Now that the big party conventions are finally over, surely the high point of both was Clint Eastwood's talk, in terms of pure refreshment value alone. In the midst of two of the most highly choreographed dog-and-pony shows, with every speech honed to within an inch of its pre-approved message slickly delivered via TelePrompTer -- like a daisy in the midst of a hothouse full of orchids: a spontaneous, ad libbed message.
It says something for the Republicans that they gave the stage to someone so well known for outspokenness across the political spectrum. While he ran for mayor of Carmel to reverse the use of political means to abridge the private property rights of businesses, and he exercises his love for nature in principled accordance with his respect for property rights by purchasing tracts of land to be held in conservation against development, he's not exactly a Party man.
In his talk, Mr. Eastwood explicitly differentiated among "Democratic, Republican, or libertarian," of which he counts himself the last. He's famously known for being anti-war and pro-choice, including for marriage. As he further explained to GQ magazine:
"I was an Eisenhower Republican when I started out at 21, because he promised to get us out of the Korean War. And over the years, I realized there was a Republican philosophy that I liked. And then they lost it. And libertarians had more of it. Because what I really believe is, let's spend a little more time leaving everybody alone."
Yet according to Mr. Eastwood, the only thing he told the Romney campaign in advance of his talk was that "everything I would say would be nice about Mitt Romney."
Amid all the subsequent hoopla over Mr. Eastwood's remarks, there's been a great deal said about his being unscripted and his use of the empty chair, yet surprisingly little commentary on his actual message. The former mayor himself declared himself pleased with his appearance, characterizing it "mission accomplished" in communicating his message to the American people: "President Obama is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," who "don't have to worship politicians, like they were royalty or something."
Of course the bamboozling didn't start with the current resident of the White House. It's been occurring almost from the start of our republic. But the galloping rate that has resulted in the greatest loss of our freedoms certainly dates to the current century, with Americans all too eagerly abdicating authority we were supposed to retain in exchange for promises to keep us safe: from terrorists, from want, from uncertainty, from illness.
The problem with that approach was well encapsulated by Somerset Maugham: "If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money that it values more, it will lose that too."
The inspiring orator Wendell Phillips famously quoted, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty," in urging Americans to fulfill the promise of the Declaration of Independence by abolishing slavery. It is therefore appealingly appropriate that the clarion call for re-declaring monarchy dead has been issued in our time by an actor famous for portraying vigilantes.
In characterizing politicians as "employees" who need to be let go when they don't do the job, Mr. Eastwood expressed a concept that's been largely abandoned in modern civics. The "public servant," accountable to the private citizen who pays his salary, has largely been replaced by not just an Imperial Presidency, but by trickle-down imperialism now encountered virtually everywhere.
Anyone who spends any time in Washington, D.C., knows full well that the days of dropping in unannounced to see "your" representative are well and truly gone, replaced by posturing and preening displays of who has the most power and "access" -- culminating in the regular motorcades of tinted-windowed SUVs preempting use of "public" streets. Yet all across the land, today's travelling public is treated to humiliation with no recourse as Standard Operating Procedure by blue-shirted TSA agents, while in every locality the presumption of security in one's home and private affairs from the prying eyes of the state has gone the way of walking without government-issued ID.
So is the concept of government "of the people, by the people, for the people" -- of government working for us, accountable to us, beholden to our job-rating approval -- hopelessly old-fashioned, held only by dinosaurs like Mr. Eastwood?
If not, it's now going to take more to reverse politicians' apparent disregard for keeping campaign promises and elected and appointed bureaucrats' contempt for our inalienable economic and civil rights than simply firing the current president. It will take a massive shift in attitudes, an open revolt against accepting such behavior and treatment, on a scale equal to bringing down the Berlin Wall of oppression we've allowed to be erected in the name of national security. It may well take daily civil disobedience by large numbers, an outpouring of educated, principled response to encroachments on any of our guaranteed freedoms, and a cessation of trading liberty for safety.
We do have a choice in being victimized by hoaxes: we can ask ourselves not only "Am I better off today than I was four years ago?" but also, "Am I better off today than I was 11 years ago?" -- and if not, why not? Once abdicated, economic and civil liberties can be reclaimed, but it takes more than one vote: it takes eternal vigilance, every day.
Yes, we are a resilient nation -- but we may not have that many shots remaining to get it right. Do we feel lucky?