The most noteworthy feature of Romney’s big evening at the Republic Convention last night was the cameo role of Clint Eastwood.
He seemed to illustrate the maxim, never let an actor speak in public without a script. When he addressed that empty chair, at first glance he looked like a bar room drunk.
But he was there to provide the cowboy narrative, the rhetorical stage for Romney’s performance.
And aren’t cowboys men of few words. We know that their heart is in the right place even if their mouths don’t always work properly. His mere presence was all that was required.
It doesn’t matter that Eastwood is not a real cowboy. Nor that the ones he plays in movies have little to do with actual historical cowboys.
It is the mythical cowboy that matters for it is central to American identity, an icon by which to viscerally connect with ‘regular’ Americans.
This mythic cowboy, we surely know, possesses great courage and strength of character.
Enter square-jawed Mitt Romney.
Against this cowboy narrative backcloth, he’s no longer a religious nutcase, but a morally upright and God-fearing man of character who knows right from wrong and is prepared to act on this basis. Just like a cowboy.
Never mind policy then. This is about emotional connections, not mere logic.
The message that matters: this is how President Romney would respond to problems and threats—quickly and decisively. He’s not going to ‘lawyer’ them to death. He will not waste time discussing with allies or negotiating with enemies. He will do what is right for America.
He’s not daft. Americans like their cowboy presidents. He’s not wrong either. The most effective presidents—such as LBJ—are thugs when it comes to Congress.
And what, dear reader, is the common theme of cowboy stories? It is the heroic cowboy saving innocent people from danger. In this case, the heroic cowboy is candidate Romney and the source of danger is none other than President Obama.
‘What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs’.
‘Less flexibility and more backbone’.
‘The future is our destiny’.
His audience at the convention looked middle-aged, well-fed, mean-spirited and grumpy. As if the sheen had gone from their lives and they couldn’t understand why.
Romney tells them why.
In essence, Romney’s most fundamental criticism of Obama is that he has trifled with America’s honour. As Clint Eastwood might have put it in Unforgiven:
‘Some wrongs can never be forgiven’.