I was never a huge Clint Eastwood fan. Not that I didn’t recognize his talent as an actor, but the macho of Dirty Harry or Josey Wales, never really did it for me. I’ve always thought if you needed a giant gun in order to make others respect you, or fear you, you really weren’t someone I needed to worry about.
That was until I saw Unforgiven, in which he almost did a 180 degree turn from all the movies before, taking a stand that maybe the answer isn’t always about violence, guns and killing. It got slammed by some critics and fans of Eastwood, but it was lauded by others not only for it being a great story and a well-made movie, but for being brave enough to take a stand on what violence really does create, more violence.
Eastwood then showed us another side, a side rarely seen in his earlier work, when he played Robert Kincaid in The Bridges of Madison County. But it was Million Dollar Baby that showed the world that Unforgiven had not been a fluke. It was a movie about assisted-suicide, a hot topic in this country as it came out during the Terri Schiavo case, in which the issue of pulling the plug became a national debate.
At this point in his career he was willing to start a conversation concerning gun violence and assisted suicide, two issues in which he showed his stance to be very Liberal in his thinking. Then came Gran Torino, a movie about racism in America. His character in this movie had the ‘hate all of those people’ attitude, but soon found that when you get to know them personally, you often find all your assumptions about ‘those people’ are false.
It reminded me of the episode of 30 Days, in which the anti-immigrant, border patrol, Minute-man was put with a family of illegal immigrants for 30 days in L.A. By the end of the month, he came out of that experience not only understanding their situation, but actually offering to send their daughter to college. Often times, when we say education is how we solve most of the racial issues in America, what we really mean is the best way to dispel the hate and fear is to tackle ignorance head on by helping people see those they fear or hate, as human beings.
So here we have a Republican spokesperson, who has publicly stated that he favors gun control and abortion rights and supports environmental causes. Then, to top it off, he narrates the Super Bowl ad that is widely seen as an endorsement for President Obama’s saving the auto industry.
What Clint Eastwood showed the world is not that he was a Liberal in disguise, but in fact, he was an old-school Republican. The Republicans of the days when they were willing to work with a Democrat President and compromise, because they were willing to put their Country ahead of their party. A Republican Party that stood for fiscal conservatism, but still welcomed minorities, women and Gays into their tent. A political party who, even when they suffered a defeat at the ballot box, still respected our Democratic Process.
Like so many others like Colin Powell and Barry Goldwater before him, Clint Eastwood didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left Clint Eastwood.
But then, sadly, we have the night of the Republican National Convention. When Mr. Eastwood, with disheveled hair and without a script, went on stage to incoherently ramble on with an empty chair. To this day I still don’t understand if this was an attempt to undo the Super Bowl commercial, a secret wish to sabotage the Republican gala or if he was just delirious from dehydration. Whatever the reason, it was sad and made him a laughing-stock around the world.
The late Roger Ebert summed it up in his twitter: “Clint, my hero, is coming across as sad and pathetic…he didn’t need to do this to himself.”
I agree. But here’s the problem, and what bothers me more than anything, is the fact that Eastwood ain’t getting much younger. He is a fine actor, an amazing director and a tough Republican to stand up for those things that the Republican Party screams so loudly against. He has shown us, time and again, and he is willing to put the love of his Country ahead of the beliefs of his Party. He reminds us what the Republicans of old were able to accomplish, by standing up for what is right, over what is popular. But in a few short minutes, standing next to an empty chair, he managed to undo decades of good work with the greatest of ease.
And that’s not okay.
That’s not okay because that is not how this man should be remembered. That is not okay, because at 82 years old, the last thing we see on the internet about him should not be memes that make fun of him talking to a chair. And even though he’s not my favorite actor, but a damn-fine director, I still want him to be remembered for the stands he was willing to take that got him chastised by his own, and applauded by the other.
So I give you this: Earlier in 2013, Clint Eastwood joined about 100 prominent Republicans who made their voices heard that they support Gay Marriage. Why is this a big deal? A USA Today/Gallup poll in 2009 showed that only 18% of Republicans supported gay marriage. The most recent polling shows that number in the 40% range among younger, conservative-leaning Americans, so for an old-time Republican to stand up for an issue this divisive in America, I think he deserves a nod.
For a man who has supported gay rights, abortion rights, gun control and worked toward environmental issues – who has made movies tackling assisted suicide, racism and violence – I think a few minutes on a stage with an empty chair, that’s small beans, when you think about what he has put in front of our faces and said think about this…punk!
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter, among other works.