When I have been asked to name my favorite novel, I always answer Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.  Not because it is has the most riveting plot or the most pleasant story, but because it burrowed into my soul and built empathy into my being.  Never before had I felt so immersed in the mind of a protagonist, particularly one whose life experience was so different from my own.  While I can never know what it feels like to be an African-American, Ralph Ellison put me inside his head in ways that shook me to the core.   Sixty years after publication, it remains a piercing vision.

I read Invisible Man as a recent college graduate, teaching English in Japan.   Perhaps my setting enhanced my appreciation.   Being a minority does something to you.   Not understanding the cultural codes and assumptions puts you on guard.   You are hesitant to speak.  You try to avoid being called upon.  You step back, hoping not to be noticed.   In an island and culture that was so uniform, my skin marked me as different.   I stood out so much on the subway that I wanted to be invisible.   Amongst the first Japanese words I learned (because it was so often uttered behind my back):   “Henna gaijin”—“Strange foreigner.”

Tonight, I watched one of the most famous and beloved American icons treat the President of the United States like an Invisible Man.    It was shocking, appalling, tragic, freakish, and weird; amongst the most jarring moments in (televised) American political history.   And I am horrified that for all the historic and symbolic importance of Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, tonight, he was talked down to and rendered invisible.   While I am deeply committed to free speech and dissent, the sight of a white man figuratively putting a proud black man in his place is nevertheless disgusting.   And twice putting the most offensive profanity in his mouth is nearly unconscionable.   Harry was definitely ‘dirty’.

I am familiar with the origins of this one-sided comedic routine from the days of Bob Newhart.   These faux conversations can be quite funny.   But I never recall the Button-Down Mind of Newhart using it to demean or disempower an actual person.   In his famous “Abraham Lincoln vs. Madison Avenue” routine, the joke was on Madison Avenue more than the President.   His humor was aimed at the absurdities we all face.  Newhart played the beleaguered driving instructor or the sadistic bus driver, dealing with clients that refused to cooperate.    The familiarity of the situation allowed us to fill in the blanks and laugh at the truth presented.

Many were entertained by Clint Eastwood’s riff on Newhart’s humor.  But if they had read Ralph Ellison’s classic 1952 novel, then perhaps their perspective would have changed.  And laughter might have turned to tears.  David Denby recently noted how timely Ellison’s novel remain, even finding parallels in Obama’s autobiography, Dreams from My Father:   “There was a trick somewhere, though what the trick was, and who was doing the tricking, and who was being tricked, eluded my conscious grasp.”

Clint Eastwood told us far more about himself than about the President.   And while Mitt Romney and the Republican convention planners may attempt to distance themselves from Eastwood’s performance, it is a sad reflection on their lack of judgment.  I expected better (talk about an eternal optimist!).   I really didn’t want to write about politics during this election cycle.   Neither candidate has impressed me as up to the enormity of the task at hand.  And of course, I’ve seen so much vitriol exchanged across our social networks, that I feel no compunction to enter the fray.   But this is too ugly and embarrassing to ignore.  Evidently, we, as Americans, still have plenty to learn from Ralph Ellison.  I conclude with his Prologue:

I am an invisible man.  No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe, nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.  I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind.  I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.  Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass.  When they approach me they see only my surrounding, themselves, or figments of their imagination—indeed, everything and anything except me.


Abundance and Open Source or Why I Wrote iGODS
WHIPLASH: What Price Glory?
About Craig Detweiler

Craig Detweiler is Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture at Pepperdine University. He is a filmmaker, author, and cultural commentator who has been featured on CNN, Fox News, NPR, ABC's Nightline and in The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He blogs as "Doc Hollywood" for

  • http://N/A Michael Louis Weissman

    Yes! Yes! I’m so glad to see that someone besides me caught this!
    An inadverent – subconscious? – but intriguing reference.
    I don’t believe that Eastwood meant anything other than a little political theater, but the way that crowd was cheering, it appears that a lot of them would prefer that some Americans remain out of view.

    • craigdetweiler

      Well said, Michael.

    • Magic22

      Michael, I would also prefer to think that Mr. Eastwood’s performance was just simply that, a performance, however over the years Mr. Eastwood has shown such prominence, intellectual intelligence and insight, I can’t help but think this was more than a simply skit. Take for instance when he help Kareem Abdul Jabbar get back the original historic jazz album and compositions that were destroyed in Jabbar’s Calif. home. Mr. Eastwood has been too thoughtful over the years in his work and in the issues he has chosen to support to throw this off as a passing fancy. He is without doubt entitled to his opinion, however it is in some sense troubling. I still revere his work and perhaps always will.

      • Rich

        Did you just seriously use an example of Eastwood helping a black man get his records back as an approval of his support of ethnic minorities?

        That’s sad. Surely he’s done more than that.

        • Magic22

          You are right Rich. He has done much, much more and equally more for more than just black people. And I think and hope that is what supports the point that I was trying to make and not inflame. The point of the article (I believe) was that Mr. Eastwood’s speech served to minimize the president (a black man), and that there were shades of Ralph Ellison’s novel in Mr. Eastwood speech. Besides it was just an example of how I have viewed Mr. Eastwood and his work in the past. He seems (and I don’t know him personally nor have I ever met him) a very open person and a person that will support an ideal that he believes in. So the speech and in my view the minimization of a black president might very well be something he believes in. His right without a doubt, it just troubled me, that is all.

  • Tim Suttle

    Nice, post Craig.

  • R.C.

    Lighten up, Francis.

    • craigdetweiler

      Obscure but apt comment, R.C.!

  • Pingback: Making People Invisible: Reading Eastwood through Ellison « research play()

  • Janet Hanson

    Thank you, Craig. You captured well the meaning behind the moment. May we have eyes to see…

    • craigdetweiler

      …and eyes to hear. Thanks, Janet!

  • Joyce

    I really like and appreciate this piece. But I wonder why you didn’t identify your race, when it is relevant to the discussion. If you are white, please be aware that writing with an “assumption of whiteness” is itself a function of white privilege that marignalizes people of color. Thank you!

