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What Clint Should Have Said

The problem with being partisan is that it forces you to be wrong some of the time. There is no need to be political to understand the truth of this. People make mistakes. Organizations make mistakes. Sports teams make mistakes. The uncritical supporter must sometimes blind themselves to moments when criticism is warranted. The partisan resorts to blaming anyone – the referee, the cheats on the other team, the weather, the foreigners, the media – rather than admit a screw up by the side that he or she identifies with. Clint Eastwood must know this. You do not develop such an assured touch as a film actor or director without being tough and clear-headed about what works and what fails. No actor will nail every take of every scene. The director has to know when to coach the actor, when to give more instruction, and most importantly when to demand another take, and another, and another, until the results are right.

Clint must also know that the strongest individuals never completely identify themselves with anyone but themselves. He plays complicated characters. He is a complicated character. Dirty Harry broke the rules to enforce the law, but he also stood up against vigilante cops. The stranger in High Plains Drifter is a cold-blooded rapist and murderer, who trains a town to defend itself whilst renaming it ‘Hell’. When the town is overrun by mining company gunslingers, he returns to free them. Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino is a racist veteran of the Korean War, who discovers he has more in common with the ‘gooks’ next door than he does with his own family. Having threatened violence to defend his property, he later gives his life to end the persecution of his neighbours by gangsters from their own race. And in Unforgiven, William Munny is an aging former killer, who returns to slay a fascistic sheriff on behalf of a prostitute. These characters populate worlds that seem to include an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, but Eastwood rips diagonals through the straight lines on either side.

Eastwood, the man, also defies simple analysis about whose side he is on. He endorsed Nixon but later criticized Nixon’s morality and the morality of the Vietnam War. He also disapproved of the wars in Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq, which makes him rather less keen on military adventures than most mainstream Republicans. At times he has described himself as moderate and libertarian, whilst refusing to call himself a conservative. He is socially liberal, being in favour of gay marriage and pro-choice on abortion, and he has backed Democrat candidates in some elections. As a mayor, Eastwood professed himself to be an independent. And Eastwood’s private life has been complicated too. He has had seven children by five wives. Many stories of Eastwood’s affairs and break-ups reveal he is far from the perfect gentleman, and he will never be an icon for family values. That said, Eastwood is a fairly reliable supporter of free market economics, and this made him an excellent choice to speak at this year’s Republican National Convention. Or he would have been an excellent choice, if he stuck to the script. In fact, it would have been a good idea to have written a script in the first place. Rehearsal would also have helped. Clint Eastwood is a great movie hero. His performance at the RNC, which was described as ‘ad libbed’, showed him to be mediocre at improvisational comedy. That was a waste of his natural talents. During the halftime at the Superbowl, Clint showed how effective he can be, when somebody gives him decent lines to read…

That ad received a lot of criticism from Republicans. They thought it endorsed the bail-out of the US auto manufacturing industry that was approved by the Democrats. I think they were wrong. It was a skillfully crafted ad, designed primarily to encourage Americans to buy cars from American-owned manufacturers. Ironically, some of the people who were wrong to criticize Eastwood’s Superbowl ad, were also wrong to praise Eastwood’s performance at the RNC, where he warmed up the audience during a primetime slot before Mitt Romney’s closing speech. Putting the partisan aside, Eastwood’s RNC performance was a stinker. If Clint had been employed to direct the event, I have no doubt that his rambling, shambling, stumbling and fumbling monologue to an empty chair would never have escaped the cutting room floor. It had a few good lines. The fans latched on to them. In particular, there was a great line about Joe Biden: “the intellect of the Democratic party … a grin with a body behind it.” But here is a verbatim excerpt, most of which will have been instantly wiped from the minds of Republican partisans, whilst living on in the minds of Democrats.

“…now we’re moving onward. And I know in the, err err, and I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay, but you thought the war in Afghanistan was a, was a, okay. I mean you thought that was something worth doing. We didn’t check with the Russians to see how they did there for the ten years, but it a, we did it, and a, it was um, it it you know, it’s a, it’s something to, to be thought about, and I think that err, that when we get to err, err, maybe err, I think that you mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home, and you’ve given that tar-err that target err date and err, and I think err Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question. He says why are you giving the date out know, why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning. And err, I thought, I thought ‘yeah’, there’s a, I’m not going to shut up, it’s my turn. So anyway, we got, we’re gonna have err, we gonna have to have a little chat about that. And then err, I-I-I just wondered, these, all these promises, and then I, I wondered about err, err you know when a, the a, what? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that. He can’t do that to himself.”

And if you do not believe me, then I suggest you watch it again:

For me, this was a wasted opportunity. If you want someone to do a Bob Newhart routine, then book Bob Newhart. If I was running the Democratic Party, I would now go out and book Bob Newhart for their convention, putting invisible Romney in the chair, and asking him detailed questions about his policies, his tax returns, where he would make spending cuts, his plans to increase employment, and so forth. Two can play at that game, and this may not be a game that suits either candidate. And if you want to make fun of Obama, you have to rubbish what he is, not what he is not. Obama is an effective and persuasive communicator. Obama would not use profanity, as Clint implied for a cheap laugh. And Obama would not interrupt Clint, telling him to shut up. There is no reason for Obama to interject, if Clint’s best pitch for the Republican candidate is: “err, and I, umm err, and a, and I-I-I err err those wars, those wars in err err Afghanistan err and a, the war in Iraq err, we a, we err shouldn’t err be in those wars.” Why would Obama want to interrupt that?! The few moments of coherence that emerge from the shambolic drivel only reveal that Clint’s views on foreign policy are closer to Obama’s than to Romney’s.

