It was supposed to be Governor Mitt Romney’s big night. And while many on the left looked forward to the dulcet rhetoric of an empty suit, the Republican National Convention instead shone the spotlight on Clint Eastwood rambling nonsensically to an empty chair. Meanwhile, pundits and journalists ever keen to coin new catch phrases struck linguistic gold:
The Empty Chair Effect: That awkward moment when the sideshow irrevocably becomes the show itself.
But the Grand Old Party has never been known for drawing the biggest au courant names in show business, and the aural fare generally fairs far worse.
While the crowd of conventioneers were just getting warmed up to spit-chant the usual cacophony of “U.S.A’s!”, CNN’s Dana Bash interviewed the evening’s musical star: 2005 American Idol Taylor Hicks. And if securing the vocal stylings of a talent-show winner from seven years ago as your sole primetime entertainment for the night weren’t embarrassing enough, Hicks refused, time and again, to admit for whom he planned on casting his ballot in November. No amount of cajoling from the reporter could even drain a hint from Hicks as to his political persuasion and, as we said in high school, “Damn, that is cold.”
Reporters milled about under the Big Tent before the pre-show and kicked up the political sawdust with every famous-faced politico they could find. Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who seemed to have morphed into a Klingon for the event, rabidly defended the Republican Party’s anti-abortion stance and ignored stated facts from a reporter that the majority of women do not want Roe v. Wade overturned. “Some do, some do,” was his defense, and when Soledad O’Brien reminded the good mayor that he was actually pro-choice, Giuliani soft-shoed his convictions away in the sake of party unity.
Senator John McCain, in one of the convention’s rare moments of lucidity and sagacity, denounced Congressman Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, calling the Missourian, “100 percent unacceptable” and demanding his resignation. Cindy McCain concurred, saying that the G.O.P.’s current stance on women’s issues did not align with her own beliefs. Then, in a moment that stunned C.G.I. artists worldwide, Arizona’s former first lady actually became S.N.L.’s Amy Poehler.
The evening began in earnest with an “operatic” men’s singing group reinterpreting the National Anthem in such an incredibly tone deaf row-row-your-boatness manner that many patriots went scrambling up flagpoles to wipe their asses on Old Glory in protest.
In a less-than-homagey homage to President Ronald Reagan, which was to include a hologram of the Ol’ Gipper (we’re not kidding), Newt and Callista Gingrich (the Grimace and Grandpa Munster) took turns taking barbs at President Obama as if they were presenters at the Hee-Haw Awards.
Later, Romney character witnesses were rolled out to convince Americans that the former governor is an actual human being, and their tear-jerking anecdotes were almost convincing, until Mr. Pez-Dispenser himself popped up to the podium.
But by the time Romney’s soporific soliloquies were lulling the crowd to sleep — in between oddly delayed crowd responses — the history books and the newspapers had already typed their headlines about the 2012 Republic National Convention and they all included the real star of the night: an empty chair.
Throughout the afternoon, reporters yipped in speculation over who would be the night’s surprise guest speaker. And as the day unfolded, many coyly tossed crumbs like, “I hear Dirty Harry’s in Tampaaaa !” Shortly thereafter it was announced like children choking with glee with gobfuls of birthday cake that, “Clint Eastwood is here! He’s speaking!”
For conventioneers weaned on such theatricality as sock puppets and broken animatronics bears at Chuck E. Cheese, this was manna from Hollywood Heaven.
In an unscripted performance, which was slotted for five minutes yet continued nearly twice as long, the three-time Oscar winner turned in a performance nearly as despondent as Sarah McLachlan singing about sad pets. But not by much.
Mr. Unforgiven spoke in an off-the-cuff comedic manner to an empty chair, positioned stage left of the podium, and explained, “So I — so I’ve got Mr. Obama sitting here. And he’s — I was going to ask him a couple of questions.”
And in his quarter-hour ad-libbed comedy routine the actor managed to inadvertently insult the G.O.P. presidential contender by saying that he never thought it was a “good idea for attorneys to be the president, anyway.” (Romney is an attorney.) He also defended Obama by saying, “I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay,” then joked that the president shouldn’t have gone to Afghanistan: “We didn’t check with the Russians to see how did it — they did there for 10 years.” (President George W. Bush put U.S. troops in Afghanistan.)
But the oddest, most uncomfortable moment in the convention came when Eastwood, talking to the empty chair, said:
“…I wondered about when the…what do you want me to tell Romney? I can’t tell him to do that. I can’t tell him to do that to himself.”
A stone-faced Romney clan stared on while the crowd erupted in equal parts laughter and deep grumblings and murmurs.
It was already a meme in the making, and one that Eastwood will never be able to crawl out from underneath — and pop-culture and history books will guarantee that Mitt Romney’s speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention will forever wither in the shadow of a empty chair.
Looks like the G.O.P. talent pool just drained out.