    • craigdetweiler

      I hear you, Joyce. I thought the photo at the top of the page revealed enough. But you’re right about my blind assumptions…

      • Magic22

        Hahahaha Craig that is so funny. And that is coming from a 56 years (August 29th) black man. Very funny, but your article really caught my eye. I have really enjoyed Mr. Eastwood over the years and have found to be (in my opinion) a deep brother. I know that I will continue to enjoy his work, his performance somewhat boggled the mind. I too am not very impressed with either candidate, yet in every case let’s simply have respect for the office and the man or woman who occupies it. Do unto others is a simple suggestion.

        • craigdetweiler

          Well said, Magic. It is tough to square his performance at the RNC with heartfelt films like BIRD and INVICTUS. And yes, the profane disregard for the office of POTUS was also so painful. We’ll all be talking and processing this episode for awhile…

  • MarkGore

    Eastwood’s performance was not my cup of tea, and I know you are not calling it racist, so why are you calling the reaction of the audience racist? Can anyone make fun of the President or criticize him w/o somebody implying racial overtones in the criticism?

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks for weighing in, Mark. Actually, I don’t think I made any comments about the audience’s response. I was simply trying to put Eastwood’s performance in a long, regrettable historical context. The pain it conjures up for large swaths of Americans is connected to the deep truths embedded in Ralph Ellison’s novel (and the work of Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and so many more)…

  • Pingback: Clint Eastwood and the Empty Chair()

  • Jon Trott

    Thank you so much for this. I, too, made the connection and even wrote about it – – and am glad to resonate with your key word “empathy.” Yes, yes, yes. That captures just why Ellison’s work will never die.

    • craigdetweiler

      Wow, Jon. What remarkable synergy. Demeaning is a key word as well. Thanks for bringing such strong affirmation.

  • Jeff Saville

    “And I am horrified that for all the historic and symbolic importance of Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, tonight, he was talked down to and rendered invisible. While I am deeply committed to free speech and dissent, the sight of a white man figuratively putting a proud black man in his place is nevertheless disgusting. And twice putting the most offensive profanity in his mouth is nearly unconscionable. Harry was definitely ‘dirty’.”
    I didn’t enjoy Clint putting the inferred profanity into the schtick, and I also thought the “no, I won’t shut up” piece in was unhelpful as well. But you’ve brought race into into where I don’t really see it was there. So Clint is white and Obama is black (mixed race, to tell the truth). But it could just as easily been about Clint being right-handed and Obama being left-handed. It is a distinction without relevance. If you want to say it is inappropriate and disrespectful to put those kind of words into the President’s mouth, I’m with you 100% (unless that President is known to talk that way, which I don’t think Obama is). Clint is not as close to the campaign of course as Romney and Ryan, or even Rubio and Rice, but even though he is tangentially connected to the campaign as a one-time speaker, it certainly didn’t add to the civility of the campaign; instead, it only added fuel to the fire. That is very regrettable. I would hope the Democrats don’t respond in kind; that would only be stooping to a lower level. But I don’t think it was about race. And I think we should stop assuming criticism of Obama has undercurrents of race just because the criticism is voiced by someone who is white (or Asian or Hispanic or …..). There are just a lot of people (and I’m one of them) who think that Obama is a bad President, and well, it’s time to let him go. (Clint did get that part right).

    • craigdetweiler

      Glad you joined in the conversation, Jeff. Yes, we all have our grievances with the President and the past decade or so. But I brought up race because the erasing of Obama is rooted in a lamentable, historical context. We may not recognize it as racist in origin, but that’s the power of Ralph Ellison’s work–even 60 years on–to drop the scales from our eyes. I’m with you in hoping the Democrats do not stoop to respond. This election is already debased enough….

    • Magic22

      Jeff, maybe we should both read the Ellison book and then we might have a better HISTRICAL representation of what is being suggested here. As a white guy (I’m assuming you are white, forgive me if I’m wrong) you just may not be truly aware of this big pink elephant in this room. Again I as with many others am not really satisfied with this last president’s term. Wish he could have gotten more done and more done with all parties working together

      • Magic22

        Please excuse the Historical typo

    • MarkCA

      You comment that Craig Detweiler “…brought race into where I don’t really see it was there.”
      Two points:
      1) Many a politician speaks in code, terms that may not click with most, but which are charged with meaning to those who understand them, words that can either incite or inflame. (Two famous examples are George W. Bush’s call for a “crusade” against terrorists and Sarah Palin’s reference to the, presumably liberal, media of conducting a “blood libel” against conservatives in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Giffords et al.)
      2) I don’t know if you remember when the term “institutional racism” was bantered about for awhile (it dates from the late 60s, but I heard it leveled by blacks against whites in the late 80s). This incarnation of the term was used to mean that racism was so institutionalized, so ingrained in white people that they couldn’t see it or even realize it in themselves, despite consciously believing themselves not to be racist.
      This column brought both of these to mind.
      I honestly didn’t see the connection Craig Detweiler makes between the President as a black man and Ralph Ellison’s concept of a black person as an invisible man.
      However, having read this column and realized the possible connection of the image presented, however deliberately or inadvertently intended, I cannot deny that it’s there. At the very least it shows there was no one involved who expressed concern with how such an image might be perceived by some voters.
      Like I said, it may have been unintentional, and criticism might seem an overreaction or overly sensitive or even invalid, but I’m willing to bet there were those who–having seen Ellison’s message in the sight of that empty chair–were upset or angered by it.
      It would be insult to injury for any politician not to recognize the very real feelings it invoked.

    • beth

      Why do folks reduce Mr Easrwoods comment to race, it, like the Republican convention, is about policy or lack of it, not the man, Mr Obama.

  • Lazarusrising

    I don’t understand why no one will talk about the obvious racism in this ramble. It’s chock full of negative black stereo types! The big plane? Isn’t that a pimp caddy? The crazy crazy? Isn’t that a you must be on drugs? Isn’t he saying step out of the way, boy, and let a real man do the job? Listen again. Listen for the subtle bigotry. It’s all through this. Maybe not intentional. But what racist remark is?

