Poor Clint Eastwood. Like most film actors, the man is a fool, and like most entertainment celebrities, he has no idea how foolish he is. I suppose few of us could resist the temptation to believe the praise that is lavished on our every grunt or belch, and it is no reflection, personally, on Mr. Eastwood to say, as one journalist did, that he has an ego as big as the state of Florida.
By now, poor Clint probably thinks he wrote the lines he is celebrated for delivering, and he may even think that his experience as an actor is just the background for someone who wants to address the Republican National Convention. After all, he has spent his entire career reading scripts he did not write, pretending to feelings he does not have, saying things he does not believe. What better preparation could there be for a political career?
Eastwood, apparently, never studied logic. While all politicians may be actors, all actors are not necessarily politicians. To succeed as politicians, aspiring Napoleons need more than duplicity and hypocrisy. (The word hypocrite, by the way, is simply Greek for actor.) They need drive, single-minded ruthlessness, and an egomaniacal indifference to the happiness and welfare of everyone else. These precious gifts are not given to everyone. Actors may think they are as nasty and self-centered as anyone in the Congress, but they deceive themselves. They are too prone to confusion. Presented with several options--wealth, fame, sex, cocaine--they are likely to say, "Give me all of them." When politicians (like so-and-so and what's his name) try this, the results are fatal to their career.
Out of deference to British libel law, I have refrained from filling in the blanks. A week or so ago, I made the mistake of writing a column for a publication in which I ridiculed Eastwood's endorsement of Romney. I mentioned some publicly documented scandals in his personal life and referred, mockingly, to the two films he made starring opposite an orangutan.
The legal experts demurred, perhaps correctly, though I still don't know what the problem with the orangutan was. My point, silly and trivial though it be, was simply this: Actors are silly people who pretend to be real human beings. Mitt Romney was unwise to rejoice in the endorsement of such a chaotic egomaniac, and he looked utterly foolish by responding, "He really made my day." If the Republicans had bothered to ask me, I would have strongly advised them either not to let Clint address their convention or else to write his script for him.
No one asked me, and Eastwood's performance was amateur night at a smalltown comedy club. Addressing an empty chair and doing the worst Bob Neuhart imitation I have ever seen (Neuhart has jokingly threatened to sue), Dirty Harry delivered such gems as:
"So, Mr. President, how do you handle promises that you have made when you were running for election, and how do you handle them?
"I mean, what do you say to people? Do you just -- you know -- I know -- people were wondering -- you don’t -- handle that OK. Well, I know even people in your own party were very disappointed when you didn’t close Gitmo. And I thought, well closing Gitmo -- why close that, we spent so much money on it. But, I thought maybe as an excuse -- what do you mean shut up?"
"We don’t have to be -- what I’m saying, we do not have to be metal (ph) masochists and vote for somebody that we don’t really even want in office just because they seem to be nice guys or maybe not so nice guys, if you look at some of the recent ads going out there, I don’t know."
Ageists have been unkind enough to suggest that Eastwood is senile. That is unfair to old people and to Alzheimer's patients. I have known many people who survived with wits intact into their 90's, and I have several friends who, as they grew older, had serious lapses in memory and concentration, but nothing like this. Some intelligent people do fall into incoherence, but they are not generally allowed to address political conventions.
The basic problem is not one of age or illness but of vocation. Eastwood is an actor, a do-nothing who played cowboys and cops on television and in film. He was not even a good actor. So long as Don Siegel hired a good writer, Clint did just fine. With a good crew of writers, camermen, directors, and producers he could even make movies on his own in much the same way that Barack Obama governs the United States. But, like Obama, Eastwood cannot work without a script wriitten by someone else.
If the delegates were offended or ashamed, they did not show it. Eastwood was given a tumultuous welcome, and the crowd chanted, along with the star, his signature phrase, "Make My Day." Even a poor actor on a bad day is a celebrity, and in America, it is better to be a poor actor than a "stellar businessman"--Eastwood's description of Romney.
If conservatives wish to know why elections no longer matter, they need only watch or even read Eastwood's speech. If only Clyde the orangutan had been on hand, he might have saved the day.
PS This piece has been legalled as defamatory to Eastwood.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.