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Charles Homans: Clint Eastwood's Performance in Tampa

Charles Homans:

[Eastwood's] joke about Obama telling Romney (we can safely infer, I think) to go f&^# himself still crosses a line, though in post-“You lie!” America it’s hard to say where exactly that line is anymore. But as a matter of pure politics—this being a convention, after all—was Eastwood really so terrible?

One of the biggest problems for Romney as a political communicator is the fundamental impossibility of translating the free-floating, inchoate animus toward Obama… into a vocabulary that makes sense…. More base-friendly Republicans have mostly succeeded in translating it into varieties of spittle-flecked rage or outright conspiracism, but it’s hard to see this kind of thing coming across much better with the sliver of voters left to win over in the next two months.

But Eastwood’s performance channeled a gentler, less toxic version…. He embodied the people you would meet on the margins of the early Tea Party rallies: usually older, not terribly politically engaged, unclear on what it was that the stimulus or (later) the Affordable Care Act actually did or didn’t do, but possessed of a deep conviction that things were somehow just going wrong.

Sure, most of what he said was daft—“Closing Gitmo—why close that? We spent so much money on it”—but that’s sort of the point. Eastwood, for all his fame and wealth, did not seem of a piece with the Olympians and successful entrepreneurs parading across the stage earlier in the evening. He came across more like a surrogate for a cranky, bewildered swath of America—one whom the Republicans venerated last night, and liberals and journalists are tearing to shreds today. In a different venue, you might call it a solid performance.