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.