    • craigdetweiler

      Yes, Lazurus, it isn’t too subtle, is it? After telling his conjured Obama to ‘shut up,’ Eastwood seemed to stop just short of calling him, “Boy.” A vivid illustration of how much work remains to be done….

      • Swartzendruber

        Craig – got here via David Fleer’s post on Facebook. Interesting stuff. I had not seen the Eastwood ‘performance’ so watched it on YouTube. Maybe I missed it, but I did not hear Eastwood tell the Invisible President to shut up – two times it was the other way around, with the implication that Obama had said ‘shut up.’ Again – maybe I missed it. I also had to think that perhaps the parallels to the novel are a bit of a stretch – certainly it would be lost on most Republicans :-) The biggest piece of racism that I saw was nary a non-white face in the whole 11 minute clip.

        Nice post


        • craigdetweiler

          Thanks, Doug. You’re right–he only calls POTUS “stupid” and “crazy”. Nice to reconnect, even in this rather strange context.

  • Miguel Velez-White

    Some people tend to dismiss science fiction as pure entertainment, fantasy and kiddy fare. However, this country has such great writers such as Ellison, Bradbury, Serling and even Roddenberry who have often shown us how science fiction is quite often a very relevant commentary on the state of our own human condition; displayed within imagery which is meant to help the reader see what is more obvious to some of us already; but perhaps not on their radar. I am a man of black and asian heritages, with children now of the same mix. I’m proud to say that I grew up during the Serling/Roddenberry era; which by the way was during the height of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and many historic and relevant social issues. Now that I’ve qualified myself worthy to speak on this article and subject, please let me state how awesome I find Craig’s thoughts on this matter.

    Craig was able to cut to the heart of the matter in a way that many people either can’t, won’t or are unable to see. One of the most horrific things that we as a people are known for doing is marginalizing a particular group/class of people by either accidentally or intentionally ignoring them. As a reference, can anyone identify with the scenario where you are downtown or even in your own neighborhood and just off to the side, there is a homeless person attempting to speak to you in order to request some monetary assistance. I myself even am guilty of occasionally pretending to ignore them so that I don’t have to be bothered with them and ultimately having to say “No”. It’s easier to not even deal with the person than have to look them in the face and explain that I don’t have any ‘spare change’; whether it is true or not. It’s way easier for my conscience if I simply ‘pretend’ that I didn’t hear the person and then go on about my day. I am disgusted with myself when I do it and I’m scared because what if this is Jesus in another form. Scripture (sorry gang, I have to go here a minute) tells us that if we deny the least of us, we are denying Christ and as such, there will come a time when He denies us to Hiss father. I apologize to the other faiths for this reference, although I’m quite certain that in their faiths, there must be some similar reference.

    As a person of colors, the memory is all to fresh of when this country treated Blacks first as a natural resource, then as a disposable people. When Blacks then began wanting equal rights, they began to become an invisible people. Even in todays modern and technology filled existence, we deal with uncomfortable people and situations by ignoring them, pretending that they are not there; in fact, treating them as invisible. I also have issues with some of the things that our current President has done (or failed to do). However, as a former member of the military (another group of invisible people lately), I was always trained (reinforcing my parents’ training) that you respect your chain of command; you most certainly respect the Office. The flagrant disrespect that his been shown to this specific President gives clear and undeniable evidence that in my cases, it is most absolutely about race. It may not be the sole factor, but it is most certainly there and anyone trying to state that it is not; often times is one of the very people who is guilty of trying to make the problem or person/people non-existent.

    Ellison’s story makes you think. Hopefully, if you are a person of good conscience, heart and empathy, then you are able to easily distinguish the references to our daily life. I love and adore Clint and his movies. I have all my life. I know that he is not a racist. However, the fact that the RNC and its members allowed this to take place; then cheered it on with the delegates, totally punctuates the message that they have been throwing at us from the first day of Obama’s presidency. That message being that “we can’t let that n****r get a second term in office (see Mitch MoConnell’s standard rhetoric).

    I”ll stop here because this subject weighs far too heavy on my heart and I’ll begin a bunch of passionate rambling (assuming that I haven’t already done that – sorry Craig). I love my country and I used to love the political process. However, somewhere along the way, it stopped being about both sides of the aisles working together in spite of differences. Now it’s about controlling the message and employing dirty tactics in back rooms to make the other side look bad. With our current president (being a minority), the level of people’s prejudice has blown up to levels that horrify me deeply. You can hide it in stuff like “socialist”, “not an American citizen” and other deflective issues, but for those of us who have lived in this life of a minority – the writing is way too clearly written on the wall. I thank God for people like Craig who are able to frame the discussion intelligently and give some of the most awesome references to illustrate it. At the end of the day Craig, you made us all think. I am honored to call you ‘my brother’.

    • craigdetweiler

      My brother Miguel, I am so humbled and energized by your long response. Glad my post stirred up so many deeply rooted experiences for you. Yes, I grew up in an era when politicians would cross the aisle to pass legislation that sought the common good. Unfortunately, it has been undercut by ideology from both sides that refuses to tackle the big picture. One of the more insightful books on how to forge a third way is THAT USED TO BE US by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum.

  • Pastor Jason

    Very disappointed that you’ve brought race into this thing. It clearly had nothing to do with race at all.

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks for posting, Jason. See Miguel’s eloquent response above….

  • Joyce

    Oh, sorry! I’m reading on my phone and there’s no picture. I’m white and it’s something I’m trying to be careful about. Cheers!

    • craigdetweiler

      No problem, Joyce. Now I understand why you couldn’t see what I looked like…:)

  • William Heath

    Obama’s stuff can’t stand on its own, so we need defend him because he’s black? Color never came into it; he wasn’t addressing a black man, he was giving the President the respect of addressing him on the basis of his philosophy, and you should disagree with it on the philosophical basis of being ridiculous or of committing the straw man fallacy or whatever. If we’d never met or seen Obama, how would we know what color he is from that speech? It’s precisely because Eastwood addressed him apostrophically that you can’t make any kind of racial issue out of it. Only those who think Obama is great just because he’s black or whatever color will have any objection to the format. Can you imagine the hullaballoo if Eastwood had addressed an effigy instead!

