At least Clint was real, and that's no joke

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As America turns its restless attention to the Democratic National Convention, with its own platitudes and pieties aplenty, a word must be said about Clint Eastwood's eccentric speech in Tampa before it is forgotten. That was one for the political ages.

Of course, I disagreed with everything he said at the GOP convention. I disagreed with every single word, plus the periods and commas and any random exclamation points. I disagreed with his frequent use of "er," a word that should only be found in decadent Scrabble dictionaries.

To my mind, the speech was by turns incoherent, puzzling, embarrassing almost to the point of skin-crawling and cringe-inducing, wrong-headed and obviously written on a planet not of our galaxy.

Other than that, I liked it.

This is the moment when I should remind you that I made the slight acquaintance of Clint Eastwood when I was an editor in Monterey, Calif., more than 20 years ago and I immediately liked him. I hope he would say the same for me if he could remember who the heck I was.

While I realize I am confounding educated opinion about the supposed total awfulness of this speech, my contrariness is not colored by past memories. Something more important weighs on me.

Plenty of commentators have criticized the speech's obvious faults, but some have gone still further, saying that it was off-color and thus shockingly disrespectful of the office of the president.

"Pshaw!" I say. While I cannot retell an off-color joke before the children are in bed, all you need to know is that Mr. Eastwood told one of those jokes in which the listener had to fill in a naughty thought not made explicit. If you laughed even a teensy bit, you were an accomplice.

My theory about such jokes is that if people understand the raunchiness of the joke, they are worldly enough not to be offended. And if they are members of a cloistered order of nuns, they are un-wordly enough not to be offended.

Either way, the teller of the joke is exonerated. All other criticism strikes me as resembling Victorian ladies in their parlor, blushing and waving their fans so as to ward off an attack of the vapors.

Curious readers may ask: How is it that a rambling, cringe-inducing speech hostile to my beliefs finds some favor with me? Because it was authentic. Authentically funny as well.

Authenticity is the one delegate not invited by either party to its convention. Everything is so scripted, orchestrated, sincerely insincere and utterly phony, that an older gentleman speaking unbuttoned comments to an empty chair becomes as shocking as lightning on a clear day.

Now, some might say that Mr. Eastwood was following his own script just like all the others. Yes, but, er, he clearly forgot some of his lines, and, er, also he ad-libbed and forgot to keep his remarks short.

All of this made for great moments. Those speechwriters on a planet not of our galaxy certainly know how to be entertaining. My bet is that nothing more interesting will have been said by the time the Democrats finish their convention.

Admittedly, there must have been occasions when embarrassment for Clint Eastwood made delegates in the hall or the viewers at home start the first motions of cringing and skin-crawling, but always the old cowboy found his way back on to the trail.

By contrast, many speakers at the Republican convention just did a disciplined tour of the talking points as if they were political robots, with a quick reference about how much they love their mothers. We shall shortly see if the Democrats love their mothers too and to what extent they have humanoid feelings.

But can any of these politicians disagree without being disagreeable? We now know the art is not dead. For all his roasting of Barack Obama, Mr. Eastwood did the job without malice. His was a human put-down, the dialogue of a straightforward man, full of laughs and merriment, all too genuine because of its gaps and befuddlement.

The crowd in Tampa appeared to lap it up, starved as they were, no doubt, for real entertainment by the parade of plastic people who had come before them. The delegates laughed and laughed, and I found myself laughing with them. Yikes!

We should all have beliefs that can stand a little sharp humor directed their way. As far as Clint Eastwood's speech goes, I say to er is human, to forgive divine. I did not agree with the content of his speech, but I defend to the funny bone his right to joke about it.


Reg Henry: or 412-263-1668.


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