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I watched Clint Eastwood's talk with an invisible President Obama last night, and the very first thing that struck me when Eastwood attributed President Obama as saying "shut up" and "go blank yourself" was that President Obama would never respond to anyone that way. I even said it out loud to nobody in the room with me, "President Obama wouldn't say that." Based on every public appearance I've seen of President Obama responding to someone, he has always demonstrated respect towards the other person, whether that person was friendly or combative. It was frustrating last night to watch all the jokes being made about Clint Eastwood's performance and not see anyone mentioning the fact that the words that Eastwood attributed to President Obama were demonstrable lies.

President Obama is a respectful person. It is not the kind of respect perceived by racist people who assume African-Americans must be respectful to white people due to some perceived white supremacy; but the kind of respect that any descent, honorable human being pays to all people, regardless of their race, creed or gender. That, at his core, is who President Obama is and one of the reasons I have so much admiration and respect for him.

Look at all the times going all the way back to the 2008 campaign when people have tried to be confrontational with President Obama. If somebody shouted out something negative while President Obama was speaking at a campaign stop, and the audience started booing, what happened? President Obama asked the audience to let the naysayer speak. He doesn't run away from confrontation. Just watch this video of a man and a woman trying to argue with President Obama earlier this month, if you can hear over a band playing a John Philip Sousa march in the background. Despite being repeatedly interrupted, the President tries to answer the questions before finally giving by saying, "It doesn't sound like you're interested in listening, it sounds like your interested in ..." I couldn't catch that last word.

Even when President Obama was interrupted when making a statement in his position as President, he responded, "Excuse me, sir. It is not time for questions sir. Not while I'm speaking." He certainly did not say, "shut up," nor would he ever tell somebody to shut up whatever the circumstance might be. It was discussed at the time how disrespectful people are towards this President, especially those who think he is not deserving of holding the office. Little bombs go off in the minds of Republicans whenever they think about the fact that this man is the President of the United States.

I was very pleased to finally see my reaction to Clint Eastwood's performance discussed this afternoon on NOW with Alex Wagner, when she had as her guest the host of Inside the Actor's Studio, James Lipton, who participated in a discussion, along with Chris Hayes and Karen Finney, as well as Mark Halperin still in Tampa. Mr. Lipton's first reaction was the same as mine.

Last night was not his best performance. Look, we're talking here about something I know a little bit about. He was doing an improv. That's an improv; it's ad lib. In an improv, you needed a partner. So he created one for himself. Now look, George Bernard Shaw, the great playwright, was great because he always gave the best lines to the antagonists. Actors know, "I want to play the bad guy; he gets the best lines;" the reason being that the stronger the antagonist, the stronger the protagonist because he's got something to fight against.

What he gave to Barack Obama was, well, not the best lines. It was a couple vulgarities. First of all, "shut up," and then "go blank yourself;" a word we can't utter here, of course, and shouldn't have been uttered there. Certainly, not before the candidate was going to come out and impress us with what a wonderful person he was. The result was that it was ... Let me say this, in my opinion, Obama is incapable of saying "shut up and go blank yourself" in any normal circumstance and is capable, in fact, of uttering much more eloquent and I think proper replies. He was not given that opportunity. The words were put in his mouth. The words were vulgar and worse, they were disrespectful. I mean, I can remember a number of presidential campaigns where presidents who were running for reelection were not treated quite this disrespectfully.

Then Chris Hayes brought up a fact that didn't even occur to me last night; that President Obama was supposed to have been sitting in a chair, and was "literally, physically talked down to ... like a school boy; like an errant school boy." I realize that no matter how many times we bring up the disrespectful behavior towards President Obama, that our talking about it will not make it stop. Evidently, you just can't teach good manners to adults who didn't learn them while growing up. But I don't think that means we should stop discussing the subject every time it happens. At the very least we should always point out shameful behavior.

The next point that Mr. Lipton brought up about the performance was the fact that he had been sitting there for several minutes and all they had talked about was Clint Eastwood. What hadn't they talked about? Mitt Romney. At which point they did. Mr. Lipton and Chris Hayes reviewed Mitt Romney's performance last night.