    • craigdetweiler

      Glad to see you joining the conversation, Bill. One doesn’t have to speak in terms of color to engage in racism. In this case, it was the placing of words (even profane words) in the President’s mouth, then making sure he cannot possibly respond, that hearkens back to a long, tortured history of silencing others as a way of subjugating them. Think back to the kinds of roles played by Sidney Poitier. Remember how he stood up to the sheriff and the town, “In the Heat of the Night”? Recall how much power he summoned to say, “They call me Mr. Tibbs.” Or perhaps more recently, Cinque in “Amistad.” After more than a century of being told to speak only when spoken to, here were men who refused to sit silently in the chair they’d been placed in. But on the final night of the RNC, Clint undercut his own cinematic legacy of films like “Invictus” by trying to muzzle an “uppity” President.

  • Esteban

    It appears to me that you’re creating something where there once was nothing (maybe the pun is intended, maybe it’s not). My guess is that Clint was a last minute “get” by the RNC, isn’t comfortable with reading some canned speech from a teleprompter & told the Repubs he’d come up with something. He came up with some political theater that he was comfortable with & that played well to the audience – Republicans who don’t like that a Democrat is in the WH. Now you and many in this forum have thrown the blanket of racism over the whole group — THAT is what is shocking and appalling. You should be ashamed.

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks for responding, Esteban. You’re right–this definitely felt last minute, spontaneous, and unrehearsed. I don’t think I’ve vilified any group. I’ve simply tried to place Clint’s performance in a historical context. It was a dramatic effort to put President Obama “in his place”–essentially saying, “Now, you shut and listen to me, boy.” Given how many times and places that power move has taken place between white men standing over black men, I don’t think it is possible to understate the obvious subtext of Eastwood’s potentially most memorable onscreen moment (whether Clint realized how it would come across or not). And I write this as a longtime admirer of Clint’s movies.

      • Ted Garcia

        Hello my old friend. A very well written and thought provoking piece. I’m just sorry so many people are criticizing you for it. Obviously they have an agenda and are displacing/projecting their anger. Very proud to know you… please keep blogging and ignore the ignorant comments.

        • craigdetweiler

          Ted! It has been too long. Alas, ‘old’ is increasingly appropriate. The intensity of the response surely does indicate the post struck a nerve. I’ve developed a bit of an armadillo skin over the years. You know about armadillos in Texas, true?!

          • John Greenewald, Jr.

            It struck a nerve, in me anyway, because you are calling anyone who laughed, supported, watched, agreed, etc., with that speech as racist. *I* am NOT a racist, nor is Clint, nor is the republican party. Unfortunately, written pieces like your blog show the racist tendencies are not with people like Clint, the audience, myself, or anyone else laughing at the analogy, but rather, with people like you who decide to turn a empty chair into a racial offense.

            Lame and sad.

          • craigdetweiler

            I didn’t call anyone a racist, John. And I certainly didn’t label the audience in any way. I did question people’s judgment i.e. letting an unrehearsed moment completely undercut your best laid plans. And I do want to point out how easily we might fall into well established grooves of position, power, and privilege. Lame and sad are appropriate words. Because my post is absolutely a lament rooted in sadness.

        • Esteban

          Ted: just because I criticize Craig’s post doesn’t mean I have an agenda or that I’m ignorant. I’m sure he can take it. I consider his (along many of the posters here) whitewashing Clint & Republicans as racist is way out of line – it smacks of the slightly self-righteous, condescending, PC thought that is found in too many corners of academia these days; much in the same way that the hype surrounding the use of “chink in the armor” by the ESPN commentator & “niggardly use of funds” by the Washington DC city accountant got them fired.

          Craig, your a thoughtful and thought provoking analyst. I’ll be interested to read your blog after you’ve seen the 2016 movie. I wonder if you’ll find anything to be “shocking” & “appalling.”

          To be clear, I didn’t mean “whitewashing” in any racist way.

  • Phillip Anthony

    This is a well-written piece, brimming with a wisdom and understanding… free of political bias. I only wish there were more of it.

    Every four years, Americans find themselves victims to dirty politicking and smear campaigning, along with an all-you-can-eat-all-you-can-digest buffet of one-sided, evil-intended political assassination by one party’s nominee to the opposing party’s incumbent (and the assassination attempts go both ways). It takes weeks and sometimes months leading up to election day just to filter through the “reported” viewpoints. By the time the country arrives at Election Day, one has only been afforded a few moments to make a somewhat-informed decision on which candidate they’re going to choose on the ballot.

    Americans are conditioned from an early age to be segregated, to “be a part of a team,” to “join-in-the-fun,” to embrace this group-that group, this denomination-that denomination, this political party-that political party. And by the time a child is graduating from single digits to adolescence they’ve already formed a variety of social opinions, religious ideologies, and world views, based primarily on the bias-selection-filtering-process they were subconsciously (and consciously) subjected. Our conditioning gets the best of us as a society.

    Candidates should be judged and considered as candidates based on their political and personal decisions made throughout their careers as “public servants.” The party affiliation should not encapsulate the heart of the nominee, regardless of the party’s current agenda. However, that is what often happens, and there lives within American democracy a small percentage of Americans, who vote for the PERSON aside from the party affiliation.

    I have followed your writing and your work for years, and I am encouraged in knowing that you can effectively COMMUNICATE and FILTER out principle, or the lack thereof, without bias intent or support in a blinded loyalty as so many often do.

    Thank you for always standing for Truth.

    • craigdetweiler

      Philip, thank you so much for this gracious and generous response. You’ve encouraged me to keep writing and thinking. And also, perhaps most importantly, not to abandon hope. I deeply appreciate the spirit animating your comment.

  • John Greenewald, Jr.

    Are you kidding me? You turned Clint Eastwood’s speech into a racially motivated one? You say, “While I am deeply committed to free speech and dissent, the sight of a white man figuratively putting a proud black man in his place is nevertheless disgusting.” I’ll say it again – are you kidding me?

