#Eastwooding – It’s Not What You Think By Guest Blogger Liz Georges

The First Essential Scary Truth

So it pretty much stunned everyone. A cinema icon took the stage in the beginning of the last hour of the Republican National Convention and talked to a chair for twelve minutes.

When it was over, Twitter exploded. @InvisibleObama tweeted his inaugural tweet and had 15,000 followers in about an hour. A new activity, #Eastwooding, was invented, and photos of people gesticulating towards an empty chair flooded the Internet. The writers for Saturday Night Live began to salivate. The pundits oscillated between having their WTF moments on the air, and trying to feign interest in Mitt Romney’s speech.

The irony that Clint Eastwood’s new movie is entitled “Trouble with the Curve” is not lost on anyone.

The official narrative now about the Republicans and Mitt Romney is everyone worrying that the incident with Clint Eastwood talking to a chair will be a distraction from Mitt Romney’s message.  Most are wondering how the hell it happened. The RNC insists that this was not planned.  The party line on what happened is that Eastwood went rogue.  Pundits wonder what the guy who scheduled the appearance was thinking putting an octogenarian on as the first thing people who were switching to the convention during prime time to watch Mitt Romney would see.

I see it a little differently.

One has to wonder what the mindset is behind inviting Clint Eastwood to speak to the RNC.  What is the point?  Why him?

Sure, Clint Eastwood is an Oscar-winning director and a celebrated actor. But what is he most famous for? Dirty Harry, of course. The irascible cop who delivers tough one-liners and carries a big gun that he uses to dispense his brand of justice to villans. He’s an icon of machismo and of the kind of frontier justice and rugged individualism that had been a running theme all week at the RNC.  What better way to cap off a week of shrieking about American exceptionalism and the idea that government is an evil force that denies individuals their God-given right to be billionaires than by getting Clint Eastwood to speak to your delegates in prime time?

The RNC was banking on hearing Clint Eastwood talk to Obama and saying, “Go ahead, make my day.” You can hear the convention organizers in their planning meeting salivating at the prospect. No wonder they wanted him to be the first thing people saw when they flipped their TVs to convention coverage to watch Mitt Romney accept the nomination.  What could be more inspiring, what could be a better illustration of current Republican sentiment with respect to Obama?  We’re talking our country back, chasing out those awful Democrats, and bringing justice, America!

They weren’t surprised when Clint Eastwood went for an aggressive approach where “Dirty Harry” tried to have a “go ahead, make my day” moment with an invisible Obama symbolized by an empty chair.  That is precisely what they were hoping for.

What they got was Clint Eastwood talking to Obama and looking like a crude, deranged old man who was botching a toast at his granddaughter’s wedding.

And that’s precisely the problem with the GOP’s way of thinking. Individualism is great.  Being tough when the times demand it is also great.  Doing the hard thing because it is the right thing is also great.  And yes, this is the foundation of the notion of “American exceptionalism” that the GOP has been going on about. And there is something to be said for it. It is a good thing. But it is not the only thing.

To cop some imagery form one of my favorite theologians, American exceptionalism is the “deep magic from before the dawn of time.” But there is a deeper magic still, a deeper magic without which, all other magic becomes irrelevant.

The deeper magic is community – the fact that we are able to live and enjoy each other as family and friends and build dreams together. The founding fathers had a name for it: the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is not, contrary to GOP belief, a solo prospect.  Because if I am in joy when my brother is in desperation, how happy can I truly be? What does it say about me as a human being if I can suffer that circumstance?  And yet, the GOP not only wants us to tolerate that, but celebrate it, as an elevated state of being.

The freedom and individualism celebrated by the Dirty Harrys of the world is only relevant insofar as it serves a larger, connected community.  When Dirty Harry is taking on the bad guys to keep his loved ones and the struggling members of his community safe so that they can live their lives in peace, he is a hero. When he does it because he’s a pissed off old man who’s not getting his own way, he’s a petulant, selfish, nasty excuse for a human being.

Unfortunately for the RNC, that’s the Dirty Harry who showed up at the podium on Thursday night at the GOP national convention.  The problem with Clint Eastwood’s performance on Thursday night is not that it is a distraction from the candidate.  The problem is that it provided an unintended glimpse of what happens to us as people when we embrace the GOP vision of America too tightly, when we forget that American exceptionalism is only inspiring if it respects and uplifts Americans as a community – and that means all Americans, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, women, men.  Without that, it’s a shell of an old man ranting at no one – pathetic, angry, lacking both good sense and good grace.  It’s not an America anyone really wants to see.

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