A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about the necessity of not paying attention to political conventions in this day and age. Two days and an ageing Hollywood star and his bizarre talking-to-a-chair and invisible president-routine later, I am going to disdain the usual I-told-you-so’s and move on. But to where? Not to the world of @InvisibleObama Twitter accounts and YouTube parodies that have sprung up in the fertile ground plowed by Mr. Eastwood, I can assure you. Rather, sadly, it is to the debris of our political discourse that I return. What is it, I ask, that made Mitt Romney, his ‘helpers,’ and his followers think that an incoherent–and sadly, one must say, apparently senile–Dirty Harry was going to play the role of vote-getter? (Rachel Maddow’s hunt for refuge in Clint Eastwood’s eighty-two years was simultaneously comic and tragic. Senility as an explanation for an embarrassing performance? There are times, all too often I reassure you, that I wish I could seek refuge in such generic bases.)
One answer might be found in the usual celebrity culture that surrounds politics, a culture that suggests that politics and its attendant players are to be treated like show folks: they might spout nonsense occasionally, but those emanations should be excused because, well, their primary gig is showtime. This answer tells us that we are mistaken in expecting sense–linguistic or otherwise–from our politicians, that they cater to the lowest common denominator. We are closet politicians, it tells us, ones so reconciled to the intellectual emptiness of their culture, that when we confront colossal, breathtaking stupidity like Clint Eastwood’s, we are inclined to wax sympathetic, to find ways to make Eastwood’s political ‘discourse’ reconcile with ours. In excusing Dirty Harry, we excuse ourselves. (By this I mean we excuse his performance, and not those who put him up there.)
This answer then, suggests cynicism on the part of the Romney campaign: ‘Put anyone up there, no matter how idiotic, it’ll work.’ And who could blame them if such indeed was their attitude? Were they, for instance, exposed to a hostile blowback after Paul Ryan’s my-nose-is-growing-longer-by-the-second-speech? (A speech that had Fox News correspondents call it out for its remarkably fragile connection with reality, if I may say so.) Such cynicism would not be overly bizarre or out-of-place: where else would one go for cynicism if not a presidential election campaign?
But the disastrous reception accorded Mr. Eastwood’s speech–internally, within the campaign, in particular–suggests there might be a limit to such cynicism. There was nothing remotely edifying about watching an old man talking to an unoccupied chair (and about professional comedians mocking him as they mimicked him). Perhaps, one might hope, the Republicans will have a heart, and not subject any other old men to the indignities Dirty Harry was put through. In doing so, they might start to cultivate that particularly bizarre emotion and sensibility termed ’empathy,’ which so many of their countrymen–of opposing political persuasions–seem to deem necessary for ‘ruling’ this nation.