I just watched RNC “mystery guest,” Clint Eastwood, deliver his curious speech, and wow… It’s a bit of a stunner. It’s not the maundering old man speech that some of the more glib headlines insinuated — something I had no interest in seeing, incidentally (I have about as much interest in ridiculing Clint Eastwood’s age as I do in mocking Chris Christie’s weight — who cares?).
What the speech is, however, is extraordinarily revealing of the 2012 Republican soul, particularly in that it was ultimately racist… albeit, subtly so.
For while explicitly racist sentiments are not permitted in our present political discourse, coded — and even entirely unconscious — racism has been enjoying its heyday in recent years, with such diverse proponents as Glenn “Barack Obama hates white people” Beck, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, Dinesh D’Souza, Sarah Palin, and, yes, even Mitt “Nobody ever asked me for my birth certificate” Romney. (And then there were all of those patently racist signs at the Tea Party rallies, variously depicting Obama as Hitler, The Joker, an African tribal witch doctor with a bone through his nose…)
These folks — and many, many others on the American right — can’t seem to accept Barack Obama’s American-ness, somehow… Nearly four years after his election, they remain unconvinced. What could their issue be?
Sometimes they try to make it seem as if there’s a policy difference in there somewhere, but that doesn’t wash. In addition to quashing all of the world’s attempts to make Bush-era torturers accountable for their crimes, President Obama has adopted practically every right-wing argument and conservative policy going, making the Heritage Foundation’s positions of yesterday his today… and in the process making today’s Republicans seem an unreasonable party of hypocrites, deranged lunatics denouncing the same policies they championed just a few years ago (comparable, I suppose, to the hypocrisy of those on the left who denounced Bush’s terror wars and now condone — or even celebrate — the continuing butchery and ongoing assault on our civil liberties under Obama).
No, for these Republicans it always boils down to disliking/fearing/distrusting this president, whose very legitimacy many of them still dispute — despite his overwhelming election victory, relative popularity, and the release of his long-form birth certificate.
Conservative politicians and pundits who desire mainstream credibility generally refuse to articulate (at least on record) just why they so stridently oppose President Obama, offering only allusions to his otherness and the radical, un-American nature of his ideas and policies – with the loopy “European Socialist” refrain and the claims that Obama is somehow “soft on Muslim terrorism” both having emerged as politically acceptable, coded nods to the “heartland” folks who know deep down that Obama is not like us and doesn’t share our fundamental, American values. These die-hard GOP loyalists also know in their precious little, fact-averse hearts that “secret-Muslim Obama” and “non-citizen Obama” would be accepted “facts” if it weren’t for “political correctness” and the “liberal media…”
In short, these Republicans are seriously delusional…
“Clint Eastwood has done a huuuge favor to us all. Because the Republican Party’s irrationality — that they’ve worked so hard at the convention trying to conceal — was unleashed… Eastwood finally revealed the cognitive dissonance that is the beating heart and soul and fiction of this party: they’re so far gone, they’re hammering Obama for things that Bush did — and Romney is!” — Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, 8/31/12
Indeed, the conservative case against Obama has never been a rational one. It has always been a cynically partisan and dangerously divisive gambit, utterly dependent on incessantly othering “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” and transforming this moderate (by today’s standards), politically conciliatory technocrat into an apocalyptic figure of fear and dread – at least in the poisoned minds of the Republican faithful.
This demagogic ugliness has been the GOP’s tact toward Obama at least since the last Republican vice-presidential nominee went all “pit-bull/hockey mom” on his ass, repeatedly claiming (shamelessly, groundlessly) that Obama “pals around with terrorists.” And this othering of Obama continues to this very day, with Dinesh D’Souza’s race-baiting, election year GOP-propaganda film playing in theaters across the country as I type these words (conservative mainstay D’Souza posits that Obama is afflicted with deeply rooted “Kenyan, anti-colonialist” and “socialist” beliefs that he inherited from his father — through his genes, I suppose, as Obama hardly knew his father).
While The Daily Show episode I’ve cited emphasizes the Eastwood-exposed “irrationality” of the GOP’s case against this President, Jon Stewart declines (in his usual, genteel fashion) to MAKE IT PLAIN, so allow me: Today’s GOP is the party of white-male anger and thinly-disguised bigotry/sexism.
There, I said it (does anyone doubt it?).
The entire election strategy of today’s GOP is focused on two objectives: 1) galvanizing/mobilizing white, religiously-indoctrinated fear of the President; and 2) using recently passed voter I.D. laws — allegedly crafted to prevent (virtually nonexistent) voter fraud — to disenfranchise millions of legally registered American voters, the majority of whom are minorities. In short, it’s easy to understand why roughly three-quarters of polled Latinos and virtually all African-Americans say they will vote against the Republican Party’s candidate this fall… if they’re permitted to, that is.