James Liption: But the ... I would say that he has certainly improved, without question. He was more confident. He was more assertive. He was more relaxed. And let us now ask why. He was preaching to the converted. He was, as we say, preaching to the choir. There was nobody there to resist him, and there was no resistance from them. There was adoration, which is appropriate in a convention, of course. And as a result he was extremely relaxed. The test will be when he goes back on the campaign, and if once again he tries to assume the mantle of the common man, among real genuine honest-to-goodness common people, then he's going to be in trouble and going to be right back where he was. It will undo some of the good that was done, unquestionable good that was done, by this portrait of him that was painted, ready, by other people. Now, that's characteristic of conventions but nonetheless, it was other people saying he did this, he did that; he was wonderful. All true, all fine, but the fact remains that he still has to master the art of speaking to people directly, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul and of really, really meaning it.

Chris Hayes: And the big questions I think, I couldn't agree more; I mean the big question is, people are appealing when they're being magnanimous, they're appealing when they're talking about love and their family and things that they evidently care about. But the next time, the next three instances in which we'll see him at a stage of this elevation are the debates. And then there's conflict and there's the possibility of anger and there are certain tells that he has that were not in the speech because it was a set piece and they did a very good job, but the kind of $10,000 bet, the kind of smile, grimace angrily.

Alex Wagner: The grabbing of the shoulder.

Chris Hayes: The grabbing of the shoulder. Those moments are when I think he's probably least likeable and that is going to be the big question, is can he maintain the more in sorrow than anger tone he had in the speech when directly across from the President.

And finally there was a discussion about the part of the speech where Mitt Romney talked about Bain Capital.
Chris Hayes: Bain managed to make money every year. The returns they made were incredible. What exactly is wrong with this picture? If you take on risk, sometimes you're going to lose.

Karen Finney: But because they weren't playing in the real free market system because they mitigated their risk. So he and the investors were pretty much always shielded which is why when companies went under and people lost everything, their pensions, their healthcare, they still walked away with millions.

Alex Wagner: The companies themselves took all the risks.

The one thing I personally noticed while watching Mitt Romney's speech last night was the little dog whistle he slipped in.
That unique blend of optimism, humility, and the utter confidence that, when the world needs someone to do that, you need an American.
Of course, technically, Romney was referring to Neil Armstrong when he said that, because the previous sentence was "Tonight, that American flag is still there on the Moon. and I don't doubt for a second that Neil Armstrong's spirit is still with us." If President Obama's campaign were as mean-spirited and fraudulent as the Republicans were when they took his "You didn't build that" comment out of context and ultimately staged their entire convention around it, we'd be seeing clips of Romney saying just that line about needing to be an American. Then they would point to it as an example of how Romney and the Republicans want to define President Obama as somebody who is "foreign" and "other" than "real Americans." While most of the leaders of their party probably never honestly believed that, they see it is a tool for drumming up hate and anger towards President Obama. If they were to run an honest campaign against President Obama and his record, they know they would lose. So they believe that they have to create as many angry white guys as they can in a last ditch effort to win. But you'll never see President Obama nor his campaign do anything like that because they have a lot more class than that. Besides, they are also smarter and more creative. Just look how they use humor to explain Mitt Romney's plans for this country to the American people.

Ultimately, I imagine that if President Obama was really sitting in that chair last night, the conversation would have gone quite differently. (The full NOW with Alex Wagner video and transcription is below the fleur-de-orange.)

Update with Rachel Maddow's Take On The Clint Eastwood Fiasco


I'm running behind tonight. Oh heck, I'm running behind every night because I can't get anything done just keeping up with what's going on in politics. Moments after I published another diary, I had a phone call with my aunt in Alabama who was lamenting the fact that she is surrounded by Republicans and has nobody to talk to. So, I missed The Rachel Maddow Show. I was trying to keep up with reading comments in two diaries and watch TRMS, which I recorded, when darn that Rachel, she just added her impression of the whole Clint Eastwood fiasco.

