5 Reasons Why Clint’s Talk Was Chair Genius

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The Republicans bashed California, but in the end, a former California mayor and state parks commissioner provided the best speech -- perhaps the only memorable moment -- of the GOP's national convention.

That former California state parks commissioner is named Clint Eastwood, and on Thursday night, he was a surprise speaker.

The speech has been panned by commentators and pundits and supposedly serious people as bizarre or strange. Some have suggested it was a failure.

The people saying these things are colossally wrong. Indeed, you could call them punks.

Eastwood's speech may be the only thing we remember from the convention. His trick of conducting a conversation with an empty chair to represent President Obama is an instant classic. Overall, the presentation deserves immediate induction into the Louvre -- it was a work of art.

Still not convinced? Here are five reasons why Clint's talk was brilliant.

No. 5 -- Clint's talk shined a bright light through a sea of sameness. Outside of his speech, the Republican convention consisted of nothing but the same glossy, polished speeches offering the same dumb talking points that are really nothing more than devices for pushing the buttons of certain voter demographics. Then up to the stage comes Clint and his chair.

His talk was clearly planned, but it was also clearly unscripted. He talked, rambled, joked -- like a real person. The talk was dramatic, as the 80-something Eastwood stumbled over some words and created -- I suspect this was intentional -- real interest in whether he'd make it to the end. He conducted a conversation with an empty chair as though said chair was President Obama. The 11+ minutes for which this went on was simply the most compelling political television in ages.

No. 4 -- Clint's talk resonated culturally. It's already more than a political story, and that will give his talk the kind of long life that few political speeches have. Comedians are already talking about little else -- and that will continue for a while. People are "Eastwooding" on the Internet -- staging conversations with empty chairs.

Part of Clint's genius here was to recognize he could have that effect. Another part of what made the speech work was tone: it was both vaguely vulgar, in a middle-brow American way, and not too serious. Indeed, Eastwood was one of the few speakers who didn't seem to be taking the proceedings too seriously. 

No. 3 -- Clint snuck in some real content: joblessness, Guantanamo Bay and the detainees there, and Afghanistan (he called, in an elliptical way, for the immediate end of that war and the immediate withdrawal of troops). There was more foreign policy in the speech than in either Paul Ryan's or Mitt Romney's more formal, more conventionally serious addresses.

No. 2 -- Clint overshadowed Romney's acceptance speech. This is being described by political professionals as the problem with having Eastwood: his chair overshadowed Romney's speech.

That's one way to look at it. But here's another. Romney is an uninteresting, boring figure. The former Massachusetts governor doesn't have much to say -- there wasn't one new idea or thought in his entire speech. So it's probably a good thing for Romney that people are talking about the empty chair, and not how empty Romney is.

No. 1 -- Clint picked the perfect metaphor. Whether you're a Democrat or Republican, or whether you don't follow politics, can you really disagree with the idea that the chair of leadership in this country is empty? No one is in charge in Washington, D.C. No one can get anything done. No one can govern. An empty chair really defines the American problem right now.

This is all true of California as well. Clint Eastwood lives here. This state needs a director, someone who can figure out a way to govern the ungovernable. After Thursday night's performance, Californians should be chanting: Run, Clint, Run.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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