There is a God in heaven. After three days of gaseous and often fraudulent speeches, Clint Eastwood's unscripted sketch in the closing hours of the Republican National Convention in Tampa last night finally managed to say something that was true: The Republican Party is an aging white guy ranting incoherently at an imaginary Barack Obama.
American Prospect's Jamelle Bouie and I must have simultaneously come to that very same conclusion after watching Eastwood's surprise, late-entry performance last night -- which is certain to go down in convention lore as one of the weirdest moments in American political history. But the multiple levels of symbolism produced by this American icon's soon-to-be iconic dialog with a make-believe president were delicious.
Following Eastwood's 10-minute improvisation, the Romney campaign felt compelled to issue a brief statement distancing itself from the performance: "Judging an American icon like Clint Eastwood through a typical political lens doesn't work," said a Romney spokesman. "His ad-libbing was a break from the political speech-making, and the crowd enjoyed it."
Thus did the Mitt Romney campaign repudiate its own convention in the same way its candidate has been forced to distance himself from his own biography and record throughout this inauthentic and thoroughly dishonest campaign.
But it was Eastwood's empty chair that took center stage.
For the past four years we've had to watch as Republicans have attacked Barack Obama as if he is some sort of dangerous, socialist, radical stranger instead of a President who, time and time again, has embraced Republican positions.
As Noah Millman writes in the American Conservative: The "Obama Administration has been a quintessentially small-'c' conservative one, in that it has tried its best to preserve the status quo in just about every area."
Daily Beast blogger Andrew Sullivan agrees, saying it would be helpful if commentators from now on acknowledge not only that the Republican Party has become a right-wing populist party rather than a conservative one, "but that the Obama Administration is the sensible, centrist conservative Administration they claim to want."
The most obvious example is Obamacare. There is no disputing that the health care reform Mitt Romney passed in Massachusetts while he was Governor was the template upon which "Obamacare" was based. As someone who was involved in the formation of both policies finally blurted out in a moment of maximum frustration: Obamacare and Romneycare "are the same fucking bill!!!"
Yet, the author of Romneycare has made it a centerpiece of his campaign to repeal Obamacare as a threat to the very existence of the Republic. How, then, is this any weirder than Clint Eastwood giving voice to an imaginary Barack Obama who tells his Republican rival to go fuck himself?
Or why, as Time's Michael Grunwald has asked, do Republicans think their own $715 billion stimulus passed in the early days of 2008's economic crisis was good public policy while Obama's $787 billion alternative (half of which was tax cuts) constituted the thin edge of freedom-crushing socialism?
The difference, of course, was that Republicans knew they could regain power by opposing Obama on any new government spending, as their unanimous 0 to 173 party-line vote against Obama's first stimulus bill demonstrated.
Republicans made the cynical calculation that Obama had to intervene massively in an economy on the brink of falling into another Great Depression (just as Republicans would have done if they were in power) given the scale of the catastrophe Republicans bequeathed to him.
And so this left Obama open to fear-mongering attacks about the government taking on too much debt at a time when average Americans were having to tighten their own belts. And the alarm could be sounded by a Republican Party eager to erase its own record of fiscal irresponsibility under George W. Bush (where the national debt doubled in just eight years) by denying to Bush's successor the fiscal tools they knew he needed to correct the GOP's own grievous mistakes.
An aging actor making it up as he goes along was a pretty good dramatization, when you come to think about it, of the Republican Party in the modern age.
This is a GOP, after all, for whom storytelling is now a substitute for real governing and specific policy ideas are shortchanged in place of nostalgia for simpler, more heroic times -- as well as vignettes aimed at reminding Americans what a proud and self-reliant people they are, who should feel guilty, if not ashamed, turning to government for help. The not-so-subtle subtext of these Republican celebrations of American Exceptionalism is: "You're on your own my fellow Americans, so don't expect any help from us."
The biggest whopper Mitt Romney told during his acceptance speech last night was the one about that brief, shining, mystical -- and mythical -- moment after Barack Obama was sworn in when the new President held Americans - Republicans and Democrats alike - in the palm of his hand. But then, according to Romney's fabulous narrative, he let all that goodwill slip away as he tried to "ram" a radical, left-wing agenda down America's throats, and did so using one-party votes.
"Four years ago, I know that many Americans felt a fresh excitement about the possibilities of a new president," said Romney last night. "That president was not the choice of our party but Americans always come together after elections. We are a good and generous people who are united by so much more than divides us."
Funny, that's not how I remember it at all.
What I remember is watching a rerun of something we've not seen since the South seceded from the Union after Abraham Lincoln was elected, namely an entire wing of a major political party going on strike and taking to the streets in angry protests to "take back" America just weeks after the American people tapped as their president someone many of these self-styled "Tea Party" Republicans didn't think was even an American citizen.
The pretext for these protests was runaway government spending and soaring government debts - most of which had been piled up during eight years of Republican Party rule with nary a peep of Tea Party protest.
I also remember reports from Robert Draper of the New York Times about Republicans plotting with pollster Frank Luntz as early as Inauguration Day in 2009 on how they could retake power. Their conclusion: oppose and obstruct Obama at every turn in order to prevent him from achieving victories - even at the expense of the US economy, and even if it meant preventing the President from solving problems Republicans themselves had created.
"If you act like you're the minority, you're going to stay in the minority," Draper quotes Congressman Kevin McCarthy as saying. "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign."
And as the evening's conspiring was breaking up, Newt Gingrich, playing Henry V, added his own St. Crispin's Day touch: "You will remember this day. You'll remember this as the day the seeds of 2012 were sown."
And lastly, I remember Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell saying that the Republican Party's "top priority" was making Barack Obama a one term president - a threat McConnell has tried to make good on by establishing a new 60-vote threshold for passing regular legislation in the Senate after effectively institutionalizing minority rule with more filibusters launched in the last three years than at any equivalent period in the nation's 230-year history.
These were the realities that three days of fact-free and fallacious speeches at the national convention tried to cover up as Republicans pretended to offer hope and change amid generous servings of gloom and doom, much of it their own making.
But leave it to an aging film star to make our day by giving us the Etch-a-Sketch moment we've all been waiting for when Eastwood ripped off the mask of the Republican Party's Monty Python-like farce with his own satirical, sarcastic skit.
Life, as they say, imitates art. But sometimes, as we saw last night with Clint Eastwood unintentional imitation of today's Republican Party, it's the other way around.