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Finally, allow me to return to Clint Eastwood’s unfortunately racist speech, one last time. (First, I should clarify that it brings me no pleasure to characterize Mr. Eastwood’s speech in this way. The truth is, I’m predisposed to like Clint Eastwood; I’m a huge fan of the movies, and there’s no disputing that Mr. Eastwood’s contributions to film — and, by extension, American culture — have been considerable. For what it’s worth, a couple of my favorite Clint Eastwood films are “Bronco Billy” and “Unforgiven” …I even have a soft spot in my heart — or possibly, head — for his silly movies with Clyde the Orangutan. Oop oop.)
That said, Mr. Eastwood has been criticized over the course of his career — with at least some justification, I’d say — for the “fascism” and racial insensitivity (the defensive/ever-self-justifying bigotry) of characters like “Dirty Harry” Callahan… even though, at the end of the day, “Harry” (like good old Archie Bunker), is revealed to have a good heart and is basically fair-minded — after all, Hollywood couldn’t have an irredeemably racist/sexist/fascist cop protagonist as the hero of its films…
Actually, I saw Eastwood’s character in his recent film, “Gran Torino,” as something of a belated response, on the part of the famed actor/director, to his prominent, progressive, “Dirty Harry”-era critics. Through this film, Eastwood (with an aged, “Dirty Harry” proxy) seems to acknowledge the offensive quality of his famous character’s flamboyant use of racial epithets — and sort of simultaneously defends and apologizes for his use of such language (all while chronicling his new character’s ability to confront/overcome his bigotry, forging strong ties with the neighboring Hmong family whom he initially sees as “gooks”). It’s poignant, actually, and I respect this film and Eastwood’s performance in it.
Nonetheless, I think that some of the criticisms of the “Dirty Harry” films are valid. Like the protagonist of many a 1970s revenge-fantasy film — featuring a white-male cop/suburbanite who’s had it up to here with the criminal-coddling system — Dirty Harry is an unmistakable avatar of white rage. Like Charles Bronson in those dismal “Death Wish” movies, “Harry” thrilled predominantly white-male audiences by pointing his gun barrel right at the face of the Black Punk, his hand on the trigger, and snarling “Make my day.”
And that was EXACTLY the problem with Eastwood’s RNC speech: with practically every breath he uttered in the direction of the empty chair in which he’d rhetorically placed Barack Obama, Clint Eastwood was clearly addressing a Black Punk — an inferior — and that’s exactly how he treated (in absentia) the President of the United States. Mr. Eastwood sat “the President” down for a good talking to, placing himself above Obama (who, in Eastwood’s imagination, was apparently fidgety, foul-mouthed, and petulant, like a kid enduring a stern, parental lecture). Clint repeatedly had to admonish Invisible Obama for interrupting him, “It’s my turn!” (So sit down and shut up, essentially; it’s time to Take Our Country Back). In truth, it was a jarringly disrespectful display, and the Republican delegates positively flipped for it; the more insulting Eastwood was, the more they roared with delight. The Hollywood legend pretended more than once that the President was telling him to “shut up” and also, repeatedly, to go fuck himself (the full phrase unspoken, but the intent clear). Now, doesn’t that sound just like Barack Obama? (No, indeed, it does not.)
The speech culminated with an extraordinary, spontaneous, and critically revealing moment, the “Go ahead, make my day” moment that began with a shout from a rapturous delegate, inviting Eastwood to recreate that famous “Dirty Harry” scene, only substituting Mr. Invisible — aka President Obama — for that quivering, cowardly Black Punk in the movie. After initially demurring, Eastwood decided to indulge this conventioneer. Addressing “Mr. Obama,” asking him if he wanted to make his day, the American icon decided to turn it into a call-and-response affair:
“GO AHEAD,” Eastwood cued the audience, and they responded en masse, “MAKE MY DAY!!!” to the “Black Punk” who they clearly believe occupies the White House.
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Since I think Jon Stewart pretty much hit the nail on the head, I’ll give him the last word on the RNC Clint Eastwood speech: “It hurt these Republicans bad, because this convention (like all conventions) is a scripted and focus-grouped fantasy, and the display of Eastwood’s ‘Gran Torino’ id was the very thing Republicans had constructed the entire week to suppress!
“It advanced our understanding… There is a ‘President Obama’ that only Republicans can see” and this (radical/socialist/Kenyan/un-American/secret-Muslim) is “bent on our wholesale destruction.”
It would seem that some delusions (and cynical political tactics) reveal more about the deluded one than intended, and the GOP’s deluded chorus — with its reality-averse refrains all conjuring the black president’s scary otherness – reveals a Republican soul that is disturbingly, shamefully, and unmistakably… “Dirty.”