When I first published this diary, I pointed out in a response to a comment:

They were in the home stretch. They had a beautiful video about Mitt Romney that they showed before the convention went live on all three major networks, and what did they do? They put Clint Eastwood on stage instead.

If that doesn't tell every voting American what a catastrophe a Romney president would be, I don't know what will.

I just watched the second segment on TRMS and Rachel made a similar point. Only of course, she did it much more eloquently and in much more detail. I'm not going to transcribe the entire segment, just the salient parts. First Rachel pointed out how important that 10 minute biographical commercial introducing the candidate is to a campaign and has been for the last 30 years. When they hit that 10:00 p.m. hour on the three networks, millions of people are watching because it's just what's on.
It was a video to get us psyched about Mitt Romney. It was a good, ten minute, introduction video for Mitt Romney that was really well done. It really might make you like him even if you didn't like him already, or if you just fell asleep for a second at the end of Rookie Blue. They had this thing done; ten minute film, but they did not air it during network coverage. So most people did not see it. It was done by the time the networks started covering the convention.
Then Rachel goes on to explain how it has been scheduled that way purposely to make room for "To Be Announced," which was the surprise speaker. That was spoiled by the fact it was leaked the day before, but they still thought it was going to be so good is was worth putting on Clint Eastwood instead of the biographical video of Mitt Romney. Then Rachel showed clips of the Eastwood appearance.
That's what the Romney campaign chose to broadcast to 25 million people about Mitt Romney's campaign for the presidency. What they did last night is a political disaster. This is unheard of. These are the Mitt Romney campaign strategists who could conceivably be responsible for this: Erick Fehrnstrom, Stuart Stevens, Russ Schriefer, and the campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, who technically is responsible for everything, so I guess it's his fault ultimately. An exasperated-looking senior adviser to the campaign, unnamed, was asked by The New York Times who was responsible for the disaster, the response was quote "Not me". Continuing from The Times, In late-night interviews, aides variously called the speech "strange" and "weird." One described it as "theater of the absurd" [See Before Talk With a Chair, Clearance From the Top (Original article title, After a Gunslinger Cuts Loose, Romney Aides Take Cover), The New York Times, August 31, 2012]. These are Romney staffers saying this about the thing that happened in the last hour on network television of their nominating convention that they've presumably been working on for years. So who's responsible for this? How did this happen? Continuing from The Times, A senior Republican involved in convention planning said that Mr. Eastwood's appearance was cleared by at least two of Mr. Romney's top advisers, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens.

And then later in the day, Stuart Stevens himself, threw the candidate under the bus. Stuart Stevens telling BuzzFeed, quote "I was backstage with him and he was laughing, and he enjoyed it," Stevens said, adding that the candidate thanked [Mr. Eastwood] for coming [See Romney Thought Clint Eastwood's Speech Was Funny, BuzzFeed, August 31, 2012].

This is not about Clint Eastwood. This is about the Romney campaign blowing their biggest moment in the campaign so far. The biggest audience they will ever have to present their un-rebutted best case for their campaign. If nobody gets fired for this, what does that say about who's in charge over there?

Anybody want to make a wager on whether or not somebody gets fired for this? For those who can watch video, here's the full segment:


Video of Clint Eastwood: I know what you're thinking. You're thinking what's a movie tradesman doing out here.
Alex Wagner: All things being equal, it wasn't that strange to have a blockbuster movie star, a celebrity guest who's delivered countless classic lines on the silver screen, appear on stage to rev up the crowd for Mitt Romney. Nothing was that odd about it until this.
Video of Clint Eastwood: So I've got ... I've got Mr. Obama sitting here. And he's ... I just was going to ask him a couple questions, but ...
Alex Wagner: Over the next seven minutes, Clint Eastwood proceeded to have a conversation with an empty chair.
Video of Clint Eastwood: Mr. President, how do you … how do you handle … how do you handle promises that you've made when you were running for election and how do you handle … how do you handle it? I mean, what do you say to people? Do you just, you know, I know people, people are wondering, you don't ...
Alex Wagner: As the interview continued, things got a little testy.
Video of Clint Eastwood: I thought maybe as an excuse … what do you mean, “shut up?”
Alex Wagner: And ultimately, even a little crude.
Video of Clint Eastwood: What? What do you want me to tell Romney? I can't tell him to do that. Can't do that to himself. You're absolutely crazy.
Alex Wagner: Just to be clear, Clint Eastwood is calling the empty chair crazy. Joining the table now is host of Inside the Actor's Studio the inimitable James Lipton. Mr. Lipton, always a pleasure to have you on the set.