    Not one speaker at the RNC commented they were against Obama for his color or his background. In fact, on the contrary (given the assumption you did NOT watch the whole thing or maybe you wouldn’t have written this) many commented on how he IS a good man, a good father, and maybe even a good attorney. But he is a BAD President. I don’t care if he’s white, black, yellow, green or purple. He’s done nothing for the nation, and he’s full of empty promises, and the same old rhetoric, we’ve heard for almost 4 years. Well, enough is enough.

    The “empty” chair, to me as an outsider, represented his EMPTY promises and EMPTY agenda. He has NO agenda… at least, not one that will help this country. And yet, you resort to glossing over all of that – and resort to accusing Clint, and/or the audience, as racist. I would bet a lot of cash, if Obama was white, we would’ve seen the same exact speech from Clint – and it would’ve been just as genius.

    Obama is a grown, intelligent, and successful man. You clearly stated he’s a “black man”, yet, I stick with “man” because he is an equal to me. Being “black” doesn’t make him any more or less than me. He is good deep down, and his intent, albeit in my opinion flawed and wrong, is for the better of this country. Problem is, nothing he does… works.

    That said, he deserves no special treatment, because, in your words, he’s a “black man.” He’s a “grown man” in my opinion, and if he can’t take the heat of Clint Eastwood’s analogy of an empty chair, then boo hoo right back to his hometown and get out of the White House. My guess, and maybe I am blinded by my assumption Obama is an intelligent man, that he, too, would not consider this a racially motivated insult… but rather, an opinionated Republican actor who did a BRILLIANT job (at least to the right side of the isle) of showing Obama’s promises, rhetoric, and plans for our future as EMPTY.

    With all due respect, don’t turn things racial when they shouldn’t be. How you got an empty chair, and obvious insinuations about empty promises, is beyond me, and quite frankly, an insult to those other white and black American’s who are sick and tired of those playing the politically correct race card at every opportunity.

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks for the passionate response, John. I don’t think Eastwood’s speech was racially motivated, but his choice of metaphors draws upon an insidious (and evidently) still resonant power move. You have offered a highly credible way to interpret the choice of an empty chair. I focused on invisibility. I was struck by how a book published sixty years ago, that I first read twenty-five years ago, came roaring back in one of the most dramatic moments of political theater in my lifetime. I’m no fan of political correctness. But I am a fan of correctness. Clint’s playing involved far more than mere politics or who we intend to vote for in yet another election.

      • John Greenewald, Jr.

        Unfortunately, then, I think you’ve missed the point entirely, Craig, and are so hard set on your ways you will continue with the diatribe you’ve set forth.

        As I am a strong believer in people’s free speech, and for you to write this article with your false accusations and assumptions, Clint, too, can do what he’d like with the fear of people creating a lynch mob for his empty chair analogy.

        Although you didn’t use the word “racist” you sure implied it by saying “white man” and how he talked to a “black man.” Not sure how much more you can insinuate a racist person talking to another – but that’s your prerogative.

        I appreciate your time in responding, and graciousness posting opposing views, and speaking back to us who you’ve “struck a nerve with.” But the bottom line is you wildly missed the mark with your opinions and assumptions on what that speech meant, and unfortunately, are putting fuel on a fire that shouldn’t be burning.

        This was NOT racist, like you imply. Clint did NOT intent for it to be demeaning towards a “black man” as you state. I think you’re giving way too much credit, quite frankly, to a ad-libbed speech. You know darn well at the DNC there are going to be jokes, belittling and making fun of prominent Republicans, and Mitt Romney himself.

        Will that all be racially motivated and racially demeaning as well? Nope… it’ll be politics as usual.

  • P.Scott Cummins

    Wow, the classic straw man argument, playing on political correctness and guilt. What I find so very sad are attempts to conflate in this way. It is a form of shaming that rich liberal whites use to bludgeon free speech. Craig, this essay is a horror. It has nothing whatever to do with any valid criticisms (of which there are many) of Clint Eastwood, the Republican Party, Mitt Romney or anyone. It does succeed in making people feel bad, so if that was your intent, you succeeded. But it accomplishes nothing. Just like there was nothing racist about what Clint Eastwood did or said on that stage as you intimate – you can stick that in your Gran Torino and drive it.

  • Kat

    Craig, Why does it have to have anything to do with race? How about let’s look at Animal Farm or 1984? It’s interesting how dissent is being silenced through the cries of racism. Why can’t you look at someone the way Martin Luther King begged and dreamed of? Why can’t a man be judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin? No one at the RNC referred to the color of Barack’s skin. It is insulting. In the same way you might feel insulted that I suggest you try to silence people that find his policies crippling and dehumanizing by calling them racist. It’s been very effective. And I think many Americans have been silenced through MSNBC, CNN, NBC calling we who disagree “racist.” I think it’s horribly devisive and distracting from the issues at hand. I don’t think a President that has doubled the number of people on foodstamps and spent $5T we didn’t have, whose unemployment number was the lowest the day he entered office, is a good President. Guess I’m racist, eh? Craig, do you know what this crushing debt does to your children, and to the least of these? It leads to inflation which CRUSHES the poor. This is why most of the impact of Obama’s policies he’s enacting in 2014, remember he’ll be “a lot more flexible after the election.” My distaste for this man has NOTHING to do with his race. And this race baiting has worked, Craig. Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joe Biden calling anyone who disagreed with him a “racist.” It shut people up for a time. But no more. We’re just too damn tired, Craig. The economy is horrific, the country is more divided than the civil war, and the Middle East is about to explode. Please. The last thought in Clint Eastwood and my mind were race. You can interpret anyone that disagrees with a terrible President as racist, that says more about you. Not us. No. Clint Eastwood is not a racist, nor is Condaleeza Rice or Marco Rubio or Susanna Martinez or Mia Love. That dog just don’t hunt.

  • Soapy

    Why is it that any criticism of our current President is considered to be a racist act. Clint was pointing out the flaws that he see in Obama. Race has nothing to do with it. But, when all else fails, play the race card.

  • Joel Barret

    Craig, it’s true that messages are inseparable from their context. However, I think you’re eisegetically making the invisible man metaphor a procrustean bed for Eastwood’s apostrophe schtick.

