. I don't feel anything of the sort when I watch the goings-on at a political convention -- and that includes an old, old man addressing an empty chair. I do find somewhat humorous the fact that persons professing libertarian views become aroused by Republican Party festivities. What's next? An essay extolling the intellect and character of Glen Beck?

William Fankboner

Smart aleck quibbles.

Those quotes, and in fact the entire comment, are from a blogger named Basman. One of the things that troubled Eastwood was the fact that 22 million people were out of work. Another was Obama's dismal failure to honor any of his campaign promises, especially his professed belief in a post-partisan administration. And finally, there was suggestion that Obama, despite his charm and soaring rhetoric, wasn't such a nice guy. These are not Libertarian concerns?

Jon Harrison

Sorry, never heard of Basman.

Is Obama not nice? Who cares? Now we have touchy-feely libertarian concerns? Why would his failure to honor "any" (or some) of his campaign promises bother libertarians, since his agenda is a Democratic one? Surely, his failure to honor those promises comes as a relief to most libertarians.

I would agree that unemployment is a libertarian concern, unless one takes an extreme Objectivist position. But why should libertarians raise this issue in a Republican context? This is the point I'm trying to make: some libertarians basically espouse the Republican Party line, forgetting the broken campaign promises, budget-busting economic and social policies, and war-mongering of the last Republican administration. The problem boils down to the fact that all too many libertarians (and on this site in particular) are older white men who basically hold a Fox News world view. This does not advance the cause, and indeed appears even more ludicrous in the context of a rapidly imploding Romney candidacy. Old white males worshipping an even older white male who talks to empty chairs are the flip side of the younger white males blogging away in Mommy's basement -- together they form a corps d'irrelevant for the politics of the future.

William Fankboner

Sorry we 'old white men' don't pass your Libertarian Purity Test. Is there a secret handshake?

As a relative newcomer to the arena, I find your wholesale dismissal of conservative values and your literalism especially unproductive. It's a little reminiscent of the nineteenth century Anarchist movement.

It doesn't matter that Obama is devious propagandist? It doesn't matter that he broke his promise to cut the national debt in half and actually increased it by several trillion? It doesn't matter that he pushed through a health care bill that will cost trillions more?

Mitt Romney may not be a perfect candidate, but to declare everyone who supports him a victim of right wing extremism is an absurd canard. Such pompous and exclusionary partisanship contributes nothing to the discussion. If your vapid purism represents the 'politics of the future,' then the future looks very bleak indeed.

Jon Harrison

I still subscribe to many conservative values. But George W. Bush and Mitt Romney aren't conservatives. They are so unlike Bill Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and even Ronald Reagan. Bush was arguably our most liberal president ever, rivaled only by FDR, LBJ, and BO. Romney is a guy who wants the presidency because "it's there", and not because he has any core conservative values. He lacks character, and will do or say anything to advance his ambition.

There's no libertarian purity test as far as I'm concerned. I'd fail it if there was.

As for your calling me a pompous and exclusionary partisan, well, as Socrates put it: "You know me, Sir!"

William Fankboner

Quod erat demonstrandum.

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