James Liption: Thank you very much. A great pleasure to be here.

Alex Wagner: Let's talk, let's talk first about Clint Eastwood, which was, I think in many minds, one of the stranger moments in any political convention in recent memory. What was your assessment of the empty chair device?

James Liption: Full disclosure. Clint is a friend of mine. We're not close friends, but he certainly is a friend of mine. He's been on my show, Inside the Actor's Studio. I know him well. We've done things together, and I like him enormously. I find him a very congenial person. He's also a great director. Late in his career, he became a very great director. That said, last night was not his best performance. Look, we're talking here about something I know a little bit about. He was doing an improv. That's an improv; it's ad lib. In an improv, you needed a partner. So he created one for himself. Now look, George Bernard Shaw, the great playwright, was great because he always gave the best lines to the antagonists. Actors know, "I want to play the bad guy; he gets the best lines;" the reason being that the stronger the antagonist, the stronger the protagonist because he's got something to fight against.

What he gave to Barack Obama was, well, not the best lines. It was a couple vulgarities. First of all, "shut up," and then "go blank yourself;" a word we can't utter here, of course, and shouldn't have been uttered there. Certainly, not before the candidate was going to come out and impress us with what a wonderful person he was. The result was that it was ... Let me say this, in my opinion, Obama is incapable of saying "shut up and go blank yourself" in any normal circumstance and is capable, in fact, of uttering much more eloquent and I think proper replies. He was not given that opportunity. The words were put in his mouth. The words were vulgar and worse, they were disrespectful. I mean, I can remember a number of presidential campaigns where presidents who were running for reelection were not treated quite this disrespectfully.

Alex Wagner: And the other thing, I mean we will rewind back a few months ago when Clint Eastwood made this infamous ad in the Super Bowl that appealed to sort of white working class voters. It was a car ad and everyone thought, "oh, he's in the tank for Obama," But, but the impression ...

James Liption: He quickly denied it.

Alex Wagner: Yes. And then clearly he is not in the tank for Obama. But, I think the broader ...

Chris Hayes: Unless it was a liberal plant.

Alex Wagner: Unless he was plant.

Chris Hayes: This was my theory.

Alex Wagner: Right. But, but you know, I think the American public imagines Clint Eastwood, he's a legendary actor, to be a real sort of true American; someone who is not subject to sort of the "what is in fashion," but is someone of principle and integrity. And this came off, not only as ill thought through but, just completely on the fly.

James Liption: Well it was ad lib; there's no question about it. He got himself in trouble. He was in trouble throughout it. You saw him sort of fumbling, fumbling, fumbling for what's next. In an improv it should go smoothly but that's if you have a partner who is coming back at you with the important stuff. Here, unfortunately, he was having to play both roles. And while he plays himself brilliantly, he is the successor to John Wayne in the public's imagination and estimation; he did not play Obama well, at all. He did him a great disservice.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. I think the; I think that we tend to fetishize respect for the office too much. You know, we're a Republic; the president is elected by us. Like we shouldn't get too ... I resist the kind of pomp and circumstance stuff. That said; he was sitting in a chair. So he was being literally talked; literally, physically talked down to.

James Liption: Down to.

Chris Hayes: Down to, and like a school boy; like an errant school boy, and my executive producer made this point about you know, Clint Eastwood and the RNC should go back and read Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison because actually, there's a whole masterpiece of American literature ... around the experience of invisibility in front of the white power structure for a black man in America. And obviously that was; I don't want to say like that that was obviously the intentional subtext. I think it was not thought out. I just think it was they wanted to have a gag. But the way it reads was deeply, deeply profoundly, profoundly disrespectful in a way that really, I found kind of upsetting.