    Perhaps Eastwood should have known that using the rhetorical device of an empty chair when the president is black would evoke in the minds of people whose interpretive lens confirms their suspicion that everything is symbolic of latent racial animosities a different response than it would if the president were white. But it follows that people who see the world that way would probably be scandalized that a rich old white man would be so insensitive as to offer political humor to criticize the performance of a black president in the first place. No doubt these rhetorical alchemists would be able to extract from the total overall gestalt of such a communication event the essence of some other shibboleth from which to project the racial animosities they are forever triangulating. (Pardon the mixed metaphors, but after all we’re playing fast and loose with tropes, so I imagine that’s forgiveable.)

    Nevertheless, it stands to reason that Eastwood would have used the same gag if the president were “white” and thus Eastwood demonstrates his lack of prejudice by treating Obama the same as anyone else.

    Now it’s fair to use the reader-response method to suggest that Eastwood’s message was ineffective to his aims for a particular audience. But to suggest that Eastwood’s very use of apopstrope relegates the president of the United States to a voiceless, powerless pawn is more than a stetch. Poor, voiceless, bedraggled Obama? Are you kidding, the man has perhaps the biggest bully pulpit in the world!

    It is very telling that you suggest that voting against a second term for President Obama is “disempowering” a “proud black man.” In the strictest grammatical sense of the words, this is true: Obama would have less power of he was no longer president. But to offer it as evidence of implicit racism as the “real” motive for voting for someone with a different policy agenda is equivocation of massively irresponsible proportions.

    Perhaps the “insidious power move” that is in fact at play here is better described by way of analogy to the practice of atheletes who “flop” to draw the foul against opponents.

  • Bren

    I’m glad you noticed the Bob Newhart connection, but this racial dog-whistle/Invisible Man stuff is outrageous. The purpose of political correctness is not to make society more civil but to squash political opinions. It’s function is to intimidate opposing views into silence, to deny First Amendment rights without the legal trouble. And this is what the MSM and Obama regime has perpetrated. ANY criticism of Obama MUST be redefined, however absurdly, as racism.
    No. Eastwood took Obama down a few pegs and he deserves to be taken down, not because he’s half-black or whole black or the “other”, but because his policies deserve ridicule. Asserting a “disgusting” racial hyper-sensitivity doesn’t uphold racial equality but implies Obama’s inferiority! It sets him out as some protected fragile class, that he isn’t man enough to stand toe-to-toe in the public arena as other men. God forbid he’d ever get roasted as other [white] men. This view diminishes him more than Eastwood’s comedy routine ever could.
    I rode Japanese trains for 3 years of my teen life, always as the Gaijin (which means “alien,” not stranger). Yes, I was blamed for everything. You know what, sometimes they were right. My “other” status to them didn’t make me innocent. If you believe Obama is equal, then let him try to fill that empty chair by himself. If he can.

    • craigdetweiler

      Hello Bren, yes ‘gaijin’ means ‘alien’ or ‘foreigner’. The ‘hen na’ part of the phrase means ‘strange’.

  • Taylor Darden

    Let me say the following
    1. I am a white man who leans a little to the left and while I thought Clint’s rant was funny at times, it seemed out of place and inept. These are my biases. 2. I think your piece here is thoughtful, well-written, and supported. 3. I’m still not sure I buy it.

    Racism is undoubtedly an ugly thing that has no place in our society, and it’s certainly true that minorities of any kind are often looked past, ignored, or reduced to the fact that they are a minority. And racism doesn’t have to be blatant or even intentional to be harmful. That I agree with.

    But for good or for ill, when one runs for office, one offers oneself up as a target for criticism and even ridicule, and for most of it one isn’t present or able to respond. Jon Stewart could write an encyclopedia with the number of put-downs he invented for Bush, and certainly some were at least as crude as placing a profanity in Obama’s mouth. I’m not excusing such behavior; actually I’m not really commenting on it at all other than to say that I don’t know that it has much to do with racism but a lot to do with a media and political atmosphere that has lost a certain sense of respect for sitting political leaders.

    I haven’t read Ellison’s novel but will get around to it one day (Ulysses and The Sound and the Fury still elude me as well, lest someone accuse me of racism here), and perhaps when I do I’ll better understand this piece and change my mind. For now, though, I’ve always been of the opinion that we can never move to a society free of racism (or sexism, or homophobia, or xenophobia) if we have to keep dragging it into every conflict. Sometimes it really is just the economy.

    • Joel Barret

      Taylor, you are a gentleman and a scholar. Reading your comments one can see there really is hope for the world.

  • Michelle

    “Many were entertained by Clint Eastwood’s riff on Newhart’s humor. But if they had read Ralph Ellison’s classic 1952 novel, then perhaps their perspective would have changed. And laughter might have turned to tears”

    Many of the comments have me intrigued – and it has also led me to believe that many have not read the book by Ralph Ellison. To gain a greater understanding of Craig’s point of view on this matter, you really need to examine the book and take the opportunity to see how it may relate to Eastwood’s presentation. That’s his main point here. In no way is he insinuating that Eastwood’s a racist – nor the RNC or anyone who simply thought the skit was funny and/or accurate. He’s not even saying that the brilliant actor and director went out there with “race” on his mind at all – in fact, I’m more than sure he agrees that it wasn’t (which, again, the novel’s main theme demonstrates beautifully in various ways). However, if people want to examine Eastwood’s performance in relation to Ellison’s novel, they are perfectly sound in doing so – and also quite justified. Talking about race, discussing it and dissecting it in relation to instances as such as these should not be instantly equated to “playing the race card” (a term I rather despise, but I digress). One can talk about differences in racial perspectives in intelligent and thought-provoking manners. I believe Craig is simply presenting the notion that HAD many people read Ellison’s thoughts on “invisibility” and yes, the “minority” perspective, their awareness of something very pervasive in America may have been provoked. And even if you still believe that the emptiness of the chair merely represented Obama’s “empty” promises (which is entirely your right) – surely, you can take the time to understand that said “emptiness” may have various connotations to others, especially given their own lived experiences.

    Very great piece here! I have also viewed other articles where this connection to the literary work has been made.

