Dirty Harry in Tampa, a Glorious Bastard
By Alan Posener
Translated By Ron Argentati
Hollywood star Clint Eastwood is drawing a lot of flak for his appearance at the Republican National Convention — unjustly — because the 82-year-old actor was representing the decent Republicans in America.
For a moment, the applause was silenced in the great hall. Clint Eastwood read the riot act to the Republican delegates. He had just caused a joyous outbreak at the Republican convention by thundering, “We own this country.” But then the old Western warhorse said, “Politicians are employees of ours. And when somebody does not do the job, we got to let them go.” That put somewhat of a damper on the celebrating, at least temporarily.
Because like all faithful party members, Republicans believe they have a monopoly on the truth; they believe they not only have the better candidate for the White House, but that they have a moral claim to the job. No, said Clint Eastwood. Finish the job. Bring the boys home from Afghanistan. Bring the 23 million unemployed in from the streets; then we'll see. That would get Thomas Jefferson's approval.
As he stands there, the 82-year-old with wild white hair, speaking with an old man's cracking voice, as he — the great actor — seems to have gotten tangled up in his own thoughts, he then comes to the point in less than 10 minutes, something the wooden Mitt Romney and the slippery-as-an-eel Paul Ryan couldn't accomplish by talking for an hour. That is great cinema. And once again, Clint Eastwood is misunderstood by his own countrymen. The reaction of the critics and his colleagues to that performance was devastating.
This Audience Can't Appreciate His Liberal Films
But even the young Clint Eastwood wasn't particularly liked by Hollywood. It was the Italian director Sergio Leone who discovered him and made him a star with the spaghetti Western movie “A Fistful of Dollars” in 1964. In it, Eastwood played a man who pitted two gangster families against one another while taking money from both of them. When a Mexican woman asks him why, as a gringo, he's helping her, he replies, “Why? Because I knew someone like you once and there was no one there to help.”
He told the convention crowd that he was moved to tears when Barack Obama was elected, even though he had not voted for him. Silence in the hall — the party of Abraham Lincoln is no longer what it was in the 1950s, the party of black Americans. Today, said Eastwood, he sheds tears over the 23 million unemployed.
Clint Eastwood simply cannot tolerate injustice. The films he directs touch on social taboos: Capital punishment (“True Crime”); euthanasia (“Million Dollar Baby”); the dehumanization of the enemy in wartime (“Letters from Iwo Jima”); racism (“Gran Torino”); FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's homosexuality (“J. Edgar”). Those are all thoughtful, very liberal art films few of the ultraconservative conventioneers probably even saw, much less liked. Instead, they all screamed, “Make my day!”
Eastwood Ends the Affair with Irony
They wanted Dirty Harry, the cop who fought injustice sometimes by ignoring the law. The man who put his gun in the criminal's face and said, “Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do ya, punk? Go ahead, make my day.” Eastwood's Dirty Harry caught on. But the feeling that the rule of law mainly benefits the bad guys is called into question when it goes against them, as evidenced by Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
Eastwood addressed the fact that Obama didn't succeed in closing Guantanamo and that it was a dumb idea to want to put the 9/11 masterminds on trial in New York in any case.
But he didn't make it into an anti-terrorist tirade. And as far as Dirty Harry is concerned, Eastwood withdrew from that scene with irony telling the audience, “All right. I started, you finish it. Go ahead!” And as if the punk Barack Obama were actually standing before them in the flesh, they shouted back, “Make my day!”
Eastwood was talking to an imaginary Barack Obama onstage and had him tell Mitt Romney to go f--- himself. That got the audience abuzz with excitement; Clint Eastwood remained unruffled. That's how politicians sometimes talk when the microphone has been turned off, but we don't. Eastwood's appearance was not a manifestation of “let's pretend.”
Let's not pretend that Hollywood is populated exclusively with liberals. Let's not pretend that all Democrats are radical leftists and all Republicans are ultraconservatives. He said, “Whether you are a Democrat or Republican or whether you're libertarian or whatever, you are the best.” Perhaps that joke was too subtle for a fiercely partisan audience. Even in America, they realize that elections are won by moderates.
Perhaps the audience squinted their eyes and saw the 40-year-old Clint Eastwood on that stage — the man who brought the brutality and ambivalent morality of the Hollywood Western back to an all-too-tame, family-oriented Hollywood. Eastwood was only playing an 82-year-old on that RNC stage. But 20 years ago in “Unforgiven,” he celebrated his break from the past by playing an aging gunslinger whose will to fight injustice was still as strong as ever, but whose flesh had become weak.
He Was Only Playing the Part of a Confused 82-Year-Old
At the convention he appeared erratic, often hesitating, listening to some inner voice as the elderly often do. But his eyes were alert. They were the eyes of a man who had seen both the high and low points of his party: Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. And he reminded Republicans that they were always good when they were the party of a decent America that didn't put up with injustice.
The malice directed toward Clint Eastwood is malice directed toward old age. If one compares his life's work as an actor and director with the gee and haw of his political record, if one compares his wisdom in defending the right of people to be sovereign and independent with the noise coming from the tea party ideologues, it's clear: America would be a better place if there were more Republicans like Clint Eastwood.
Deep down, Republicans and Democrats know this as well. “A Fistful of Dollars” ended with peace between the feuding families and the lone cowboy riding off into the sunset. That glorious bastard's grand performance in Tampa evokes that same scene.