If Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the Republican National Convention accomplished anything, it was to remind viewers why the 82-year-old actor is a consummate movie star: charismatic and even endearing, yes. But also utterly dependent on a decent script, effective staging and judicious editing.
As bizarre as Eastwood’s ten-minute piece of theater improv was, though, it didn’t come as a complete surprise. When I interviewed Eastwood in Washington last year before a screening of “J. Edgar” at the Newseum, he evinced some of the same vague, slightly incohesive (if not incoherent) political views as he did in Tampa.
“I’ve never been a really astute political person,” the former mayor of Carmel, Calif., said at one point – an observation that would turn out to be not just an understatement, but all too prescient.
Back in November, Eastwood wasn’t backing a Republican candidate; in fact, Mitt Romney’s name didn’t even come up when I asked him if he was thinking of endorsing anyone.
“I liked that fellow from New Jersey, Christie,” Eastwood told me.
“He was just a regular guy saying what we’re all concerned about in regular, understand[able] words, without too much razzle-dazzle on it. And then Herman Cain came along and he started doing that too, but he seems to have gotten himself, or he’s either got himself or somebody’s got him into, whichever it turns out to be…But he’s sort of straight-talking. And the rest of them dance well.”
He smiled and laughed softly. “I don’t know, and the other side’s the same. I liked Hillary Clinton when she was running, but that didn’t turn out too well.”
Noting that he was pro-gay rights, Eastwood described himself as “just a let’s-leave-everybody-alone guy.
“I say that I’m a libertarian in that sense,” he continued, noting that libertarianism initially appealed to him because “when it started, it had elements of the liberal side of leave everybody alone and let’s be understanding of everybody else, [and] the conservative side of let’s live within our means. But both of those sides have been lost now.
“The Republicans have lost – certainly they did in recent years – lost the austerity measures and the liberals lost the liberal element, the understanding of other people’s feelings. So both sides have sort of deserted their base, it seems to me. I guess I always just call myself a moderate, because I was an Eisenhower Republican, whatever that is. I guess it’s because it’s the first year I voted, and I didn’t know too much about Adlai Stevenson except that his shoes needed re-soling.”
Eastwood’s fans at the Republican convention might be surprised to learn that the first politician he ever supported was a Democrat, and he’s voted for both Republicans and Democrats through the years. “But they all come up now and they all say the same thing,” he said. “They tell you what they want to get in, and when they get in, they all do something different, so you get the futility aspect of it all.”
When talk turned to Obama, the mild-mannered Eastwood said that the current administration has “been a little bit disappointing. But the basic idea of it, and the basic message, was all wonderful.
“When Obama won I thought, Well that’s cool,” Eastwood said. “[He’s got the] multi-racial thing, that’s nice, that’s refreshing. I’m married to a multi-racial woman that’s got the same demographic and I thought, That’s nice. I mean, that’ll be nice for the country and maybe it’ll settle down a lot of racial issues. Instead, it kind of went the other way.”
Eastwood never specified what he meant by “the other way.” But as he continued, he was apparently referring to the episode in 2009 when Henry Louis Gates was arrested by a Cambridge, Mass., police officer, and the ensuing outcry resulted in Obama inviting the two men to the White House for a beer.
“That whole thing with the police officer was just a bad way to jump into it,” Eastwood said. “When you say to somebody, ‘I don’t have the facts, but’ never say ‘but.’ Say, ‘I don’t have the facts,’ stop, period, end of sentence. End of sequence, go to lunch. You know … the real prejudices come out because [people] go on too long.”