Clint’s Stint

No one who watched Clint Eastwood’s short appearance at last night’s Republican National Convention, where he talked to an empty chair supposedly occupied by President Obama, will ever forget it.

It was a high-wire act, an incredibly bizarre performance that obviously was a radical departure in tone and style from every other speech at the convention, an apparently improvised stunt by a haggard looking Eastwood in a kind of Christopher Walken hairdo — but it was memorable, and I would bet that today more people have talked about Eastwood’s appearance than anything else.  Was it carefully scripted and intentional, or just ad libbing gone awry by an aging, forgetful American icon?  Was it an unforgivably vulgar effort that crudely diminished the office of the Presidency, or just an edgy lampooning of a very-full-of-himself President?  Is Eastwood losing it and on the edge of senility, or was he in character and portraying an average American reacting to what he considers to be a record of arrogance and failure?

Who knows?  I watched it again today — it’s only about 11 minutes long, although watching it last night it seemed longer — and I’m convinced that it was a highly intentional, controlled performance by Eastwood.  But, whatever its intent, the presentation was, as Kish observed, incredibly creative . . . and it got people talking about some of Eastwood’s plain-spoken criticisms and judgments.  The internet today was full of discussion of it, and of the points Eastwood was trying to make.  Don’t you think that was exactly what Eastwood was hoping for?  What are people going to remember from the 2012 Republican convention:  John Thune’s address, Rick Santorum’s remarks, or Clint Eastwood’s pungent, rambling star turn with an empty bar stool?

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Twinkie Converts

When you feel that you have made a significant difference in a person’s life, it’s a wonderful day.  Tonight, I’ve got that happy feeling.

A few days ago, I was talking to a colleague who was describing the school lunches she packed for her young children.  When I innocently asked how often they got a Twinkie — a staple of my school lunches — my friend was aghast.  Of course not!  I was astonished by that response, and chided her for depriving her kids of the quintessentially American childhood joy of golden sponge cake and creamy filling, dipped in milk.  I also mentioned my views to some others, and one day this week I found two Twinkies in their original packaging on my desk.  Rather than snarfing them down myself, I donated them to my colleague and told her, in no uncertain terms, that I expected her to let her kids at least have a taste.

When I arrived for work this morning, she somewhat abashedly delivered this note to me.  It reads:  Dear Mr. Wedner, We would like more twinkies we love them.  Love Bryn [and] Coen.  As further evidence that the kids actually got to try the Twinkies, the blue paper on which the note appears is marked with some small fingerprint-sized remnants of the Twinkies’ yummy goodness.

Welcome to Twinkie World, Bryn and Coen!  You really made my day!

Mitt’s Speech, And Some Big Election Themes

Mitt Romney finally got his chance to speak last night.  I thought he gave a good speech that sketched out who he is, what he believes, and where he wants us to go and also sounded themes that are likely to appeal to many Americans who are disappointed in their circumstances and our country’s current condition.

It’s got to be tough to be the nominee at one of these conventions.  You must sit there for days while the podium is occupied by others, hoping that no one commits a crippling blunder and the message you want your party to deliver is getting through.  Yet at the same time every viewer is moving inexorably toward a “convention fatigue” threshold.  You must hope that, by the time you step behind that podium, Americans aren’t so sick to death of speeches that they can’t bear to listen to yours — and you also must hope that you can meet the hour and live up to the accolades that you’ve been receiving over the past three days.

I thought Romney did so, and I think part of the reason for that was that he gave a speech that was true to his character.  Romney doesn’t seem like an angry person or a bitter partisan, and his speech wasn’t sprinkled with inflammatory rhetoric or snide jokes about the President.  Instead, the tone was more of sorrow than anger, more of disappointment than diatribe.  Romney doesn’t want to assume the unnecessary burden of trying to convince people that President Obama is a bad person with evil intent, he just wants to help people understand that the President’s course has been misguided and unsuccessful — and that a different course will be more productive and also, incidentally, more consistent with the America we all have known and cherished.

Some of the themes Romney touched on run deep.  Americans are inveterate optimists who traditionally expect a better future for their kids and will work to make that happen — but how can you hold to that belief these days, where you can’t find that job that will allow you to move your family upward?  Americans are proud of their country’s accomplishments and heroes like Neil Armstrong — but what does it say when so many of those accomplishments are now decades old, and few new genuine accomplishments are being added to the ledger?  America is a land of many freedoms that its citizens hold dear — but how can we hope to continue to enjoy those freedoms when we are yoked to an increasingly insurmountable debt burden financed by foreign governments?

Time will tell, of course, if these themes find a receptive audience among the American people, or whether the themes that President Obama and the Democratic party sound next week win out.  That’s what elections are all about.

Average Folks, Talking About Someone They Admire

Tonight (so far, at least) the Republican National Convention has been largely devoted to average folks talking about Mitt Romney — as a member of his church, as a friend and neighbor, and as an executive with Bain Capital.

