Last week, I wrote that Clint Eastwood was probably thinking more like a performer than a politician when he gave his rambling, hilarious address to the RNC. Today, Clint Eastwood gave an interview in his local paper, where he explained his thinking at the time. It’s very interesting:
With just an hour before he appeared on stage, it still hadn’t occurred to Eastwood to use an empty chair as a stand-in for the president.
“I got to the convention site just 15 or 20 minutes before I was scheduled to go on,” he said. “That was fine, because everything was very well organized.”
After a quick trip through airport-style security, he was taken to a Green Room, where Archbishop Dolan of New York sought him out to say hello. Then he was taken backstage to wait for his cue. And that was when inspiration struck.
“There was a stool there, and some fella kept asking me if I wanted to sit down,” Eastwood said. “When I saw the stool sitting there, it gave me the idea. I’ll just put the stool out there and I’ll talk to Mr. Obama and ask him why he didn’t keep all of the promises he made to everybody.” ….
As he wrapped up his remarks, he was aware his presentation was “very unorthodox,” but that was his intent from the beginning, even if some people weren’t on board.
“They’ve got this crazy actor who’s 82 years old up there in a suit,” he said. “I was a mayor, and they’re probably thinking I know how to give a speech, but even when I was mayor I never gave speeches. I gave talks.”
The whole thing is a fascinating testimony to the way that our self-conceptions shape the way we live our lives. Eastwood thinks of himself as a “crazy actor,” so, even when he was a professional politician, he still gave the kind of “talks” that a crazy actor would give. Even though he was well aware of the fact that his performance wasn’t the thing that someone at a political convention was supposed to do, he felt compelled to do it, because that’s who he is. One could understand Bill Clinton’s speech yesterday in a similar fashion — Clinton went miles off script and overtime to hammer Republicans on policy details because that’s the sort of speech he thinks that he, Bill Clinton, ought to deliver. Indeed, I might bet this need to be true to one’s own self-conception explain why so many people seem to make mistakes when trying out new roles, entertainers stepping in politics being just one sort of example. Sometimes, people choose to take on responsibilities where they need to act differently than they normally would. People that can’t bring themselves to do that have a great deal of integrity, but are also really likely to screw up.
The philosopher Bernard Williams has this wonderful notion of “authenticity” as self-sincerity; being true to our own freely chosen ideals and beliefs in our actions and life choices. Clint Eastwood, it seems clear, was being authentically himself. That was the problem.