Commentary: The Eastwood-Romney Debacle

Clint Eastwood's "empty chair" speech didn't do anything to help Mitt Romney's case.

Posted: 08/31/2012 09:22 AM EDT
Commentary: The Eastwood-Romney Debacle By Keith Boykin

Barack Obama is a very lucky man. I'm not saying he's definitely going to win the election, but the Republicans missed a golden opportunity this week to sell America their alternative.

On the closing night of the GOP Convention, on what should have been Mitt Romney's biggest night of his political career, Republicans chose 82-year-old Clint Eastwood to perform a primetime warm-up act that can only be described as bizarre.

In what seemed to be a cross between a Jimmy Stewart monologue and a Don Rickles comedy routine, Eastwood rambled on for 11 painful minutes while pretending to talk to an empty chair on stage. Seemingly without the aid of a teleprompter or a previously vetted speech, Eastwood complained about Obama's Harvard Law School background — "I never thought it was a good idea for attorneys to be president" — apparently without recognizing that Romney graduated from the same law school as Obama.

The aging actor, widely known for his "Dirty Harry" roles, even trotted out his old line, "Go ahead, make my day," and curiously mocked Obama for starting a war in Afghanistan that actually started under George W. Bush, eight years before Obama took office. But at least he talked about the war in Afghanistan.

Romney, on the other hand, the man who would be commander in chief, all but threatened a new war with Iran in his speech but never once mentioned the U.S. soldiers already fighting in Afghanistan, in America's longest war. That glaring omission from the leader of a party that spent the past decade pushing the country into new wars served as a sobering reminder that Romney and his 42-year-old running mate Paul Ryan would come to office with less foreign policy experience than any president and vice president in modern history.

After a night filled with inspiring stories about Marco Rubio's and Mitt Romney's fathers, Romney awkwardly tried to introduce himself to the voters in a speech that was heavy on biography and platitudes but shockingly light on policy. Thanks to Eastwood's rambling lead-in, Romney started his speech late and by 11 p.m., at the end of the television networks' pre-determined hour of broadcasting, had not mentioned a single policy issue.

When he did finally touch on policy, the former Massachusetts governor devoted a total of 180 words out of his 4,086 word speech (five paragraphs out of 122) to explain his five-step plan to create 12 million new jobs. If you stepped away to the refrigerator for a moment, you missed it.

Presidential candidates' convention speeches rarely miss the mark. The whole week-long scripted event is designed to make the candidate look good, and thousands of screaming supporters cheering at every applause line virtually guarantees success. But somehow Romney achieved the near impossible by failing even Thursday night's modest test.

"It wasn't the greatest convention speech ever," Republican strategist Steve Schmidt admitted after it ended. "It wasn't even the best speech at this convention," he added. CNBC's Larry Kudlow complained the speech lacked specifics. CNN's David Gergen said the speech "needed more soul." And even Fox News's Brit Hume admitted, "This was not a soaring speech... This was not a great speech."

Conservative Charles Krauthammer seemed to rush to Romney's defense on Fox News, suggesting the Republican nominee might one day be known for results instead of oratory. "If he becomes president, he will not be known as the great connector," Krauthammer acknowledged.

Perhaps that explains Eastwood's remarkably tepid statement of support for Romney last night. After complaining about unemployment under the Obama administration, Eastwood meekly added: "I think possibly now it may be time for somebody else to come along and solve the problem." Now there's a ringing endorsement.

It was David Gergen, the man who served under Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, who ultimately delivered what may be the most damning indictment of the Eastwood-Romney handoff last night. He called it "one of the worst openings of primetime final night that I've ever seen."

Somewhere at a stadium in Charlotte today, the bar has being lowered quite a bit.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes political commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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