James Liption: One of the things about this campaign that has fascinated me is the number of jokes that have gone over like lead balloons.

Alex Wagner: yes.

James Liption: I've never heard quite so many jokes that weren't really funny. They're structured like a joke, sounds like a joke; you think you're listening to a joke, except it's not funny.

Alex Wagner: Mark Halperin, we still have you on remote I believe, the Romney campaign issued a statement shortly after Clint Eastwood's, I guess we'll call it an address, role playing game, basically trying to distance themselves. Was this not sort of a debacle for them insofar as Clint Eastwood was supposed to tee it up for Mitt Romney and did basically anything but?

Mark Halperin: Right. Three quick things, Alex, in response. One is full disclosure, I don't think I've ever met Clint Eastwood. I might have met him once. I don't recall. Two, it reminded me like nothing so much as once I saw Bobcat Goldthwait do an improv thing where spent the entire thing talking to a bowling pin; very similar in its structure and its effectiveness. And the last thing I'll say is this is a very well run convention in a lot of respects. They had to deal with the fact the storm truncated by a day, but it is malpractice to put someone on stage, I don't care how famous they are, how great a performer they are, to put someone on stage, not know what they're going to say in the prime time hour right before the nominee. Huge mistake and I'm sure they're not particularly pleased by how that went, and Mrs. Romney this morning in her round robin of interviews, I think, betrayed a little bit of that unhappiness more openly than the campaign statement defending the performance did.

Alex Wagner: They clearly should have gotten Bobcat Goldthwait to tee it up for Romney. Karen?

Karen Finney: But to this point about the disrespect, I mean I love Clint Eastwood, and part of what was so painful in watching that was that that performance was not Clint Eastwood. The Clint Eastwood that we know, the image of the Clint Eastwood we know, and it was disappointing. I sort of felt like where were his people to say no, we're not letting him go out on stage with his hair unbrushed and just wing it.

James Liption: I had the impression that Clint said "yes, I'll do it" and they said "what do you want to do" and he said "I'll just think of something up there" and they said "fine." That's a mistake.

Chris Hayes: I mean, at the very least, he should have asked for a genre and an opening line.

James Liption: Precisely.

Karen Finney: Somebody in his camp should have protected, you know ...

James Liption: Exactly.

Karen Finney: ... the image.

James Liption: Look what's happened. I've been sitting out here for six or seven minutes. What've we been talking about? Mitt Romney? No. Eastwood.

Alex Wagner: Exactly, and that's the ...

James Liption: That's the take-home from this, from last night's event.

Alex Wagner: But, let us talk a little of Mitt Romney,

James Liption: Let us speak of other things.

Alex Wagner: Let us speak of he whose name shall not be mentioned. How did Mitt Romney do last night, in terms of presenting his case, as an actor on the national stage?

James Liption: Well not as an actor but as a performer, let's say. He's not an actor.

Alex Wagner: Yes. Sorry.

James Liption: But the ... I would say that he has certainly improved, without question. He was more confident. He was more assertive. He was more relaxed. And let us now ask why. He was preaching to the converted. He was, as we say, preaching to the choir. There was nobody there to resist him, and there was no resistance from them. There was adoration, which is appropriate in a convention, of course. And as a result he was extremely relaxed. The test will be when he goes back on the campaign, and if once again he tries to assume the mantle of the common man, among real genuine honest-to-goodness common people, then he's going to be in trouble and going to be right back where he was. It will undo some of the good that was done, unquestionable good that was done, by this portrait of him that was painted, ready, by other people. Now, that's characteristic of conventions but nonetheless, it was other people saying he did this, he did that; he was wonderful. All true, all fine, but the fact remains that he still has to master the art of speaking to people directly, eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart and soul-to-soul and of really, really meaning it.

