By Ernest Corea
Give an experienced, popular, and award winning film-star a captive audience and he will surely steal the show. That’s exactly what actor-politician Clint Eastwood did at the tightly scripted Republican Party convention which was recently held in Tampa, Florida.
The four day convention shrank from four to three days, as the planned first day was used only for a brief, formal opening because of concerns that Hurricane Isaac might hit Tampa. It did not. The program for the final day included a slot for an unnamed speaker, with only the letters TBA (to be announced) provided. Speculation ran wild as to who the surprise speaker might be. Among those mentioned in the guessing games were Secretary of State General Colin Powell and businessman Donald Trump.
The identity of the surprise speaker was disclosed shortly before he was due to speak, and the crowd went wild when Eastwood appeared. He had just one prop: an empty chair which he had obtained from a stage hand on the way to the podium.
Eastwood disdained the use of teleprompters. He had discussed some talking points with the convention’s organisers but did not present them with a script for vetting. He did not have one. He was scheduled to speak for five minutes. He rambled on for more than double that time.
As for the prop, he used the empty chair to represent President Barack Obama with Eastwood posing questions to the absent Obama, then providing his responses to Obama’s alleged comments. The responses were meant to indicate what Obama had said. (This is a comedic style sometimes used by the Marx Brothers, and perfected by Bob Newhart.)
His responses to Obama’s alleged comments included “Whadya mean ‘shut up?'” and “No, he (Romney) can’t do that to himself.” Party elders were said to be fazed. The bulk of the audience appeared to relish every moment, although Eastwood sounded less than composed. Eastwood served for two years as the mayor of Carmel, California. Following his Tampa tempest, that is likely to be his last serious political role.
Meanwhile, the show had to go on.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney enjoys a reputation as a formidable debater, and as a good but not outstanding “solo” speaker. His speech accepting his party’s nomination as the standard bearer to do battle with Obama and wrest the presidency from him was described by many as “workmanlike.” What more did he need to be?
Romney came across as far from the wooden robot-like politician that he has been made out to be. He used his speech to complement the “humanizing” effort made by his wife Ann Romney in her speech at the convention. She shared with the audience her unique perspective of Romney as a caring person, and not merely a board-room hardliner or an office-seeking politician.
Romney adopted what commentators like to call a “presidential bearing” thus attempting to make his role as a potential president acceptable to the millions-strong viewing audience plus, of course, those listening in rapture and cheering at the convention itself. It would be fair to say that any doubts within the Republican Party about his suitability as “the man to fight Obama” receded during his speech. The Republican base was captivated.
What Romney failed to do, was to present his audience at the convention and beyond with a clearly articulated vision which could sustain their hopes for the future. He failed to provide the specifics of how he planned to move the nation forward. He created the impression that his objective was more to evoke an anti-Obama mood than to unleash a pro-Romney surge. Did he miss an opportunity? Some analysts think he did. This writer, not being an astrologer, cannot tell.
Home of the whoppers
Meanwhile, the vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan played the role of “attack dog” that goes with the job. He also, unfortunately, sullied his reputation by liberally lacing his speech with assertions that could not pass the truth test. Independent fact-checkers were quick to point out his cavalier attitude to the truth.
Associated Press (AP) news agency writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jack Gillum listed these whoppers:
RYAN: “And the biggest, coldest power play of all in Obamacare came at the expense of the elderly. … So they just took it all away from Medicare. Seven hundred and sixteen billion dollars, funneled out of Medicare by President Obama.”
THE FACTS: Ryan’s claim ignores the fact that Ryan himself incorporated the same cuts into budgets he steered through the House in the past two years as chairman of its Budget Committee, using the money for deficit reduction. And the cuts do not affect Medicare recipients directly, but rather reduce payments to hospitals, health insurance plans and other service providers.
In addition, Ryan’s own plan to remake Medicare would squeeze the program’s spending even more than the changes Obama made, shifting future retirees into a system in which they would get a fixed payment to shop for coverage among private insurance plans. Critics charge that it would expose the elderly to more out-of-pocket costs.
RYAN: “The stimulus was a case of political patronage, corporate welfare and cronyism at their worst. You, the working men and women of this country, were cut out of the deal.”
THE FACTS: Ryan himself asked for stimulus funds shortly after Congress approved the $800 billion plan, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ryan’s pleas to federal agencies included letters to Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis seeking stimulus grant money for two Wisconsin energy conservation companies.
