Clint Eastwood's appearance at last night's convention is getting mixed reviews. Of course the left hated him but even some Republicans found it odd. They miss the point. Eastwood wasn't meant for political junkies. The TV convention audience has been way down from 2008. Eastwood was meant to get the non political types to switch over and then maybe they'd stay around for Romney's speech.
Eastwood is a lot like John Wayne. Each man's better movies are still watchable decades after they were made. Teenagers know who both men are while names like Redford, Beatty or Streisand usually draw blank looks. As an American icon Eastwood could do some things no one else could. He ridiculed Obama as an empty symbol even as he spoke common sense about politics. When I watched the tape a second time I thought it was effective as political theater as opposed to a standard political speech.
One simply can't look at an icon like Eastwood without thinking of the characters he has played. Eastwood often played independent rebels who found common humanity with others he was initially prone to dislike or even hate, be it in The Outlaw Josey Wales in 1974 or Gran Torino in 2008. That is a message America needs right now. In an age when we are increasingly divided by race and those with an agenda find every word of criticism to be a racial insult it is nice to recall that some of the light moments in Josey Wales involve some very non PC dialog. As he roams to escape bounty hunters the ex-Confederate guerrilla Wales attracts a little group of misfits including an elderly Kansas abolitionist and a old Cherokee.
Grandma Sarah: What's all that paint about?
Lone Watie : It's my death face.
Grandma Sarah : You know, we're sure gonna show them redskins somethin' tomorrow. No offense meant.
Lone Watie : None taken.
Later on the same dialog is reversed when the band of misfits faces down bounty hunters after Josey Wales and Lone Watie says "we're sure gonna show them palefaces somethin'." The lesson is obvious. If we let such silly words divide us how can we ever face and solve common problems? Words have seldom been sillier than the racist code word memes he media is shilling these days.
Consider also the Dirty Harry movies. While they were often set in San Francisco, Eastwood's character was in opposition to San Francisco's expressed liberal values. Yet Harry's job was to protect the citizens of San Francisco, often from some of their own folly. That's another theme that plays well in the heartland. So does Harry's dismissive attitude toward ineffectual politicians and his no nonsense rules of evidence. From the original Dirty Harry:
[Harry Callahan has to explain why he shot a man]
Harry Callahan : Well, when an adult male is chasing a female with intent to commit rape, I shoot the bastard. That's my policy.
The Mayor : Intent? How did you establish that?
Harry Callahan : When a naked man is chasing a woman through an alley with a butcher's knife and a hard-on, I figure he isn't out collecting for the Red Cross!
[walks out of the room]
The Mayor : He's got a point.
Finally consider this. There is a deep undercurrent of fear across America today. People suspect crime stories are being suppressed and minimized. They think a double standard of justice is in play. They worry about urban riots if Obama loses. That fear was also very much the mood in the nation in 1971 when Dirty Harry was made. The movie was panned by many critics and loathed by the political left but its law and order message resonated with movie goers back then. Today it is far better known than most if not all of the critically acclaimed films of that year. Given the nature of today's media it is impossible to address the fear of crime as an issue in a direct way. By having the most famous of movie cops appear right before his acceptance speech the Romney campaign may have let voters know that he understands their fears and is a law and order candidate. Would Clint ever campaign for a candidate who was not? Unthinkable. It would be like John Wayne campaigning for George McGovern.