Clint Eastwood at the GOP convention: effective, or strange?

The buzz the morning after Mitt Romney's trumphant acceptance speech at the GOP convention, which was supposed to be a tightly scripted event, is Clint Eastwood's rambling monologue. To be charitable, it was unique.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Actor Clint Eastwood talks to an empty chair during his address to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday, Aug. 30.

It’s the day after the Republican National Convention, where Mitt Romney finally grasped his long-term goal of the GOP presidential nomination, so of course the question that’s roiling the American political world today is this: Was there something wrong with Clint Eastwood?

Movie icon Eastwood was the “mystery speaker” on the convention’s final night, in case you haven’t heard. He was on-stage at the top of the hour prior to Romney’s long-awaited acceptance speech. Convention planners probably expected he’d deliver a short, growling quasi-commercial composed of references to his past movies. You know, “Turn Obama every which way but loose!” and stuff like that.

Instead he delivered a rambling monologue to an empty chair that represented Obama himself. (“InvisibleObama” already has its own Twitter feed.) He talked about unfilled promises, and how Obama had many of them, and whether lawyers should even be president. He brought up Oprah Winfrey. He drew his finger across his throat in a reference to “having to let people go.” He pretended that the unseen president in the chair was mouthing obscenities.

To be charitable, it was unique. That’s the word the Romney camp is going with. Ann Romney told CBS News this morning that Eastwood “is a unique guy and he did a unique thing.”

It's possible that Eastwood's evident emotion appealed to independent voters who have previously judged Romney too stiff.

But lots of other people would use a descriptor other than "unique" for Eastwood's approach. “Bizarre,” maybe. “Disjointed.” “Unfathomable.” “Worst performance since last Michael Moore movie.”

“It was entertaining, but it was weird,” wrote conservative Erick Erickson on his RedState blog, going on to defend the speech as an “unscripted conversation of an independent voter coming to terms with the end of the Obama love affair.”

Then there were the really negative reviews.

“Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic,” tweeted movie critic and Twitter star Roger Ebert as Eastwood spoke.

Washington Post political blogger Chris Cillizza judged Eastwood the biggest loser of the night.

“For a night in which the undercard leading up to the primetime speakers was the best of the three nights, Eastwood was a totally unnecessary distraction that had to leave the Romney convention planners grimacing,” he wrote.

“Kooky, long-winded,” said CBS News – in a news story.

Look, here’s our reaction to Eastwood making the Obama campaign's day:

First, this makes screenwriters look good, doesn’t it? You thought those actors just spoke that way from the heart. No, they’re speaking lines, and this shows what happens when they make up their own.

Second, somebody in the Romney camp is going to get their rear handed to them by the candidate, if they haven’t already. Conventions are supposed to be tightly scripted. This is why. It is hard to believe that Eastwood walked on stage without prior approval of his talk, but it appears that’s just what happened.

Third, so what? It’s true that commentary on Twitter about Eastwood’s speech is swamping references to Romney, but tweets are no guide to electoral results. The Eastwood speech, like “Etch-A-Sketch,” Obama’s statement that the private sector is doing fine, Romney’s dressage horse, and so on, will matter little in the context of such fundamentals as the jobless rate and consumer confidence.

It was fun, though. “It wasn’t something to like or dislike; it was just something to appreciate, and marvel at, and to remember to thank television, in its twilight years, for all the great moments it’s given us,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein on his A Plain Blog About Politics.

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