Chris Hayes: And the big questions I think, I couldn't agree more; I mean the big question is, people are appealing when they're being magnanimous, they're appealing when they're talking about love and their family and things that they evidently care about. But the next time, the next three instances in which we'll see him at a stage of this elevation are the debates. And then there's conflict and there's the possibility of anger and there are certain tells that he has that were not in the speech because it was a set piece and they did a very good job, but the kind of $10,000 bet, the kind of smile, grimace angrily.

Alex Wagner: The grabbing of the shoulder.

Chris Hayes: The grabbing of the shoulder. Those moments are when I think he's probably least likeable and that is going to be the big question, is can he maintain the more in sorrow than anger tone he had in the speech when directly across from the President.

Alex Wagner: I actually thought this was a really interesting moment for Romney when he started making, I won't say a joke, but he was humble about his beginnings at Bain. Let's take a listen to that. He was talking about Bain Capital and he said the only problem was while we believed in ourselves, not many other people did. Let's take a listen to that.

Video of Mitt Romney: So we started a new business called Bain Capital. The only problem was while we believed in ourselves, not many other people did. We were young and had never done this before and we almost didn't get off the ground. In those days, sometimes I wondered if I had made a really big mistake.
Alex Wagner: I think, Karen, I mean we know he's had a really hard time talking about his business experience, the Bain thing. That to me was one of the best presentations of Mitt Romney as someone who built something from the ground up, there were mistakes made, he was able to talk about it with a certain measure of humility.

Karen Finney: And that was probably his best performance in the speech, given that the Rolling Stone piece that came out yesterday, that really told the story about Bain and how they, oh, guess what, they didn't build that on their own either. There was a role for government to play in helping bail them out, and actually one of the things I found most interesting in the story is that's where Romney seemed to have perfected this strategy of I will make sure that our investors get money even if the company goes bankrupt. I mean, that was part of from a financial standpoint what they did when their company was tanking, when he was talking about those "rocky periods." But you would never know that from that beautiful soliloquy.

Alex Wagner: Was that not; James, what did you make of that, the way in which he addressed his business career?

James Liption: What he did at Bain, when I was a youngster living in Detroit, they used to be called efficiency experts. They dropped that. Now they have a much, much, much nicer title; but when the efficiency experts arrived on the scene, the people who worked there trembled. They knew what it meant. The way you make more money is by cutting costs. The way you cut costs is by cutting human beings. And that was the difficulty then. They don't say efficiency expert anymore because it has bad connotations. But I think that's one of his problems in talking about Bain. That's what they do. They have done good and they have done not so good. And he speaks of it, when we failed, but when they failed, they still made money, I am told.

Karen Finney: Yes.

Chris Hayes: That's the thing about Bain. You talk about Bain and as part of the mythology of the celebration of the job creator, the successful which is seen as a counterpoint to the "attacks on success" that he called, "the cornerstone" I think of the President's campaign which is preposterous, is that if you are taking risk. Bain managed to make money every year. The returns they made were incredible. What exactly is wrong with this picture? If you take on risk, sometimes you're going to lose.

Karen Finney: But because they weren't playing in the real free market system because they mitigated their risk. So he and the investors were pretty much always shielded which is why when companies went under and people lost everything, their pensions, their healthcare, they still walked away with millions.

Alex Wagner: The companies themselves took all the risks.

James Liption: I'm fascinated with language and the way language shifts and changes. What do we hear particularly from the Republicans, of course, the two words, job creator, job creator. What did that used to be called? It was a boss.

Chris Hayes: Boss. Exactly.

James Liption: Once upon a time there was a boss. The boss wasn't always a nice guy. You liked him or you didn't like him, but now boss has been replaced by job creator. I love all these euphemisms because they soften the impact of some occasionally difficult facts.

Alex Wagner: Efficiency experts and bosses, absolutely right on point; the semiotics of this campaign.

James Liption: I love semiotics.

Alex Wagner: James Lipton, it is really; we look forward to having you here all the time throughout the campaign season. Thank you to you. Of course, you can catch James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio. And we will have more from him after the president's speech next week.

Originally posted to hungrycoyote on Fri Aug 31, 2012 at 03:28 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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