It's The Last Two Minutes Again In America

So here’s my theory: Clint is actually pro-Obama.

There’s no other explanation for his nutty prime-time performance last night. He’s just too good an actor -- and too good a writer and director -- to have done something so seemingly erratic, disjointed, and, quite frankly, weird, that it wasn’t somehow all part of a well-crafted and delivered script intended to shift America’s attention and the political discourse away from Mitt’s big moment. If nothing else, Clint Eastwood’s rambling, impromptu, conversation with a chair stole some of Mitt’s thunder, and created an emotional, if not outright cognitive dissonance for TV viewers, leaving us agape and wondering, “WTF, did that just really happen?”

It seems to have worked, because the “national conversation” this morning was less about Mitt Romney’s acceptance speech last night, and more about Clint Eastwood’s warm-up act. “Clint Eastwood’s Speech With Empty Chair Upstages Romney,” reads the headline of a column by Newsday’s Verne Gay, who goes on to remind us, “Political conventions are TV shows, only TV shows.” And this particular show starred its guest actor, according to Gay: “It doesn't matter what stripe your politics are, or whether you thought last night was a victory or disaster, Eastwood stole the night.”

Gay isn’t alone in his assessment. And there are even quants to prove it. Google quants, of course. Okay, so Google News’ index today doesn’t exactly show Clint beating Romney in next-day media coverage, but it’s awfully close, considering that Mitt was supposed to be the star of last night’s show. There were about 26,100 articles indexed by Google News referencing the keyword terms “Mitt Romney” and “TV” vs. 23,300 referencing “Clint Eastwood” and “TV.”

Those are the quants. In terms of some qualitative data, the team at Visible Measures reports this morning that, at least in terms of viral video sharing, Clint beat Mitt by a wide margin.

“The speech has blown up online. Using our True Reach methodology, we've identified over 70 clips of Eastwood's performance, including the original speech, commentary, and a couple spoofs. In all, the clips have driven over 555,000 views and 10,000 comments, all within 12 hours of hitting the Web,” reads today’s Visible Measures blog, which estimates that Clint’s convention speech beat Romney’s by a margin of 15 to one.

The only viable explanation is that Clint is so committed to Obama’s reelection that he was willing to throw himself under the bus in a selfless act of  career-kamikaze-courageousness worthy of Walt Kowalski. If my theory is correct, well, then, Clint, you’re still my hero -- even more so now. If not, well, then you have most definitely lost it, and you’ve managed to replace Charlton Heston in my books as the saddest end to the career of a former Hollywood icon I once looked up to.

I have to believe the former, because, well, I simply like Clint too much, and because I don’t think things like this happen by accident. But to understand my logic, you have to understand that I am a serious skeptic, and believe that when it comes to public media imagery -- especially prime-time political TV imagery -- it’s all in the can, well thought out, and that you cannot take things for what they seem.  Sometimes, the obfuscation is fairly apparent, and simple in its brilliance, such as Hal Riney’s beautifully understated “Bear in The Woods” spot for Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Or sometimes it's a more subtle allegory like the late Phil Dusenberry’s “Morning Again In America” short TV film and spots (also narrated by Hal Riney), which most likely were the most significant TV ad messages for determining the outcome of the 1984 Presidential election.

Want further proof of Clint’s duplicity? Consider his own American temporal milestone: Clint’s “It’s Halftime In America” spot during the Super Bowl. Yeah, it was paid for by Chrysler, but some pundits, especially the right-wing, pro-Romney kind, thought Clint was actually politicking for Obama. Go figure. On the surface of it, the spot was as unpartisan as you could imagine. It began with Clint intoning, “It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.” If anything, it celebrated the spirit of the American people, the revitalized spirit of Detroit (without actually acknowledging the role Obama’s loans played in that), and was really intended to motivate us all to keep on keeping on.

“This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again -- and when we do, the world is going to hear the roar of our engines,” Clint said, concluding, “Yeah, it’s halftime, America. And, our second half is about to begin.”

My theory is that Clint may not be partisan, per se, but that he understands that the Obama Administration had the right idea, and that we need to stick with that game plan during the second half. So when GOP muckety-mucks started grousing with him after the Super Bowl spot aired, he said, “Why don’t I make it up to you -- give me a few minutes during your convention and I’ll seal the deal.” A few minutes turned into a rambling 12 minutes of talking to an empty chair, a bizarre act for Romney to follow. And for anyone who knows anything about the power of persuasion, that definitely is not the audience state you want your brand adjacent to and associated with. So thank you, Clint. Mission accomplished.

So why is it the last two minutes again in America? Because the halftime show is over, and the next two months are where the real score will be settled, according to former New Hampshire Governor, former George H. W. Bush-era White House Chief of Staff, and current GOP stalwart John Sununu.

