It says a lot about how the Republican convention is going that the biggest buzz isn’t over any one speech, but over the possible identity of a mystery speaker slated for Thursday night. The rumors seem to be coalescing around actor Clint Eastwood. And if he takes the stage in Tampa tonight, Eastwood’s appearance will reveal more about the current state of the Republican party than about Eastwood or the man he’s there to endorse.
Eastwood endorsed Romney at an Idaho fundraiser in early August, citing the claim, later proven false, that Olympians’ medals would be taxed (their cash prizes are taxed as income), and saying “He’s going to restore a decent tax system that we need badly so that there is a fairness and people are not pitted against one another of whose paying taxes and who isn’t.”
Taxes and regulations have long been touchstone issues for Eastwood. When he ran of Carmel-By-The-Sea in 1986, his campaign was in part inspired by his fights with the town over building permits, and he was backed by small business owners irritated by the city’s regulations intended to make sure Carmel wasn’t overrun by tourists. In statewide California politics, Eastwood backed term limits. And during President Regan’s 1985 budget fight, United Press International reported that “Sen. William Armstrong, R-Colo., presented Reagan with a blue sweatshirt inscribed with the phrase ”Make My Day,” which Reagan borrowed from actor Clint Eastwood to dramatize his intention to veto any tax increases.”
But it’s not as if the actor’s politics are a perfect fit for a Romney administration. In an interview with GQ last fall, Eastwood cited the importance of issues like global warming and described his political evolution and support for equal marriage rights:
I was an Eisenhower Republican when I started out at 21, because he promised to get us out of the Korean War. And over the years, I realized there was a Republican philosophy that I liked. And then they lost it. And libertarians had more of it. Because what I really believe is, Let’s spend a little more time leaving everybody alone. These people who are making a big deal out of gay marriage? I don’t give a fuck about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of.
He’s never been particularly pro-life either, saying in the eighties that the extreme rhetoric that contributed to clinic bombings made him nervous (and for extremists in the Republican Party today, when actress Sondra Locke sued Eastwood for palimony in 1989, she accused him of encouraging to have two abortions and a tubal ligation). Eastwood endorsed John McCain in 2008 on the grounds that his experience in Vietnam would better equip him to handle the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, though he celebrated the breakthrough that Obama’s election represented even as he expressed skepticism of the younger man’s experience. Eastwood’s always been clear that he doesn’t fit comfortably into one party, though the one he seems most inclined to accomodate himself to is the GOP.
But if Eastwood takes the stage at the RNC tonight, he’ll be behaving exactly the way conservatives wish movie stars would behave: putting the self-interest created by his wealth over his opinions on social issues. Some day, there will be a reckoning between the wing of the Republican party that espouse limiting government’s influence in business and the one that wants to increase federal limitations on Americans’ sexual and reproductive lives. But as long as the people who believe in the former and oppose the latter aren’t willing to prioritize the freedom of women and gay people along with their freedom from taxes, that day will be pushed off a little further.