Clint Eastwood at the RNC: Explaining what the ’empty chair’ meant

I waited a couple of days to calm down before stating my opinion of the Eastwood speech at the RNC Convention just prior to Mitt Romney being officially nominated as the Republican nomminee for President of the United States.  The panicked Romney aide behind the stage at the Convention who said cringing as the speech time on stage exceeded the 5 minute mark and was way off-key from the typical stuffy Republican stage setup, “You don’t edit Clint Eastwood” was absolutely correct. You don’t “edit” Clint Eastwood. Eastwood is one of the most recognizable names in the world not because he sat quietly while others told him what to do, but because he has often embarked on wild chances and taken great risk upon himself and others in the building of his international persona. He has an elevated level of understanding of what audiences want to see, and his speech certainly reflected it. His knowledge of what an audience wants to see far exceeds the knowledge of the typical 30 to 40-year-old PR specialists handling Romney’s campaign, and they are not qualified to “edit” Clint Eastwood.

I knew what to expect when Clint Eastwood took the stage because I have watched the film icon give hundreds of interviews over the years, and most of them are just like that. Eastwood does not like to use notes, Teleprompters, or come across with flattened authenticity. To understand what Eastwood thinks deep down inside all anyone has to do is watch some of his most personal films, like White Hunter Black Heart, and Bronco Billy. Nothing Eastwood said on stage just minutes before the heavily scripted acceptance speech of Mitt Romney came as a surprise to me.

I was impressed to learn that Mitt Romney personally invited Eastwood to speak. It shows that Romney as a manager can identify talent thinking outside the box and will likely surround himself with good people like Paul Ryan when he gets the presidential job. But Romney was not giving Eastwood any kind of break in letting him speak. Unlike the speeches by Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Marc Rubio and many others that were carefully scripted, Eastwood was not, and the Romney people wouldn’t dare ask the legendary actor to do such a silly thing. Romney like all politicians sought from Eastwood credibility, and to show that prestigious members of the Hollywood community supported Republicans, and that not all Hollywood was in the corner of Barack Obama. That message was so important to Romney that he had Eastwood give the last independent speech before his own introduction, and he got what he wanted in Clint Eastwood. To me, that shows great vision and instinct even if the Romney handlers were dumbstruck by the performance.

I was however baffled by the criticism, many saying that Eastwood looked like a stumbling fool on stage, a senile old man. Eastwood’s hair was a wreck, his manner seemed unorganized, and he was crude and insulting. But the biggest criticism of all is that he sucked all the air out of the room and had people talking about his speech the next day instead of Romney. Well, news flash, I could have told the Romney people exactly what Eastwood was going to do. I was so unsurprised by his speech that my wife and I hardly noticed it because in the Hoffman house, Clint Eastwood is the closest thing to a religious icon anyone will find. Over my dresser are two pictures of Clint Eastwood carefully framed and I look at them every day. My DVD collection has every single Clint Eastwood movie ever made, and they have been watched, and watched, and watched again. I even have the T.G. Sheppard album that features a duet with Clint Eastwood called “MAKE MY DAY.” For many years my family has ushered in each New Year by watching all 5 Dirty Harry films on New Year’s Eve and New Years Day. No football games, no parties, just Clint Eastwood movies with him playing Dirty Harry. Every young person in my family who has had to drive around in a car with me has had to listen to me playing that song while we drive. I simply love the man. I admire his grit and ability to age well every bit as much as the toughness he exhibited in his youthful movies that made him an international star. Eastwood has not been afraid to piss off people before, people he had admired greatly, specifically John Wayne when that cowboy icon was up in arms over Eastwood’s film direction, and acting in the movie High Plains Drifter, which Wayne felt was an insult to the American Cowboy image he helped to craft. Eastwood’s portrayal in that film as a “hell hound” returning from the dead to punish an entire town for the betrayal of their sheriff crossed many established lines of thinking in the early 1970’s. It is so refreshing to see that the 82-year-old Clint Eastwood is still not afraid to take a chance to make his point and is much smarter than the people around him. Even after a lifetime well lived, Clint Eastwood is still authentic to his own personal beliefs and cannot be swept up in the tide of politics. Eastwood showed up as a favor to the Romney Campaign and at no point did he get wrapped up in the glitter. To Eastwood, he knows just him being there helps Romney. But Romney does not help Clint. The sacrifice was purely on Eastwood’s end.