    • craigdetweiler

      Michelle, your response captures the spirit and intent of my post in such accurate and eloquent ways. I am so grateful because rather than responding to a whole host of accusations directed towards me, I can now simply point to your comment.

  • Lisa Larges

    I was so asounded by those 12 minutes of prime time television moments that I did something I’ve never done before and launched a petition at asking Eastwood to apologize to the President. I am even more astounded at the reaction in the press; everyone is noting that it was “weird”, or “creepy”, or even crass; but no one is saying that it was totally uncool to belittle the president — any president — in such a way. And absolutely no one is commenting on the race factor. Put it together with the Republican drumbeat that Obama is “relaxing welfare laws” and you begin to see the gleaming point of the wedge. Thanks for this piece, very much!

    • Esteban

      Lisa, that apology is sure to come right after the many apologies owed to George W. Bush from Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid & their cohorts, not to mention the vast assaults on him by Hollywood, media, talk show hosts, etc.

      Give me a break! If a President or candidate can’t take the heat, he/she needs to get out of the political kitchen. It comes with the territory. Any semblance of civil discourse in politics died after Reagan left office.

  • Marty

    Puuulease. Because the President happens to be black some lame comic routine has racial undertones. Typical liberal race baiting.

    For 8 years liberals showed zero respect for President Bush. Far more disrespect than Obama gets. Calling him a moron, making fun of his religion even making images of him appearing as a monkey.. I guess if a republican did that automatically they’d say, that’s racist! You can have an image of a black President as a monkey!!

    Stop resorting to race bating. It’s pretty low and desperate. We know racism still exists in world but not every critique of a President who is other than white has racial intent.

  • sophist75

    Thomas Gokey has posted an interesting comment over at Bagnews which complements your post quite well. He points out that in his speech Eastwood quotes some scenes from his Dirty Harry movies which are racially charged.

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks, Sophist for pointing out these very intriguing comments from Thomas Gokey. Eastwood’s RNC performance will definitely cause critics, scholars, and fans to reexamine his films. I have been so impressed by so much of his work (particularly the last decade or so). This political stunt only makes a character like Walt Kowalski that much more complex….or not.

  • MKD

    Eastwood mocked Obama for being an inadequate President, not for being black. give it up already.

  • Barbara Nicolosi

    “It was shocking, appalling, tragic, freakish, and weird; amongst the most jarring moments in (televised) American political history.”

    See now, I think much worse was Pres. Clinton pointing his finger at us all and uttering the adamant lie, “I did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinski.” It was much worse when Clinton met with his cabinet and then sent them out in the rain to lie for him to the press. It was much worse when Clinton was spewed his immortal contortion, “It depends on what the definition of sex is.”

    But, oh yeah, Clinton was a Democrat, so his misogyny doesn’t count, right?

    What you have written here in this piece is fatuous and dishonest and you should be ashamed of yourself as a scholar and as someone who has an official forum as a commentator. You know that Clint Eastwood is not a racist. And yet, you write a column connecting his moment at the convention as being “disgusting” because of what you then go on to imply in a cowardly way is subtextual racism. (The whole “boy” section is so beyond the pale as an unfounded attack that it seems to me to border on liable.) Because what makes it terrible is that you know, that Eastwood is not a racist. So this whole thing is a truly disgusting charade in which you had a notion based on Ellison’s great book, and then you prostituted that great book to make it apply where you know it clearly does not. This is inexcusable. And beyond just a falling short of your vocation as scholar, it seems to me to be the sin against the Holy Spirit. You should delete this and you owe Mr. Eastwood and all of us an apology.

    • craigdetweiler

      Barbara, I am so surprised by your passionate defense of Mr. Eastwood. I wouldn’t have thought you were such a fan of the man who brought us Million Dollar Baby and J. Edgar…..

    • love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you

      Wow Barbara!!!!
      I have rarely read such offensive comments as yours. Who died and made you Pope anyway?
      How many people have you turned off in the name of Christ? Get that enormous plank out of your eye
      and take a look in the mirror on who needs to apologize.

  • Mike Schilling

    Honestly, I read stuff like this, and it makes me so angry. Don’t people even try to get the facts straight any more? Bob Newhart never played a beleaguered bus driver; he played a sadistic bus driving instructor.

    Next time, do the research, buddy.

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks for the correction, Mike. Would the driving instructor still rightly be called ‘beleaguered’?

      • Mike Schilling

        Yeah, that’s fair. The night watchman at the Empire State Building the night King Kong climbed it, too.

  • alf

    I am a huge fan of Clint’s acting and directing. But regardless of what we might think about the message, it should be a reminder that actors should: 1. Write out your monologue and rehearse your lines in advance or 2. Use a teleprompter. It did not appear that he had done either. It’s easy to say that he might be having some cognitive problems at 82, but it’s much more likely he thought he was good enough to do this as ad hoc stand up comedy. Boy did that backfire! Wonder if he would ever put up with that kind of performance as a director?

    Clint has likely been in the 1% for much of the last forty years. Wonder if he has flown in a regular airplane since before Fist Full of Dollars? He plays a great ‘everyman’ but everyman he isn’t.

  • Magic22

    WOW, Craig, you have brought out the very best in the readers of your blog. Whether for or against your point of view, the commentaries have been great to read. If your writing was an attempt to bring ideas to the surface, boy did it work, to say the least. I am again a 56-year-old black man that voted for Mr. Bush in his first term and not in his 2nd term. I also voted for President Obama. Whether I vote that way in the upcoming election depends on Mr. Obama’s campaign direction. I have told all my friend that President Obama should change his campaign process and focus more on ensuring that we all are part of the haves rather than pointing out the difference in the haves and the have not, that is plain enough to see. True we are not all going to be financially sound and well off, but we should all have the opportunity to vie to be well off. We really are our brother keeper and we need to be aware of that fact. As a nation we are only as strong as a country as the weakest and least of us. I disagree with the President’s campaign direction as I think it takes aim at people that are well off. Whether their fortune gained through ethical means, ill gotten or inherited I do not envy their fortune I just want a level playing field so that I can work to attain and benefit my family. As I own my own business, today the target are “rich” people, tomorrow when I am well off what happens do I become the target, I cannot agree with that. As to the racial overtones, I have the following to state. Black people have had a tough time of it in this country. I am not so certain a white person is completely able to understand how we feel. Somehow, when we wince in pain at something that we feel hurts us to the core, white people feel they have to defend. I am not sure why. However, that is ok because it is not their feeling to experience it is uniquely ours. We all have ideas, feelings and positions that we cling to as part of who we are culturally and ethnically, and it ok to disagree and not see the others persons point of view. If I feel something is racist and feel the need to express that point that should be fine. If you feel different and feel the need to express your point that is fine. Your experience is yours and yours alone. I cannot claim your experience because I am not you, I AM ME. I do not know what it feels like to be Spanish, Caucasian or even African. I more than likely have said things to offend someone and not really know that I did that. However, I need to be open to learning what offended someone and apologize for that offense when brought to my attention. Better, we try to understand each other than revile each other. One day we are going to need each other.

