Clint Eastwood argues with the unseen Barack Obama. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
It might be all my fault.
Something I wrote years ago about the goings-on in Clint Eastwood's beloved Carmel evidently helped to influence him to run for mayor of that town.That office brought him into a higher profile political orbit, and that ultimately leveraged him onto the stage in Tampa, Fla., last week, costarring with an empty chair in the train-wreck schtick at the Republican National Convention.
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Carmel, in the mid-1980s, was a jewel box of a town — quaint, lovely, a longtime artists' Eden. It took its pristine, village-like charm seriously. But the day-tripping tourists who thundered off the buses to enjoy it presented a paradox, a sort of Heisenberg principle in action, that the tourists change the tourist attraction they came to see — or so some in Carmel averred. Carmel needed tourism, but must it be these tourists?
The public licking of ice cream cones by strolling visitors on the village's crowded sidewalks — for some of them, it was the only thing they could afford to buy — seemed particularly egregious. A tourist brochure proclaimed, EATING ON THE STREETS IS STRONGLY DISCOURAGED. Street-eating, warned one city report, threatened to replace Carmel's "high-quality ambience" with a "carnival atmosphere."
All this was too much for renowned Carmelite Clint Eastwood, master of the Hog's Breath Inn and of the can-do attitude.
These events, and stories about the goings-on, evidently riled him up enough to put him in the mayor's race; he cited elements of my account in many of the interviews he did, and he won the job as mayor to do something about it. The post-campaign button reading "Thank You," with an image of Eastwood, with outstretched, grateful hands, is still in my collection.
And then, years later, there was the moment — actually about 12 long minutes — on the national stage. The former mayor of Carmel riffed acidly with an imagined President Obama. The man who played a heroic Secret Service agent in "In the Line of Fire," a character who risked life and reputation to protect the president, is wondering aloud why this real-life POTUS flies around in Air Force One, a "big gas guzzler" of a plane, given that he's "an ecological man."
I sure hope he was only playing dumb. Maybe the Secret Service guys who consulted on "In the Line of Fire" can remind him why the president of the United States needs a large, protected, state-of-the-art plane to get to high-level international talks, as a secure, airborne Oval Office, and yes, even for what Eastwood called "going around to colleges and talking about student loans and stuff like that."
Yep, why on Earth waste time on something like student loans? You know, the ones that help working-class people go to college and make something of themselves — the way Clint Eastwood, son of itinerant workers, used the GI bill to go to L.A. City College and study drama.
President Obama, for his part, told USA Today that he is a "huge Clint Eastwood fan." If Clint gets cast to play a president, maybe Obama can squire him around the White House and show him how it's done, even let him sit in that big chair in the Oval Office. After Eastwood's performance, the Obama campaign tweeted a picture of the big seat in the Cabinet room and the point, "This seat's taken."