On what only feels like Day 94 of Chairgate — after a single unscripted moment at the Republican National Convention got more attention than all the focus group-tested speeches put together — Roger Ebert has written a kind-hearted piece walking back his initial criticism of Clint Eastwood’s wild ride of a riff.
The icon’s only real problem, Ebert argues, was taking advice from Team Romney, and trying to marry his comedic conceit with campaign talking points.
That excuse is as weak as the argument that whatever ails any campaign can be chalked up to poor staffing, when it’s invariably a reflection of the candidate himself.
But does Clint’s memorable convention non-speech hurt either the candidate or the director? On the contrary; if anything, Eastwood made workaday Romney look blessedly sane by comparison.
And despite the extended diversion of focus from the nominee, I can’t see that this will have any lasting impact on the race. Can we honestly blame Mitt for being so eager to snag Clint that he was willing to grant him what turned out to be a little too much artistic rope?
Nope. Nor will this diminish the director’s standing or legacy; a lifetime of great work isn’t eclipsed by one gutsy but failed attempt at comedy, which is not exactly Eastwood’s forte anyway.
If we weren’t so preoccupied with deciding whether his routine was cringe-inducing, hilarious or both, we’d still be parsing Ryan's various misleading statements.
True, Eastwoodmania has overshadowed Romney’s boldly out-of-character joke about both Bain and Mormonism: “I had thought about asking my church’s pension fund to invest, but I didn’t. I figured it was bad enough that I might lose my investors’ money, but I didn’t want to go to hell too.”
It also stepped on the single best line of the week, which happened to come from the candidate: “If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama,’’ Romney asked, “shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.’’
It also drew focus away from the disconnect between Romney’s contempt for government aid and this warm memory: “I grew up with stories of [my dad’s] family being fed by the U.S. government as war refugees.’’ If that hand-up hadn’t been there when George Romney’s family needed it, would he or his son have gone on to glory in business and politics?
#Eastwooding distracted us, too, from talking about Romney’s ode to the can-do spirit of JFK’s space program, which the government certainly did build, in the context of his convention’s insistence that in the real America, it’s each man, woman and child for himself.
Every minute we spend talking about the former mayor of Carmel is time we’re not wondering how the compassion Ryan mentioned and the poverty Romney spoke of square with their plan to cut social programs and ask the middle class to subsidize the already well off. In the end, by giving us something else to argue about, maybe Eastwood really did make Romney’s day.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors the paper’s ‘She the People’ blog. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.