    • craigdetweiler

      Love the generosity of spirit within your comment, Magic. I’d say we need each other more than ever…

  • Josh D

    This is a thoughtful essay and a powerful comparison. I will be sharing this for sure. (one correction though, the title of Obama’s book is DREAMS FROM MY FATHER not “for.”)

    • craigdetweiler

      I need additional eyes like yours, Josh. Corrected above….

  • Julie Reid

    Craig , Well put, well thought out and well debated in this thread. Of some course people don’t like to admit that debasing the President, who happens to be black had any racial undertones. But I am thinking the vast majority of Americans who saw what the Republicans pulled with Mr.Eastwood at the convention saw it for what it was… expression of a angry white guy putting a powerful black man back in his place, and for a moment it maybe felt good to a few of them and they had a few laughs, mostly it was bizarre.. But now the republicans are walking this choice back and distancing themselves from their super secret star power guest…..dirty Harry did them wrong. It wasn’t in fact funny and the majority of Americans don’t like that kind of politics…’s a misfire. keep writing about politics, maybe the dems and all their star power will give you some fodder this week!

    • craigdetweiler

      I really, really didn’t want to write about politics because those on opposite sides of the aisle are so polarized that efforts to shed some light, only generate more heat. But I will be watching the DNC carefully in Charlotte this week, Julie.

  • Bobby B.

    The more I think about it, the better I believe Eastwood’s performance was. City ordinance in my town restricts placing political signs in our yards to 30 days before the election. I have a put an empty chair in the middle of my lawn. From the comments of passers-by, they get and support the message. Thanks Clint!!

  • Caroline Bryan

    Thank you, Mr. Detweiler, for a very interesting blog. I’m white, born and raised in a segregated part of the country; didn’t see an African American child in my school until high school. The town of my birth was segregated — a “black town” was a few miles down the road. It has been clear to me since Election Day 2008 that a very high percentage of the opposition to Obama has been race-based. Four years of Senate and House opposition to Obama, regardless of the content of any bill, has to my eyes been almost exclusively race-based. Of course no one (aside from the smellier talk show hosts) actually says so! For 4 years politicians have been indulging their racism overtly while claiming it’s some other kind of ideology. I was brought up to be racist, in the most innocent way possible, and it took me years of struggle and reflection to recognize myself and strive against it. So white as I am, I do know what racism looks like. Don’t let their pious lies fool you. Most of them may as well be wearing white sheets.

    • craigdetweiler

      Quite a powerful testimony, Caroline. Much appreciation–

  • sisterrose

    Thank you, Craig, for this contextualization of Rowdy Yates’ presentation. I made a brief comment on my blog at NCReporter (and I just posted a link to your blog): See

    To render the “other” “invisible” is what power bases do: to women, children, minorities of all kinds. If we don’t see “others” it is easy for the powerful to do whatever they want, chipping away at human dignity. I hope this ongoing conversation about “the other” is only beginning – and it is for all of us not just one party or group or another.

    • craigdetweiler

      So well put, Sister Rose. Thanks for adding this helpful context and bigger picture.

  • Mark Ferguson

    Well Craig I must out you as a true believer in Jesus Christ. So,
    for those of us who try and interpret life and people through the simplicity of the love of Christ, and if Clint has acted wrongly towards one of God’s creation then we must be aware and not join in. Thanks for making us think and realize that God created both of those men in His likeness but both imperect from sin. Your friend from high school.

    • craigdetweiler

      Thanks for the outing, Mark. Great to reconnect even under these rather extreme circumstances…

  • Mark Ferguson

    I am imperfect as I can not seem to spell imperfect………………………..

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  • Regina

    Thank you for posting this piece Craig. I felt that Mr. Eastwood’s performance was demeaning, disrespectful and racist. I totally understand the reference to Ralph Ellison’s book.

    Sometimes racism is like boxing a shadow. And sometimes it is like a strong sharp wind: you know that it is there, you can feel its harsh power brush up against your soul, and you can spend a lifetime trying to harness and contain its destructive nature. And oftentimes it travels the journey of whipping up debris and dirt until it forms a formidable hurricane. May we save ourselves from the trouble of hurricanes and begin to talk to each other instead of at each other regarding the issue of racism. May we listen and learn from each other instead of denying each others thoughts, experiences, perceptions and feelings. May we ask childlike questions of one another which begin with the simple words of why and how. Selah……

    Thank you for providing a safe space to dialogue, get angry, capture understanding, and hopefully, unite in love.

    The small steps of the brave often reverberate upon the “arc of justice” in extraordinary ways.


    • craigdetweiler

      Powerful metaphors of shadow boxing, resisting the wind, and surviving hurricanes, Regina. I’m with you on that long pursuit of the ‘arc of justice’.

  • craigdetweiler

    Many have pointed out to me that Clint Eastwood has offered some back story on the spontaneous nature of his decision to use the chair.
    The off the cuff, unplanned nature of his remarks do not change my perception of where such subconscious tropes originate. Lamentable metaphors can still overwhelm our stated intentions.

  • Nike Chillemi

    Are you suggesting AA presidents and/or President Obama in particular need gentler, kinder treatment.

    Eastwood treated him like any other president who is the oppostion.

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