It’s a bit jarring to hear people defending a venture capital firm — the kind of educated risk-taking business that is crucial in a capitalist economy, but which is so easily depicted as a blood-sucking, money-grubbing blight on society — and speaking so openly about the Mormon faith, because these aren’t the kind of things you normally see on TV.   I think it’s been refreshing, and effective, to hear from these average folks, talking about a man they know and like and appreciate.

We see enough of the airbrushed crowd, with their permatans and carefully coiffed hairdos, their carefully scripted remarks and rehearsed moves.  Seeing Joe and Jane America walking onto a political convention stage, speaking from the heart about someone who helped them, and whom they admire, is corny — but it’s a nice change of pace.

Jack’s, In The Alley

In the alley behind the State Office Building in downtown Columbus, you will find Jack’s — a small diner serves one of the best lunches in central Ohio.

This is one of those places that is frozen in time.  I’ve been going there for more than 25 years, and it hasn’t changed in that time.  It still has the slowly spinning disco ball on the ceiling, the ’50s vintage signage, the lights strung from wall to wall, and the bright aluminum backsplashes behind the grill.  The friendly wait staff has been there for years, too, and the menu hasn’t changed much, either.

When I go to Jack’s, I get the same order every time:  the double cheeseburger special, with the two hamburger patties cooked on the open grill so that they have a slight crust, crinkle-cut french fries, and a chocolate milkshake made with real milk and real ice cream, mixed in a large blender in huge steel glasses.  It’s the best milkshake in Columbus, so thick you have to work hard to suck it through your straw, and one of the best cheeseburgers, too.  I have mine with a raw onion, melted American cheese, and ketchup, and it goes down easy.

I know we’re supposed to eat healthy these days, but there is nothing — nothing! — like a good cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate shake for lunch.

The Hitler Brand

What is it about Adolf Hitler that causes businesses in foreign countries to use his name to market their products?

First it was “Fuhrerwein” being sold in northern Italy, now it’s a Hitler clothing store — complete with a circular swastiska dotting the “i” — that has opened in a city in western India.  The owner says that he didn’t know that Hitler was the name of a Nazi dictator who gave the order to kill millions of innocent Jews.  Instead, he claims, “Hitler” was just a nickname given to the “very strict” grandfather of a friend.  Really?  And the very strict grandpa dotted the “i” with a swastika?  Give me a break!

It turns out that Hitler is popular in certain parts of India, because he is viewed as giving “dignity and prestige” to Germany.  Apparently Indian schoolbooks don’t teach people that he was a mass murderer whose bloody dictatorial reign made Germany a pariah state that, even now, 70 years later, is still trying to to live down the inexplicable horror of the Nazi years.

But hey . . . if using the name Hitler and the swastika brings curious people into the store and results in a few purchases that might not have occurred otherwise, what’s the harm of trading on the name of one of history’s most evil figures?

 

Hearing From The Boy Scout

Paul Ryan gave his much-anticipated speech at the Republican National Convention last night.  After a somewhat hesitant start, Ryan successfully introduced himself to the American public and gave a speech that suggests that he will be an effective running mate.

My first reaction to Ryan was:  he looks like a Boy Scout.  Squint at him long enough, and you won’t see a guy in a suit but a Scout in a crisp uniform and tie, displaying merit badges galore.  Ryan has retained not only boyish looks but also boyish mannerisms, looking at you sheepishly from under his eyebrows, with his head tilted forward and a lopsided grin.  It’s as if he were apologizing to you for taking a short cut of his own devising when he ties a perfect slip knot.

Ryan’s earnest, “aw shucks” demeanor should go a long way to combating the effort to portray him as an evil, mean-spirited shill for the super-rich who will happily throw senior citizens to the wolves as part of the bargain.  He got choked up when he talked about his Mom getting beyond the loss of his father at an early age and how she was his role model.  And when he spoke of teaming up with his Mom to respectfully and tenderly care for an elderly relative with dementia, I believed him.   He seems like the Scout who will help granny across the street, not steal her Medicare check and shove her off the cliff.

This doesn’t mean that Ryan is right on policy — it just means that it probably will be hard for the Democrats to demonize or marginalize him.  His speech last night showed that he could well be an effective advocate for the Republican approach and critic of the President’s record.  He’s obviously knowledgeable about economic and budget issues and comfortable with math, and he displayed a knack for framing the issues in a way that brings them home.  His remark about recent college graduates being forced to live in their parents’ homes, peering up at faded 2008 Obama posters, rather than getting on with their lives, probably resonated with some of those recent graduates (not to mention their parents).  And his willingness to poke gentle fun at Mitt Romney’s elevator-music tastes was refreshing and, again, consistent with that Boy Scout persona.

We shouldn’t get too excited about vice presidential candidates.  They shouldn’t be the focus — and when they are, as was the case in 2008 with the last GOP vice presidential candidate, it’s usually not a good thing.  But if the phony caricatures aren’t plausible, vice presidential candidates can help to frame the the substantive debate.  If he can successfully dodge claims that he’s Mephistopheles in disguise, Paul Ryan may be able to actually address some of the important issues in this election on their merits and allow us to judge for ourselves.  Wouldn’t that be a refreshing development?