In the middle of a smooth-running TV machine of the sort that modern political conventions have long since become, Eastwood – clever humanist showman that he's long since become – was giving us the real, fallible texture of human personality and the real sound of the octogenarian human voice – searching, a little fumbling and more than a little ungainly.
He confessed later that he was making it up as he went along.
When the camera showed us a reaction shot of Ann Romney during his remarkably odd bit of national improv, she seemed to be about as stricken with horror as a disciplined and decorous political wife would allow herself to be on camera.
It was Eastwood's fractious little tribute to human fallibility amid all the lickety-split efficiency. Remember that this is a man who, as a film director, is famous for not saying “action!” but rather for quietly saying to his actors “whenever you're ready.”
It's always been my theory that his clumsy and mildly loony bit of second-class improv would have played better if he'd been endorsing Obama at the Democratic convention, where there is a rich tradition of, uh, eccentricity at the podium.
The news, of course, wasn't anything Eastwood tried to say or even the immense censure he received for saying it the way he did. It was Eastwood's being so pro-Romney and anti-Obama that he seemed to have no qualms whatsoever about “coming out” as a strong Romney Republican mere days before the release of his movie “Trouble With the Curve.”
If you'd asked me, I'd have thought old whispering Clint was a left-leaning libertarian. The fellow who directed “Mystic River” and “Gran Torino,” with their working class populism, and “Million Dollar Baby,” with its implicit endorsement of euthanasia under extreme circumstances, and “Unforgiven,” with its Western ethos revisionism, seemed to me so politically independent – and left leaning – that the last thing I ever expected him to do was stand up at a Republican convention, brand himself a Romneyite and stick his finger in the president's eye.
“Dirty Harry” and “High Plains Drifter” were, after all, long ago.
But there he was declaring himself for Romney just before release of his movie. There are Hollywoodians and film box office analysts even now who will tell you that the major reason “Trouble With the Curve” was a box office disappointment was that his sudden presidential campaign partisanship alienated part of his constituency at the most inopportune time. Declaring one's self a Romney Republican, for a working actor, is like a gay “coming out” – it's a bell you can't unring. It will be part of what some think of old Clint from now on – which, perverse old cuss that he is, is I'm sure just fine with him.
Nor is he the only Romney Republican who's a little bit surprising. So overpoweringly Democratic do celebrities tend to be that some of the Republican mavericks are nothing if not startling. Consider Adam Sandler, for instance. Or – especially for those who saw his Starz TV show “Boss” – Kelsey Grammer, who complained to Jay Leno that his Republicanism cost him an Emmy nomination for “Boss.” He may not be wrong.
Andy Garcia? Jon Cryer? Drew Carey? All reportedly Republicans in the Romney camp. No one would be the slightest bit surprised that the Steroid Club – Hulk Hogan, Sylvester Stallone, Vince McMahon – have been Romneyiacs along with Chuck Norris, Meat Loaf, Joe Perry, Hank Williams Jr., Charlie Daniels and Ted Nugent, among other apostles of art, sensitivity and subtlety of thought in the nation's intellectual diet.
Jon Voight has been a Republican a long time, but it still seems odd to me that Jane Fonda's co-star in “Coming Home” is now found on the same side of the political aisle as Kid Rock, Jeff Foxworthy, Pat Boone, Jerry Bruckheimer, Gerald McRaney and Gretchen Wilson.
Gary Sinise? James Caan? Scott Baio? All Romney voters, it's said. And now Buzz Bissinger, too, the sports columnist who wrote the book “Friday Night Lights,” whose star in the TV version is Connie Britton, reportedly an Obama-ite. (Hayden Panettiere too, which makes the new show “Nashville” a clean-sweep for Obama among its top stars.)
But then, as most people know, so is most of the showbiz establishment – Bruce Springsteen, Steven Spielberg and Barbra Streisand, along with Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck, Nathan Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Wahlberg, Sharon Stone, Robert Redford, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Alec Baldwin and Angelina Jolie.
Who could possibly be surprised by their reported political affection for Obama?
But how about Ashley Judd? Let me confess liberally that she's an Obama-ite, as I wouldn't have expected. So is Kevin Costner.
Who'd have thought the president would have strength among the celebrity chefs – Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck and Gordon Ramsey, especially when model-turned-furniture queen Cindy Crawford is for Romney?
Sure, comedians Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Chelsea Handler are reportedly for Obama, but so is Jim Carrey, as loose as loose cannons get on anything that purports to be “A” deck.
Julia Roberts, Zooey Deschanel, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Elizabeth Banks and Jessica Alba? All, it seems, in the president's column. But, get this, so, too, is Betty White, which may be in its way a Democratic response to Republicans' obvious pride in having Clint Eastwood in their corner (“we'll see your Clint with Robert De Niro and Jeff Bridges and raise you one Betty White.”)
Lest it seem that show biz muscle is all going for Romney, the president has Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (we don't even have to guess where Arnold Schwarzenegger, ex-Republican governor of California, stands).
Lesser movie super heroes, in general, seem comfortable with Obama – Brandon Routh (“Superman”) and Tobey Maguire (“Spiderman”). On the other hand, “Batman's” Christian Bale was noticed conspicuously for his relative rarity when he went to the funeral of “From My Cold Dead Hands” NRA Republican Charlton Heston.
That, of course, may mean nothing at all, since Bale hasn't openly declared himself. But anyone wanting you to bet that he's in Obama's column is asking you to make a fool's bargain, it seems to me.
If you're looking for younger generations lining up behind Romney, you're in little trouble after Britney Spears.
Everyone from Kim Kardashian to Jesse Eisenberg and Lena Dunham, creator and star of HBO's “Girls,” has declared for Obama (the latter in an ad whose elementary double entendre has become a nonissue “issue”).
But then, if Kelly Clarkson wants to hang out with John Ratzenberger and Dennis Miller at a Romney rally it would seem to be downright churlish to get nasty about it.
When America has made you their idol, you ought to have some privileges, after all.