Friday afternoon updates:
9 a.m. Friday, see update: Ann Romney: Clint Eastwood ‘did a unique thing’ last night
Original post, 11 p.m. Thursday: You don’t expect “unscripted” from political conventions, just as you don’t expect comedy stylings from Clint Eastwood. But that’s what the Hollywood legend brought to his much-anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention Thursday night. (see video below)
At times shticky, rambling and somewhat off-message from his GOP hosts, Eastwood spent a bulk of his 10 minutes in prime time addressing President Obama in the form of an empty chair. (Full text of Clint Eastwood’s convention speech)
“I know people in your own party were disappointed when you didn’t close Gitmo,” he said. “I thought maybe it was because somebody had the stupid idea of trying terrorists in downtown New York.” (Election 2012: Eastwood talks to imaginary Obama)
Eastwood’s appearance marked the boldest backing of a Republican candidate by a Hollywood A-lister in a generation or more. The 82-year-old has won renown (and two Oscars) for his directing in recent decades, but it was against the silhouette of one of his 1960s spaghetti Western gunslingers and a twanging guitar that he arrived at the podium. (See also, Peter Marks reviews the political stagecraft of the GOP convention)
“I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, ‘What’s a movie tradesman doing out here? They’re all left-wingers out there, left of Lenin!’” he began. “There are a lot of conservative people, moderate people, Republicans, Democrats in Hollywood.... The conservative people by the nature of the word play it closer to the vest.... Believe me, they’re there.”
He recalled Obama’s election night with some gentle sarcasm. “They were talking about hope and change.... I just thought, ‘This is great.’ Everyone was crying. Oprah was crying. I was even crying.”
Sharp segue: “There’s 23 million unemployed people in this country. That’s something to cry for.”
Turning to the empty chair, he quizzed the absent president about Afghanistan in tones that suggested he favors a quick exit. “You mentioned about having a target date for bringing everybody home — I think Mr. Romney said, why are you putting out the date now, why don’t you bring them home tomorrow morning.”
And then, sounding like your crabby uncle doing dinner-table comedy: “What do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that! He can’t do that to himself!”
No reliance on a Teleprompter here; Eastwood even gave the impression he was talking off the top of his head. The room laughed heartily and roared its approval throughout, but many TV viewers expressed bafflement on Twitter.
Democrats merrily mocked the Eastwood performance. “Referring all questions to Salvador Dali,” said Obama reelection spokesman Ben LaBolt. From the president’s official Twitter account came a retort of Dirty Harry-level swagger: “This seat’s taken,” with an image of Obama seen from the back in a brown leather chair, brass plaque reading “The President.”
Romney advisers took a lenient view of the star’s looseness, describing it as “a break from all the political speeches.”
“Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn’t work,” said a campaign spokesperson. “He rightly pointed out that 23 million Americans out of work or underemployed is a national disgrace and it’s time for a change.”
Eastwood also jabbed at Vice President Biden as “the intellect of the Democratic party ... a grin with a body behind it.” He praised Romney, saying “it’s time for a businessman, a stellar businessman” to serve as president. “I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president anyway,” he said in an apparent poke at Obama — though Romney has a JD, too.
And riffing some more, he urged Obama to “step aside.... You can keep the plane. Not the big one, the big gas guzzler you fly around to college campuses to talk about student loans.” This also got a big laugh.
Even before he took the stage, Eastwood’s decision to speak out for Romney was something of a surprise. The outspoken star has had a somewhat ambivalent attitude toward party politics over the years. The former nonpartisan mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., voted for Eisenhower and endorsed Nixon. But he’s also embraced environmental causes, supported Democratic candidates and described himself as a social liberal on issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Eastwood endorsed John McCain in 2008 but did not take an outspoken role in that campaign. And he’s continued to keep the public guessing. In February, when he lent his gravelly whisper of authority to a Super Bowl ad for Chrysler (“we all pulled together and now Motor City is fighting again”), many pols were quick to read into it a pro-bailout, pro-Obama message. Clint denied it (and, in fact, he has said he opposed the bailout), claiming it was simply about “American pride and job growth.”
As he seemed to wrap up his speech, the crowds called for his most famous Dirty Harry catchphrase, from his vigilante cop epic “Sudden Impact.”
“I’ll start it, you finish it,” he said. “Go ahead ...”
From the crowd: “MAKE MY DAY!”
Rosalind Helderman and Rachel Weiner contributed to this report.
Read earlier: Clint Eastwood denies political message in Chrylser ad, 2/6/12
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