“A presidential campaign is a lot like a basketball game,” Sununu quipped to TV cameras from the convention floor Thursday night. “It’s all about the last two minutes. In a presidential campaign, it’s all about the last two months.”

Okay, so halftime is over, and Clint’s, er Mitt’s, TV show is over. Now we’ll get to see how Obama’s show delivers. And if Sununu is right, it will all come down to the final moments, and we may not know who actually won until the overnights are in.

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11 comments about "It's The Last Two Minutes Again In America".
  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston , August 31, 2012 at 4:32 p.m.
    It was only too weird if you disagree with his message. Declaring it weird is another way of discounting the sentiment. I think Romney still made the best point: "If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, 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."
  2. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , August 31, 2012 at 4:36 p.m.
    @Douglas: Honestly, I would have thought it was weird if he did that rambling talking to an empty chair bit about Romney at the DNC convention too. But that's just me.
  3. Steve Lindely from ClassicAmericanBoomer, LLC , August 31, 2012 at 6:15 p.m.
    Mr. Eastwood is a "conservative", Mr. Obama a liberal socialist is a bust...time for change. A call to arms "Make My Day!" Note the response. If you think this is pro-Obama - you're insane. The eggheads will be dissecting each word until way past the inauguration. It's our country...vote your conscience...be a "decider"!
  4. David Marans from SemiRetired , August 31, 2012 at 6:50 p.m.
    Hi Joe, i loved your piece. That would just be the brilliant secret mission of the talented Mr Eastwood. As for the silly email from SL, I am indebted to the "socialist" Mr Obama as the stock market has almost doubled since he took office ($$$), and Osama is dead. If this is socialism, as Clint might tell us, bring it on.
  5. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , August 31, 2012 at 7:25 p.m.
    The Dems are pinching themselves after the GOP's trifecta of Ryan, Isaac and Eastwood. I think the Romney campaign can stop digging their candidate's grave as it's now deep enough to fit his entire family. But I have a feeling they're going to continue to shovel away...
  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , August 31, 2012 at 8:10 p.m.
    It would not be the first time an extremely accomplished person has begun the first stages of Alzheimer's where the inaneness appears behind curtains. For those of you have not experienced a family member going through this disease, you may be in denial. The difference is that Eastwood has the financial backing that he will never have to be placed into public housing assisted living or nursing home and he has private doctors with family/friend support to suppress public knowledge. People can vote agains their own best interests and more won't be able to even get a bed with social services which will see massive cuts.
  7. Dave O'Mara from Logan Marketing Communications , September 1, 2012 at 12:58 p.m.
    Agreed. The only ones who claimed to be amazed, offended or surprised, etc, are those who want another four years of economic hell. Put the psychobabble aside, Joe. Clint was hilarious and your guy is probably going to lose.
  8. John Capone from MediaPost , September 1, 2012 at 1:36 p.m.
    Great piece, Joe. I think what happened is pretty simple though. Eastwood is hardly a died-in-the-wool Neo-con. He endorsed McCain, but publicly supported Obama after the election. Then there's that Super Bowl spot. Eastwood seems to go his own way. He even held fundraisers for Gray Davis when the Republicans were dismantling the Governor in California. It's my opinion that he just got up there and said what he pleased and acted how he pleased and gave a lukewarm endorsement of Mitt, and well, he's 82. It came off, as you said, kind of weird.
  9. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , September 1, 2012 at 2:39 p.m.
    I didn't watch the entire Clint Eastwood "speech" because it was hurting my heart to see the guy implode, but after reading Joe's op-ed, I did sit through it all, and I have to say it's even weirder than I thought -- the stuff Clint criticizes the Empty Chair for is stuff no Republican should be cheering: Failing to close Guantanamo, extending the war in Afghanistan, the curse of lawyer politicians (Romney's got a law degree), wasting gas on Air Force One, plus a bizarre aside about student loans. It was closer to a speech Ron Paul might have given, and hardly a ringing endorsement. It is actually possible Eastwood Punk'd the Romney team?
  10. Joe Mandese from MediaPost , September 1, 2012 at 2:46 p.m.
    Tom provides another clue. Why would Clint cite positions contra to the GOP platform? I'm just wagging a dog here, but I think there is merit to the idea that Clint is a skilled actor and storyteller and has the ability to make people believe things. Or he's senile.
  11. John Capone from MediaPost , September 1, 2012 at 3:20 p.m.
    Or maybe he is both a skilled actor and storyteller AND senile. The only part that really made me sad was when he led the crowd in a hearty round of "Make my day" after someone shouted it out like it was "Freebird." He seemed so resigned at that point.