Clint Eastwood steals the RNC

In a decade to come, there's only one speech from this convention we'll all remember

Published August 30, 2012 5:23AM (EDT)

When it leaked earlier today that Clint Eastwood would be the “surprise” guest at the Republican National Convention, it seemed predictable that a bunch of white people in patriotic hats would shortly be chanting “Make my day” on national television.  This cacophonous “Make my day” did, in fact, come to pass, but only after the 82-year-old Eastwood babbled, went blue and inadvertently insulted Mitt Romney, the guy he was allegedly there to support, all while speaking to an empty chair occupied by an imaginary Obama. Look, it is not every night that a national political convention transforms itself into a surrealist farce after being hijacked by a madcap octogenarian, but tonight it happened, and we have Clint Eastwood to thank for that. Once an entertainer, always an entertainer, right?

Eastwood, ever the actor, turned his speech into a performance. After taking to the stage in front of a silhouette from his Sergio Leone movies, cautioning the cheering crowd to “Save a little for Mitt,” shouting out Jon Voight, and maybe insulting Oprah, he explained that sitting in the chair up onstage with him was an invisible Obama, whom he would now interrogate. “So Mr. President, how do you handle promises you made when you were running for election?” Clint asked, with much more mumbling and bumbling than that. After a few more inquiries, the invisible Obama— and, yes, 100 percent, Ralph Ellison is currently doing double-back-flip round-offs in his grave — was apparently reduced to spewing out insults. “I can’t tell [Mitt] to do that!” Eastwood said in response to an alleged quip from Obama. “He can’t do that to himself! You’re getting as bad as Biden!” Never let it be said you can’t tell someone to fuck off on national television — just so long as you bring your imaginary friend.

For whatever reason — Clint Eastwood is Dirty Harry, basically — the crowd was with him for the entire performance, even though less than halfway through it must have been clear he was hijacking the entire convention. (In 10 years, this is the speech we will remember.) This encouraged Eastwood, and as his talk ambled on and on, he adopted more and more the demeanor of the irascible and roguish movie star. What Clint was doing would have been perfect for one of those awards show where there’s no press allowed, but not so much for national television. He was playing to the room, to the sense that he was among his people, among friends, but with no awareness that other, less friendly eyes might be watching. In doing so, he hung his friends out to dry: The audience’s willingness to humor him, to just revel in being near a movie star, exposed them as sycophants.

Crazier still — if anything can get crazier than Clint Eastwood having a made-up conversation with an invisible president — was that Eastwood wasn’t actually hewing all that closely to Republican talking points. Eastwood thinks Obama shouldn’t close down Gitmo, not because it’s essential to national security, but because “we’ve spent so much money on that.” OK! Eastwood harshed on Obama for not “consulting the Russians” about getting involved in Afghanistan as though Obama started that war. He took shots at the president for driving around in a gas-guzzling jet when he’s supposed to be "ecological," as though Republicans believe climate change is a real thing. He insulted Obama for being a lawyer, forgetting that Romney has a law degree too.

Right before Eastwood got the crowd to chant “Make my day!” with him, he warned the room, “We don’t have to be mental masochists and vote for someone we don’t really want in office because they seem like nice guys.” Which candidate was he talking about? No one in the room — the only audience he seemed keyed in to —  was ever considering voting for Obama, or thinks he's much of a nice guy. Sorry, Mitt, Clint Eastwood just made everybody else's day.

By Willa Paskin

Willa Paskin is Salon's staff TV writer.

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