When I give public speeches and other presentations I do not use notes because I learned it from watching the many lectures of Joseph Campbell, and interviews with Clint Eastwood. The reason is that carefully prepared speeches come out sounding fake. It is much better to speak from the heart. Now on the downside, a public speaker without notes sometimes rolls through sentences while stringing together thoughts. People expecting Eastwood to give a polished performance like his younger speakers at the Convention have simply become used to the well oiled machine that has become the political norm. When Clint Eastwood went on stage, I know he was thinking he had to hit all the marks the Romney people told him to hit, but he was going to do his own thing as he usually does. Knowing Clint Eastwood, he went up on stage with a metaphorical idea he came up with while listening to the other speeches of the evening, and he wanted to use the “empty chair” to convey how we all feel about President Obama and politics in general. Most of the directors at the RNC failed to grasp the metaphor, and that is their problem. Eastwood figured that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, so what the hell. Everyone in the room wanted somebody to take a shot at President Obama that was stylish and worked on any levels, and Eastwood had the guts to do it.

When people say “if I were to die tomorrow” they mean they would do things differently if they knew they did not have to live with the consequences which implies that they would be willing to live with little lies in their lives if they know they have to wake up tomorrow and face the music. In Eastwood’s case, he has lived his life this way for a long time, and now that he’s 82, he could die tomorrow. He could die at anytime, and he knows it, and is comfortable with that knowledge, but he’s not about to leave this earth being a stooge for a political looter, who simply wanted to use Eastwood’s image to prop up his own credibility.

Clint Eastwood detests–especially in politics–over grooming, too much make-up, and cardboard cutout people. Oddly enough, some of the appeal of Paul Ryan is that he represents an Eastwood style of politician, no-nonsense, fit, smart, and practical. When he first took the VP position his own hair and clothing was a bit sloppy, and that is appealing because it shows that Ryan cared more about his work than his appearance. But in two weeks once the Romney handlers began to “manage him—Ryan received a nice $300 haircut and is getting a taste of the “looters life” and it is obvious that he’s starting to like it. You can see it by the way he scowled at Eastwood’s speech looking at his watch in quit protest. I would offer to Ryan not to forget who he is, and to not get too wrapped up in images. When Eastwood, one of the greatest film directors of all time went on stage with his hair a mess—without a single speech note—without a care about his future and how the Romney people might scowl at what he said—he did every bit of it on purpose. Clint Eastwood had a very good idea that what he was about to say would be analyzed heavily, criticized, and belittled. He knew that the finger-pointing politicians would run for cover and attempt to distance themselves from him within seconds. Eastwood’s intention in his speech was for one last time in his life on a big stage to show everyone viewing just what is wrong in politics, and why people have lost faith in the two-party system. Everything he did was on purpose to be analyzed, and talked about for years.

