Look, I'm as much a fan of Clint Eastwood as the next guy, well, of the "Go ahead and make my day" Clint, not the Bridges of Madison County, I want to be an ar-teest older Clint. I loved mean Clint. I've snoozed through chick-flick Clint.
But the point is, Clint Eastwood is no Chuck Norris. And when it comes to endorsing a political party, Mr. Eastwood's "surprise" performance was more of a surprise than I think the Republicans counted on.
Granted, it was probably better -- and certainly more tasteful -- than a holographic Ronald Reagan addressing the audience. That was another of the "surprises" discussed prior to Thursday's big night of TV.
But rather than a ghostly Reagan speaking to the assembled throngs from the Republican stage, a wizened "Dirty Harry Callahan" spoke to an empty chair, in a dramatic monologue meant to address the spirit of the current Democratic president he hoped will soon be defeated.
Why an empty chair? It was weird, bordering on the surreal. It didn't work. It really didn't work.
Looking at this through the eyes of an undecided voter, this left me more baffled and even less convinced. I'm telling you, when I found out in 2008 that Chuck Norris was endorsing Mike Huckabee (one of the most brilliant political moves in history, by the way), I was almost instantly sold on the Huck, even though I disagree with him on quite a lot.
The GOP missed an opportunity here. Clint Eastwood is no doubt an icon of the 1970s and 1980s, but this is 2012. While Chuck Norris isn't really a modern icon either, it doesn't matter. After all, if Chuck Norris had been in Sudden Impact, he would have made Clint Eastwood's day.
Romney's speech started off without a grabber, but it slowly built up. The first part of the speech that really caught my attention was his short, rather elegant eulogy to Neil Armstrong, who died last Sunday. Although it was quickly turned to a political statement, Romney used the legacy of the Apollo program to talk about big accomplishments, and had a good line: "When the world needs someone to do the really big stuff, you need an American."
I noticed that some of the chattering class described that as a nod to the birthers, but I think that's a very long stretch. American exceptionalism has long been a campaign theme of both political parties. My bigger concern is whether this indicates a desire, like that of all recent presidential candidates, to meddle in the affairs of other countries and try to sustain being the world's police force.
One thing that's dogged Romney's campaign is what the media calls the "gender gap". In his speech, Romney clearly tried to address that, and I think he did a relatively credible job. He acknowledged his own mother's failed senatorial run back in 1970, the challenge of his wife raising five children, and the various female elected officials now in office.
At no point in his speech did I get any impression whatsoever that he valued women any less than men. If there is a gender gap in this election on the part of the GOP, it's the party overall, but it certainly doesn't seem to be resident within Romney himself.
Echoing Ryan's speech the night before, Romney hit a key point by saying, "What America needs is jobs. Lots of jobs."
This is a message I'll be looking for in the Democratic convention, because -- and I'll again remind you I wrote what is probably the most widely-read jobs book of the last decade -- I haven't seen a lot of job-positive policy work coming out of Washington. A key part of my decision as an undecided voter will be which candidate will make jobs a stronger focus.
Romney also echoed Ryan's promise to create 12 million new jobs. As I mentioned in the Ryan section, that's not enough to solve America's problems. Romney described five steps to creating those jobs, but one thing he didn't mention was population. Romney has five kids and 18 grandchildren, and so, in this regard, he's contributing to the problem -- rather than helping it. My detailed mathematical models showed that without some attention paid to reducing population, the jobs situation will continue to grow worse.
I was reminded, watching Romney, of previous campaign speeches by George W. Bush and John McCain -- as well as those of Ronald Reagan. George W's speeches always seemed full of bluster, while McCain's seemed vaguely out of touch with the reality unfolding right outside his convention center. Reagan, of course, was Ronald Reagan, and while it was hard to agree with everything he said, you had a sense Reagan had a mission, knew what it was, and America was his top priority.
I've been trying to tell whether Romney's in this because he wants the gig of President, or whether he wants to have an impact on America. There was some bluster in the speech (you can't have a campaign speech without it), but I was surprised to find that the multi-hundred millionaire seemed more connected to the needs of the vast majority of middle-class Americans than I've seen Washington be over these past few years.
Going into the Democratic convention next week, then, I'll be watching to see whether President Obama has the same connection to the realities of most Americans. I'll be looking for policy and priority, because -- as we all know -- the Obama administration hasn't really met the promise we all felt back in November of 2008.
Next: Overall impressions