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Did Clint Eastwood “Trojan Horse” Romney’s Campaign?

Or is Michael Moore right -- he's just "a crazy old man"?

 

 

So what was it with Clint Eastwood and his talking to an empty chair, to an “Invisible Obama,” at the closing night of the RNC?  The chattering class of media pundits debated the fall-out for the Romney campaign a nanosecond after the last patriotic balloon hit the floor and hissed its final breath under the spiked heel of the female of the GOP species. 

The pundits were split about whether or not Eastwood made or unmade Romney’s day.  If the net gain is measured by what people are talking and tweeting about yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then allowing Romney to be predictably and handily upstaged by Eastwood probably wasn’t going to win the Oscar for Best Decision by A Campaign Staff. 

Then again, Romney’s GOP candidate acceptance speech had been eclipsed in advance  by the oratory of New Jersey Gov Chris Christy, Florida Senator Marc Rubio, GOP “intellectual Darling” and VP running mate Paul Ryan and arguably, Mrs. Romney herself. 

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Maybe the frisson of authentic excitement and the glitter of Hollywood was worth detracting attention from the bland, charismatically-challenged truth of this year’s GOP standard bearer.   Party faithful could depart Tampa with a laugh, a smile and a shared moment with “Dirty Harry.” It was, perhaps, the only convention floor moment that was truly memorable and truly flowed with non-obligatory enthusiasm.

I then read the critique of Eastwood’s "performance" by populist agitator, activist, and documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore.  It was a mindless, tasteless harangue about the man, his words, and his well-known style of speaking:  halting, hesitant, very much in the tradition of earlier Hollywood icon, Jimmy Stewart.

Said Moore: “Clint Eastwood was able to drive home to tens of millions of viewers the central message of this year's Republican National Convention: "We Are Delusional and Detached from Reality. Vote for Us!," followed by the inevitable Moore bombast,  “They WILL know about the night a crazy old man hijacked a national party's most important gathering so he could tell the President to literally go do something to himself (i.e. fuck himself).”  

Actually Eastwood did not say that.  He merely alluded to an invisible, obviously frustrated Obama telling Mitt (and then Clint himself) to do something colloquial to themselves.  Not in the best of taste, granted, but not as outrageous and absurd as Moore would have a reader believe.  

Moreover, by merely implying “fuck,” Eastwood's "dialogue" was both funnier and less disrespectful than a bald, expletive-enriched piece of advice.

In Moore’s scheme of things (and in the gnarly, snarky remarks made by his minions in the Comments following the article) Hollywood actors and other filmmakers are not entitled to express their political opinions and preferences if they think right-of-center -- without being pilloried, mocked, or misrepresented.  Political bigotry on The Left. Who knew. 

Moore is a notorious bully.  His on-camera, taunting take-down of an aged, enfeebled, Alzheimer-ravaged,  vocal NRA spokesman Charlton Heston, is prime Moore. It was, in the otherwise compelling, Oscar-winning documentary, Bowling For Columbine, a pathetic and sickening ambush, and totally unnecessary to make Moore’s anti-gun, anti-violence message.

Moore’s characterization of Eastwood’s comedic, theatrical swipe at Obama's Presidency as dottering is intentionally and grotesquely caricaturist.  I spent three days with Clint Eastwood  -- while interviewing him for a featured piece in Psychology Today.  It was during the time he was making the film In the Line of Fire and promoting his Oscar-winning, anti-violence Western, Unforgiven.  I have hours of interview tapes that scream this man is no smooth talker.

I’ve also watched him in numerous TV interviews, Oscar acceptance speeches, and other occasions of public speaking. Timing-demanded humour and eloquence elude him.  

in most non- or lightly-scripted roles and settings Eastwood's definitely not a Clintonesque orator. It's one reason he prefers roles with terse dialogue, like Dirty Harry's  "Do I feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?" 

Therefore,  Eastwood's RNC performance is no more evidence of a deluded “crazy old man, “ than Moore’s characterizations of him are a fair-minded approach to muckraking and other forms of political criticism.

What the hell are Eastwood’s SINS, that he warranted the “truthy,” biliousness of a Michael Moore hatchet job? Hollywood celebrities, moguls and monied “shirts, skirts, and suits” have been publicly supporting candidates since the  30’s, since the hey days of studio moguls Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner.   Actors like  John Wayne, Bob Hope and George Murphy on the right,  and pre-Nixon Frank Sinatra, Melvin Douglas, and Paul Newman on the left, were quite open about their support of political candidates.  There’s nothing new here with this actor-producer-director. 

Eastwood’s public political positions are rather temperate compared with those, say, of Jon Voight or Chuck Norris, or Stephen Colbert (joking).  And in reality Eastwood’s RNC speech was rather tame and respectful, not only of Obama’s presidency but also of the political process itself: Knowing a candidate's explicit positions on critical issues trumps his beer preferences and mindless political mantras.

Yes, the Empty Chair gambit is sheer crowd pleasing theatrics. But it is nonetheless a time-honoured debate tactic if the opposition can’t or won’t show up. Moore surely knows this.  And, except for the venue, Eastwood broke no new ground here either.

Eastwood’s  position  on many social issues like the environment, a woman’s right to choose, and sensible immigration reform (he did, btw, marry a mixed racial background journalist, Dina Ruiz.) are pleasantly mainstream.  On matters of big government and free market capitalism, he is undoubtedly conservative, but not mindlessly so.  And his films run the political spectrum.  An ideologue,  Mr. Eastwood is certainly not.

Bottom line: Disappointed with Eastwood?  Want to boycott his film oeuvre? Want to excise his name from your list of favourite actors or directors? Or icons? Want to do this  just because he is a Republican and endorsed Mitt Romney publicly? Many of the readers of Moore’s piece threatened just that. Their choice; a dumb choice, I think, but theirs nonetheless. 

Consistency, however, would oblige them (you?) to personally blacklist the works of directors like John Ford and Elia Kazan, comedians like left-to-right converts Mort Sahl or Dennis Miller, and actors like Gary Cooper, Lucille Ball, (Shirley Jones-for-God’s-sake), Clark Gable, James Woods, and others.  Now really, do you want to do that?

Here’s an inconvenient truth: Michael Moore is an embarrassment to those of us who wear proudly the label “liberal” and who have every intention of voting again for Obama because to do otherwise is literally unthinkable in today’s rancidly polarized political climate.  Certainly not while our nation teeters on the edge of the twin abysses of economic and environmental restoration or obliteration. 

Michael Moore’s good sense and social values are undermined by the bad tactics he employs to sell his social-political arguments or acidly malign people like Clint Eastwood.  If the modern, misguided GOP has taught us anything it’s that the ends do not justify means and that extremism and truth-twisting in the pursuit of democracy is no virtue.

(And here we are, still talking about Clint Eastwood.  I guess he was a Trojan Horse.)

 

Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., is Senior Editor of the Journal of Media Psychology and Emeritus Professor of Media Psychology at Cal State, Los Angeles.

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