Eastwood’s goal on stage that night at the RNC was not to be liked. He was already liked. Mitt Romney simply wanted to show the world that movie stars like him too. That was the entire purpose of bringing Clint Eastwood to the RNC convention. Nobody gives a damn about the crap a politician says. And it should come as no surprise that a movie actor could show up and take all the attention from the other looters in the room. And nobody gives a rat’s ass about what the media thinks, because those are the same idiots who “made” Obama. It’s the heart and soul of America that Clint Eastwood was speaking to and that is why the people who enjoyed his speech did, and the people all caught up in the wrong aspects of politics called it “strange,” and like “an episode of Twin Peaks.” Even Glenn Beck belittled the Eastwood speech, which really lowered Beck’s grade in my book. I was planning to go see Beck when he comes to Cincinnati in a few weeks, but based on his comments over the Eastwood speech, I don’t think I will value what he says. I might listen to him every now and then on the radio, but I won’t go out of my way to see him in public like I did when he came to Wilmington. Beck like Ryan, Anne Romney and Scott Walker based on their comments and behavior over Eastwood is looking too closely at the established order of things, and it is that order that people are sick of. Beck has done a good job asking for courage among politicians, and out of all people, he should understand what Eastwood was trying to do. But even he is too wrapped up in the “established” thinking to see what’s really going on, and that is disappointing. Like Ryan, Beck is becoming too big, and his concern over his own legacy is starting to overtake his reasonable assessment. Politics should not be so well rehearsed, it should not be so scripted, and it should not be praised as royalty. When Eastwood took the stage he did so as a rebel who didn’t comb his hair, and was going to speak from the heart. That should be honored.

The drifting from sentence to sentence that Eastwood was doing, especially after the 5 minute mark was because the red light was flashing, telling him to wrap up his speech. When I speak in public, I get told often to wrap it up, because if people let me, I will talk all day. But in Eastwood’s case, he knew that the directors of the RNC event were not happy with what he was doing, and that what he was saying was going to hurt. But he had to do it anyway, and he controlled his emotions very well, picking carefully which thing to say next so that it was right at the edge of acceptance, without crossing the line. It was not that Eastwood was a senile fool on stage, but a man walking a tightrope, and he was in no hurry to fall. He took one step after another to deliver one of the most scathing rebukes of a sitting president ever delivered on such a large public stage, and he did it with all the bravado that made him one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Mitt Romney got what he wanted whether he was consciously aware of what he was asking for or not. As I said before, Romney is showing a good instinct for hiring the right kind of people for the job, and bringing Eastwood to the convention was a brilliant idea. But I would caution those same Republicans not to distance themselves from what Eastwood did and said. Clint Eastwood did the Republican Party a tremendous favor at his own personal risk. The politicians involved should accept it at its value, which is great, and not distance themselves from him. To do so is to betray what they proclaim they are fighting for.

The American public is sick and tired of contrived, plastic, politics. They want to hear things told from the heart, and they like to see the soul of the person speaking. Glenn Beck is a great public speaker, and even he writes down notes in outline form so he can deliver punctual presentations to the public and not bounce around when he gets stuck in front of 60,000 people like Eastwood was doing. But notes are still a crutch, and it takes great courage to stand in front of so many people with only your intellect as your alley, which is why Eastwood does not speak with notes. It’s also why he’s 82 years old and still able to speak with such authority as he did at the RNC convention. His wits were clearly about him, as he delivered a speech that worked on many levels, not just a superficial, visual one.

If I was disenfranchised with politics before the Eastwood speech, I am certainly more so now, based on the political response to it. The Republicans are the good guys in my book and even the good guys are deeply tainted. I can see where the next line of battles will occur in the years following the buffoon Obama, and it will not be with the professional politicians in the room at the RNC convention or their handlers. I stand with Clint Eastwood completely over anyone else from the RNC event. It’s not that the man can do no wrong in my eyes. I can think of a few times he has let me down, as in making the film Tightrope, and a few others, but I trust that Eastwood makes every attempt to be honest with himself, and his intellect has benefited from his honesty. So when he says something, I trust what it is. I may not agree with it all the time, but I know there was a thought process that delivered the thought, and it didn’t come from some snot-nosed speech writer fresh out of college who doesn’t have a lick of experience in real life. I don’t want to hear Romney deliver a carefully controlled and well-orchestrated speech given to him by a hundred such handlers. I want to hear the authenticity of what a man is, not what kind of image he can conger up for himself. It is a sad state when it is an actor who is the most real person in a room, and at the RNC convention, Clint Eastwood was the most honest. Anne Romney should still be grateful that a person like Eastwood is supporting her husband and not make sly comments about how there should have been more contrived video of her family instead of the Eastwood speech. Nobody gives a shit lady. Don’t even think about turning into another Washington princess before the seat from the previous fat ass duchess has left it.