One of them, the nonprofit Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp., received $20.3 million from the Energy Department to help homes and businesses improve energy efficiency, according to federal records. That company, he said in his letter, would build “sustainable demand for green jobs.” Another eventual recipient, the Energy Center of Wisconsin, received about $365,000.
RYAN: Said Obama misled people in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis., by making them think a General Motors (GM) plant there threatened with closure could be saved. “A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008. Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year.”
THE FACTS: The plant halted production in December 2008, weeks before Obama took office and well before he enacted a more robust auto industry bailout that rescued GM and Chrysler and allowed the majority of their plants – though not the Janesville facility – to stay in operation. Ryan himself voted for an auto bailout under President George W. Bush that was designed to help GM, but he was a vocal critic of the one pushed through by Obama that has been widely credited with revitalizing both GM and Chrysler.
RYAN: Obama “created a bipartisan debt commission. They came back with an urgent report. He thanked them, sent them on their way and then did exactly nothing.”
THE FACTS: It’s true that Obama hasn’t heeded his commission’s recommendations, but Ryan’s not the best one to complain. He was a member of the commission and voted against its final report.
To give Romney the heft of actual experience in foreign policy which he does not have, convention planners brought in two “old hands” as speakers: Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
McCain is the older statesman of the Republican foreign policy establishment, now that they have ditched Senator Lugar, a foreign policy expert of wisdom, prudence, and nuance. McCain’s presence as a foreign policy expert was inevitable. But Rice?
Yes, she is a highly regarded Russia specialist, a well- known author and an academic with a strong reputation. She has held the two most senior positions in the US foreign policy structure. She was also complicit in the decision-making process that launched America’s most disastrous, ill-advised and chaos-causing foreign policy misadventure, the invasion of Iraq. Some 5000 young Americans died for a lie in Iraq. At least 100,000 Iraqis died as well. The country remains in a state of chaos.
The decision to invade Iraq was based on the George W. Bush administration’s false assumption that Iraq possessed and would use weapons of mass destruction (WMD). President Bush himself told the UN on the eve of the invasion that “the history, the logic and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein’s regime is a grave and gathering danger.”
Hans Blix, head of UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), whose staff was painstakingly thorough in its search for WMD told the same audience (on a different date): “UNMOVIC has not found any such weapons (of mass destruction), only a small number of empty chemical munitions which should have been declared and destroyed.”
Is it any wonder that Secretary of State Gen. Col. Powell who had to address the UN and defend the impending invasion, now admits to feeling badly about that speech?
In his highly readable new book It Worked For Me, Powell reports that in his first interview after ending his term as Secretary of State, television personality Barbara Walters asked him (of the speech) “Is it a blot on your record.” Powell said he answered: “Yes and there is nothing I can do about it.” He added that “what is done is done. It’s over. I live with it.”
Back in Tampa, Rice claimed that the “question of the hour” is “where does America stand?” She continued that when “friends or foes alike don’t know the answer to that question, unambiguously and clearly, the world is likely to be a more dangerous and chaotic place … We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.” The best thing to do, therefore, would be to elect (foreign policy novices) Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. “They know what to do,” she said. “They know that our friends and allies must again be able to trust us.”
Columnist and author Fred Kaplan, writing in Slate online while the Republican convention was still in progress, sought to help Rice answer her “question of the hour.” He implied that Rice should calm down. Her concerns were unfounded. He pointed out that a just released Pew Research poll on global attitudes towards Obama as a leader “makes Rice’s concerns about Obama seem ridiculous.”
“As summarized by CNN,” he said, “87 percent of the Germans, 86 percent of the French, 80 percent of the British, and 74 percent of the Japanese have confidence in Obama – in each case, more confidence than they have in their own leaders. More striking still, 92 percent of the French, 89 percent of the Germans, 73 percent of the British, and 66 percent of the Japanese want Obama re-elected.”
Now, on to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The writer has served as Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Canada, Cuba, Mexico, and the USA. He was Chairman of the Commonwealth Select Committee on the media and development, Editor of the Ceylon ‘Daily News’ and the Ceylon ‘Observer’, and was for a time Features Editor and Foreign Affairs columnist of the Singapore ‘Straits Times’. He is Global Editor of IDN-InDepthNews and a member of its editorial board as well as President of the Media Task Force of Global Cooperation Council.