Clint Eastwood: Motivation Behind the “Empty Chair” Speech

Clint Eastwood has always been a favorite of mine; both as an actor and a director. I started watching him on Rawhide and continued as he made movies in my youth. I really enjoyed the Dirty Harry series and hoped that he was bringing the western back with Pale Rider and Unforgiven. Alas, that was not to be, but one can always dream.

It was very impressive how he smoothly moved to directing. It’s his directing that I most enjoy as he has a subtle hand with himself and the other actors in the project. And I believe this helps flesh out Mr. Eastwood’s unusual appearance at the Republican National Convention and his now infamous “empty chair” speech.

On stage at the convention, Mr. Eastwood talked to an empty chair as if Barack Obama was sitting next to him. In a recent interview, Becky Quick of CNBC talked to Mr. Eastwood about the “empty chair” event:
Mr. Eastwood noted, “I just decided to go a little different route because I figured– they’ve already heard that from about ten other people in front of me. So I just try something a little new. And it probably seemed odd at the time. But, you know, I’m an odd person.”

Ms. Quick followed up by asking, “What reaction did you get from people when you came back home, when you talked to people on the streets?”

“Well the party line, either loved it or hated it,” Mr. Eastwood said. “So then after a while everybody– even the people who hated it said, ‘Well, what the heck. It seemed like it was kind of fun thing to do.’ I’m not surprised at anything. And, you know, the one thing about getting into the senior status of life you don’t really care. You just say what you say and then you can get away with it. It’s the same message that I’ve put out with the empty chair. Let’s get going. Let’s get to work. And Mr. Obama won. And let’s get out there. Let’s get out there. There’s no budget coming in. Who’s doing these? I mean, you got a big staff, a lot of people. Isn’t anybody helping? Isn’t anybody jumping in there? People going places on expensive rides. Let’s get in there and get it done.”

“I think he pointed out in a very Eastwood kind of way — very direct — that the Obama administration has failed. He spoke the way he wanted to speak,” New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said of Eastwood’s speech. “I think he got his message across.”

I have a different take on most of the people I’ve heard comment on the “empty chair” speech. I think as a director, Mr. Eastwood thinks in visuals. He uses visuals to get his point across, just like in a movie. Symbolism in a visual is much like the “one picture is worth 1,000 words”.

And while many pundits excoriated Mr. Eastwood for the empty chair speech, I tend to give someone like him a lot of benefit of the doubt. He has a proven record of achievement and honors. He is his own man and doesn’t dance around issues. He says what he thinks. What more can you ask for from an American icon? So, while looking at the totality of his work, the speech at the RNC was but a blip. And one that deserves to be considered and then put in context.


  1. TriciaN says:

    I have been in love with Clint Eastwood since he played Rowdy Yates on “Rawhide.” Like you, over the years I have been a big fan, first of his acting and then of his directing. All along, I have liked the movies he chose to make. Maybe it’s because I’m a very visual person myself (an artist), but I “got” the speech. I thought it was kind of refreshing after all the other speeches that said the same thing over and over. With Eastwood’s speech, it was so unusual that I found myself actually paying attention because I wasn’t sure what he was going to do or say next!

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