It should say everything to everyone watching the Eastwood convention speech that an “empty chair” was the most interesting thing that happened at the RNC convention. The empty chair worked on many levels of psychology. It obviously represented President Obama who has spent his entire presidency running for re-election, and not doing the job he was elected to do. But it also represented the emptiness present in politics. I would not put it passed Eastwood that the idea came not while on the plane from California, but while the Romney people where giving him their talking points to incorporate into his speech. The idea for the chair was meant as a warning not just to Obama, but to the Republican Party to not just become more empty minds in empty seats holding public office. It was a warning not to be afraid to shake it up a little, and be unpredictable, because that’s how you get the media eating out of your hand instead of the other way around—and that is a lesson that the Republican Party hasn’t been able to achieve since Ronald Reagan was president, who like Eastwood knew all the tricks of the trade because they are actors who have mastered public image. The Eastwood speech was not a debacle, it was a brilliant metaphor intended for minds too dim to see it. But the resonance of Eastwood, in what felt like one last public performance was a potent one that sadly shows how bad our political system really is. It revealed that even people I thought “got it” still don’t and I won’t bend over backwards ever again to listen to what they have to say, because the mind behind the thought is still in its infancy.

Yesterday Romney came to Cincinnati. I was invited, but I did not go, mainly because of the ill feelings I have after listening to the controlled finger-pointing after the Eastwood speech. In a couple of weeks, Glenn Beck is coming to town and I was planning to attend, but won’t be now. I’ll still support both people, and in Beck’s case I enjoy 80% of his work most of the time. But to jump on the Eastwood bashing bandwagon tells me a lot about these people. When it comes to picking and choosing, I’ll stick with the “Man with No Name” over the “Name” of a politician or political commentator. Because there is far more value in the man who arrives at 82 years of age and has not been seduced by the glittery lights of politics over the men who are enamored by it and became that way in a much shorter span of their lifetimes. I will not go out of my way to see those first people speak in person. But if Eastwood announced that he was coming to Cincinnati tomorrow to eat a hamburger but would not be giving any public statements I would drop what I was doing and attend, because there is more manliness in the authenticity of sticking to a set of beliefs than the person who follows the trends of belief. The world is so full of the later, and is in desperate need of the former. The value of a wordless bite into a hamburger by Clint Eastwood holds more merit than a whole string of convention speeches by polished politicians and their puppet handlers of orthodox opinion.  The aide was right, “you don’t edit Clint Eastwood.”  His brand is proven, and if you ask him to speak, you take what you get.  In the case of politics, a movie actor is much more important than a roomful of politicians, and that sad fact is a reality that cannot be covered up with fancy lights and balloons, but is exposed by the presence of a simple–empty–chair. 

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Rich Hoffman
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11 thoughts on “Clint Eastwood at the RNC: Explaining what the ’empty chair’ meant

  1. I’m right there with you on Clint Eastwood. I’m a huge lifelong fan thanks to my father. I’ve seen all his movies multiple times as well, especially the Dirty Harry films. Was “that song” you referred to the awesome Lalo Schifrin Dirty Harry theme song?

    My only criticism of him has been his cheating on practically every woman he’s ever been with. Infidelity is probably the lowest form of behavior in my book. I’m a “one woman” guy and could never understand the need to go behind a woman’s back. If you just “aren’t feeling it anymore”, I say be a man and tell her it’s over.

    Even after resisting seeing “The Bridges of Madison County” for many years, when I finally did see it I thought it was a very good film, even if at it’s core it was about infidelity. He has never been afraid to take chances, whether it’s making a “chick flick” like “Madison County”, taking on assisted suicide in “Million Dollar Baby”, the Japanese side of WWII in “Letters from Iwo Jima”, or comedy with an orangutan.

