Last night, I watched Former President Bill Clinton give one of the best speeches I have ever seen. It actually exceeded my and people’s expectations, as his purpose was to highlight why President Barack Obama deserves a second term. With his track record of experience, command of information and flair for the dramatic, he demonstrated that we are much better off than in January, 2009 under President Obama, but are still on the journey of recovery. Yet, he also did something much more. He made the current Republican Party and its Tea Party bent look small. More on this later.
The night before, Julian Castro, the very successful Mayor of San Antonio, also gave a heartfelt and pertinent speech. During it he quoted his grandmother who taught him a valuable lesson. To paraphrase, who you walk with is who you are. I mention this as last week the most memorable and talked about speech at the GOP Convention was that of an actor whom we all adore, Clint Eastwood. We are not talking about Senator Marco Rubio’s wonderful speech or those of the other speakers. And, we certainly are not talking about the speech of Former President George W. Bush or his father Former President George H.W. Bush – they were not invited. More on this later.
No, we are still talking about Clint who talked off script and used an empty chair as a prop representing a conversation with President Obama. He was entertaining, but was his speaking the most important use of getting your message out? Many pundits and broadcasters have said no. There was some motive to the madness, but there is both an irony and several metaphors here to highlight. First the irony.
The Huffington Post did an excellent piece noting that Clint did a moving Super Bowl commercial at the end of halftime for Chrysler – the theme was it is only “Halftime in America.” His commercial was a follow-up on the theme of “imported from Detroit” that Chrysler had also been using. Chrysler survived because of the leadership of the Fiat CEO who now runs them, Sergio Marchionne, an Italian Canadian who solicited, negotiated and used stimulus funds of $6 Billion to modernize the plants and build on the quality improvements his workers knew they needed to do. Marchionne said in a “60 Minutes” interview replayed on Sunday that he thinks a lot of American workers, yet when he started he noted “There is nothing worse for a leader than to see fear in people’s eyes.” He added, “It’s been a long, rocky road, but the fear is gone.” Well, in this spaghetti western, Sergio and the American workers are the heroes. Chrysler made $183 million in profit in 2011, which would have been even more except for one thing. They paid the US government back six years earlier than obligated for the loan with interest. GM has a similar success story as well and between the two, their suppliers and people who support the industry over 1.1 million jobs were saved and 250,000 new jobs have been created.
So, Clint’s famous commercial was the direct result of that “failed stimulus” the GOP likes to talk about. It was made possible by the tremendous actions of Chrysler (and GM), but also due to Josey Wales like bravery of that “empty chair” he was chatting with. President Obama went against the grain and GOP scrutiny to bail out the auto industry, which his presidential opponent did not support. Yet, to go one step further, he was told he could only save one – GM or Chrysler and it was recommended that he should focus on GM. President Obama said we must save them both to preserve our auto industry and protect many American jobs. Again, his presidential opponent publicly advocated in a Wall Street Journal article to let them go bankrupt.
This brings me to the metaphors and my earlier point. The first metaphor is when your argument is built on a foundation of big hairy audacious lies as is the GOP platform (see earlier posts), it is easier to have an actor talk to an empty chair that won’t argue with him. The second metaphor is the empty chair actually is more representative of the Republican ideas. As an Independent voter, I am not seeing many good ideas come from this party right now and Governor Romney has to hide from his greatest success as a public official, the Massachusetts Health Care Reform, which is working well.
The other point is who you walk with is who you are. Neither of the living GOP Presidents were invited to speak at the Republican Convention. In fact, the sitting GOP President was not invited to attend the convention in 2008. These actions speak volumes. They define many things, but to me, they define the smallness of the Republican Party. They define a lack of collaboration even within their own party much less others. They define what the GOP has become – a party of narrow-minded extreme conservatives where moderate is an evil word. Bill Clinton sees this and in his speech he showed how small the GOP and Tea Party have become. He spoke of the historical and current practice of cooperation as the way business is done. He also spoke of his cooperation as Governor, as President and as head of his global foundation with Republicans like Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He even applauded an investment made by the last GOP President for helping impoverished people in Africa. Yet, the GOP won’t even cooperate with the Bushes.
As a business person and volunteer, I have spent my adult life trying to build bridges of collaboration to serve my clients and those in need. One of my mantras is “We are better than I can be alone.” In this real life drama, Clinton took Clint’s guns away and sent him packing. I love Clint and my wife will tell you I will always stop and watch one of his movies when channel surfing. When she asks how many times have I watched this movie, I will reply “not enough.” Yet, to the GOP, Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan, this is not a movie. The Pale Rider is not going to be able to kill your opponent for you. And, if he were, he would probably be fighting for the Democratic side because Clint’s roles tended to fight for the disenfranchised against the establishment. In “The Pale Rider,” you would be the establishment.