If I had the chance to utilize Clint Eastwood’s gifts, I would have utilized his strengths. I would have given him a script, and made him rehearse it. He would either do the job, or not be allowed on stage. In my script, he would play the role of the hero, an individual who can raise himself from the fray, and a man who leads the way for others to follow. I would have had him return to the theme of America’s turnaround, in more than one sense of the word. And I would have had him focus on the economy and how this is halftime in America…

Thank you, thank you very much. I think some of you know who I am already. I’m no politician. I’m that annoying guy who came on TV during the Superbowl, and talked about halftime in America. Now you’re thinking I’m just some movie industry guy, and how they always seem to be fans of Obama. Let me tell you, there’s a whole range of quiet spoken decent folks – moderates, conservatives, independents – in the film industry just like every other American industry, just like all over America. It’s just that most of the time we’re more reticent about preaching our opinions. But maybe now’s not the time to stay quiet. With the current state of America’s economy, now is a time to speak up and take action, whilst we still can do something to reverse course.

I still think of myself as an ordinary man. I should do, I’m 82 years old and still working hard. That’s the way so many of us like to be – we want to work. We work for ourselves, for our families, and we like to help our neighbors and our communities to prosper. I admire that. Sometimes a quiet generosity of spirit speaks so much louder than getting up in front of an audience and making a speech with many fine words. For me, actions always speak louder than words. In recent years, we’ve heard a lot of fine words from politicians. But we’d all like to see a lot more positive action. So please forgive the fact that I asked to come here tonight in order to deliver this speech of mine.

I’ll be honest with you. I liked Obama. I didn’t vote for him, but I liked a lot of what he said. In America, we believe in giving people their chance. But we, Americans, own this country. We built it. Politicians are our employees. And when they can’t get the job done, we fire them; that’s why we love democracy so much. And we believe that’s a good thing in general – to give the job to the best man. Right now, it’s clear who the best man is. It’s halftime in America, and we need Mitt Romney to step up from the bench.

I just wanted to tell you that it’s not just people in the room tonight who feel that we need to turn America around. You don’t have to be affiliated to any political party to be desperate to see our country make a comeback. We’ve come back before, and we believe we can do it again. We’ve got the talent, we’ve got the spirit, but many of us are low on confidence. You see, many feel that it really is halftime in America, and we’re down. Our economy took a terrible beating, we know that’s true. We’ve been fighting back, struggling to get back into the game, but it hasn’t been easy, and it’s taking too long. We’re running low on hope, and it’s time to make a change for the better. We’ve got 23 million people out of work. That’s a lot of hands, hearts and minds that should be building America’s future. Currently, they’re stuck on the bench, waiting for their chance to get back into the game. But the way we’ve been playing the game just hasn’t been working. We feel like we’re falling behind. We’ve stopped taking the game to our opponents, and that’s because we’ve adopted a system that doesn’t get the best out of our people. Instead of releasing our talent, we’re shackling it. And we’re not just shackling today’s America.

Who built America? Americans used to rely on their own grit and determination to get the job done. We’re a nation of freedom-loving individuals, each playing their own part for team USA. But increasingly, we’re taking the burden and placing it on people who have no say in the matter. That doesn’t seem fair, and that’s not the right way to pursue our freedom. I’m talking about burdening our children, and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren. It’s right that we should support our children and want them to have a better life – trust me, I know a little about that. We don’t want the situation reversed; we don’t want our kids to be paying for the lives we lived. They’ll be the ones expected to pay the interest on the massive debts that the American government is racking up in our name. Well, not in my name. And not in the name of millions of other Americans who believe in working hard, paying their dues, and carrying their own weight in this life. It’s the children and the unborn who don’t get a vote, who don’t get a say – they’ll be the ones to most feel the consequences of the decisions we’re making now. I don’t worry about debt for myself – I’ve done alright in life, and I’m already past my personal halftime. But I do think about the debt we’re leaving behind for others. It’ll take away their freedom as surely as if we’d locked them in a jail that we built for them. That’s what the American government is building now – four solid walls that surround us with debt, and every day the walls get higher. That’s the vision of America that our children are being born into.

It’s not too late to make a comeback, but if we wait too long, it might be. Right now, it’s halftime in America, and with a better gameplan, we can get out there and win, like we’ve done before. We’ve got to get every hard-working, talented and able American into the game. That starts by shoving government out of their way. And that means electing a man who knows that government best solves problems by making room for the invention, the creativity, the courage and the labor of our people, whatever job they’re in, whatever kind of business they’re running. That’s how I’d like to see us pull together, and that’s how to get team USA back on top of its game. You know it, I know it, and the vast majority of Americans know it. Now I’m sure you’ve heard enough of my halftime talk. Now we’ve got to get out there and win. Go ahead – make my day, Governor Romney.

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