    I’m in total agreement about his speech. I’m sick and tired of the same old canned political speeches. Romney sounded exactly like Bush or McCain…or any of a number of politicians. Clint 2012!!

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      1. And up until a few years ago my family watched these movies in order every single Holiday. My kids still joke about it and will tell you all about the times I’d pause the movie and go on a two or three hour lecture talking about how Dirty Harry applied to real life events that were happening around us. I’d do that sometimes 3 or 4 times per movie.

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  2. I was on Beck’s “The Feed” while he was poking fun of Eastwood. It started lighting up with comments disagreeing and saying that they loved it. Shortly after several comments on The Feed Beck softened a bit on him then promptly changed the subject. I took a mental note of it because I was thinking exactly what you stated above. Just to make sure I wasn’t wrong in my first impression of how brilliant I thought Eastwood was I went back and watched it again. I am more certain of his genius after seeing it several times. Even the very liberal Today show did a favorable segment on Sat., saying it didn’t matter what side of politics one is on – it was creative and funny.

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    1. It was a lesson from a wise old man who has lived life, directed films, acted in every kind of scene there is, met presidents, loved a lot of women, raised a lot of kids, given interviews to every type of person in the media, been written about from every journalist and reporter trying to cut their teeth, and has been a closet jazz lover who actually plays and makes music. Very few people live as full of a life as Clint Eastwood and there was a wisdom in what he was saying that contained in it the wisdom of one man who is as American as anybody could hope to be. If anyone has lived a life with no fear and wide eyed enjoyment, it has been Clint Eastwood. He wasn’t speaking to people just at the RNC. He was speaking to the future. The meaning will have more impact years down the road, and he knew exactly what he was saying. As forward thinking as Beck is, he should have seen instantly what was going on, and I was very surprised by his comments. I know it was an easy, and tempting target, but the genius is like music, it’s more what isn’t said than what is — hence the “empty chair.” It makes me wonder what will become of Beck when their is no more Barack Obama in The White House. The job won’t be over when Romney steps in the big seat. Because the real evil in politics is what Eastwood was addressing.

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  3. Play Misty for Me was his directorial debut. Maybe it was a prophetic foretelling of Obama’s wooing of America only to realize what a nightmare he really is.

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  4. .Clint is an American icon. The, wet behind the ears, Romney team could learn a few things from him. The empty chair was a stroke of genius. I didn’t hear anyone speak out about his line about Obama being a lawyer and that we don’t need any more lawyers in D.C. Romney is a lawyer too. I think that is the line that ruffled a few feathers. He put more pep into the convention than the rest of the lot. I would love to see an empty chair on every lawn in the U.S. No signs would be needed. Everyone knows all about the empty chair. Brilliant!!!!!!!!!

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    1. Romney may be a lawyer, but he is also a good business man. Obama either knows what he is doing and is deliberatley ruining our country or he just doesn’t know what he is doing and ruining our country. I think he is a horrible leader. I actually think he is smart at one thing though and that is being a smart —! People better wise up and start paying attention to what is going on and get him out of office!!

      Also, I’m glad Clint Eastwood said what he thinks. It was the truth. Too bad there are not more people like him that have back bone!

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  5. I don’t think Ann Romney’s remarks were meant to demean Clint in any way. I think they appreciate Clint Eastwood’s appearance at the RNC. I think Ann’s comments on the morning show were meant to get the message out their that Mitt is a nice person since many think he is cold and uncaring. But Mitt Romney is not cold or uncaring. Clint did a great job.

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  6. I think that someone on a talk radio show or Fox News should get on the air every day and start asking people to please step forward and notify them if they were ever friends with Obama before he became President , or if they went to school with him, etc. This guy just came out of no where. How was he able to run for President if they were never able to have access to his real Birth Certificate? I know this is old, but unless he had something to hide, what was the big deal about showing his real Birth Certificate?

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