Why Clint Eastwood’s speech worked

Jim Huffman Dean Emeritus, Lewis & Clark Law School
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Clint Eastwood’s speech to the Republican National Convention has been panned as badly delivered and condemned as disrespectful. But it drew some of the most enthusiastic response of any speech at the three-day event.

Why is that? Are Republicans a bunch of disrespectful yahoos lacking in appreciation for rhetorical skills? No. Their response counters the critics and demonstrates that there is more than one way to deliver a message. My hunch is that a whole lot of people across the political spectrum were both humored and inspired by the iconic actor’s words.

Of course, the talking heads at MSNBC and CNN were in high dudgeon in their disapproval. As, no doubt, were most hard-core Obama supporters, at least after learning from the high priests of liberalism that they were supposed to be offended. After all, Eastwood said neither Mitt Romney nor he could do IT to themselves. Apparently the super-sensitive Rachel and Wolf have never heard a conversation among today’s youth, or even the youth of their own generation. Sometimes, particularly in today’s politics, you have to be a little outrageous to get anyone’s attention. Certainly Clint got their attention.

I suppose it is surprising that the campaign consultants and party poobahs allowed Eastwood to speak without an authorized script. But then, Eastwood is Eastwood. Who’s going to tell the make-my-day guy what to say? And thank goodness he was allowed to be himself, though it’s doubtful he would have spoken otherwise. No sanitized, synthesized, authorized script would have been anywhere near as effective.

What media critics heard as unprepared, bumbling and rambling prattle, millions of Americans heard as an expression of their frustration with nearly four years of economic lethargy and political divisiveness. What the naysayers heard as disrespect of the president, millions of Americans heard as a challenge to a leader often disrespectful of those who disagree with him. People do not soon forget when told that they cling to their guns and their religion, and that they have not built the businesses in which they have invested life and treasure.

A carefully vetted speech read from a teleprompter like most of the convention speeches would have been lost in the mists of endless and predictable words meant to inspire without offending, and without committing anyone to anything. Eastwood said what was on his mind. We need more of that in American politics — more honest debate and less pandering — more communication and less obfuscation.

Eastwood was not speaking to the Republican base or to independents, or to moderate Democrats. He was speaking to anyone willing to listen. Some who listened took offense. But my guess is that most who listened found themselves nodding in agreement and smiling at the jokes, even if off color.

Eastwood said what he thought and what a lot of other people are thinking. We own this country. Those we elect to public office work for us. If they don’t do their job, we fire them. Pretty basic stuff that most people, in most walks of life, understand. And, oh yes, there are even people in Hollywood who think it’s time to fire the guy at the top. A simple message, simply and effectively delivered.

Jim Huffman is the dean emeritus of Lewis & Clark Law School, the co-founder of Northwest Free Press and a member of the Hoover Institution’s De Nault Task Force on Property Rights, Freedom and Prosperity.