The Man in the Empty Chair
Go ahead and snicker about how last night’s eagerly awaited surprise convention speech by a Hollywood legend turned out to be an 11-minute ramble by a rumple-haired guy, 82 years old, talking without notes to an imaginary Barack Obama in an empty chair.
An imaginary Barack who tells Mr. Eastwood several times to shut up, then tells him and Mitt Romney to do an unspeakable thing to themselves.
Yes, it was very unexpected. But memorable! And the perfect distillation of the Republican campaign.
Mitt Romney doesn’t use a chair. But he, too, is having a pretend argument with an invented friend, Imaginary Barack. Imaginary Barack who apologizes for America. Who hates business and rich people. Who robs Medicare, closes auto factories, kowtows to the Chinese. Who is the sole reason for the soaring national debt, high unemployment, the housing bust, etc., etc.
To Republicans, the president has been a mystery creature for a while. Think back to 2008: Remember the right-wing, talk-radio bafflement about Mr.Obama’s rise. Who is this guy, they asked? Why don’t we know anything about him? When the cipher beat John McCain, disbelief turned to fury.
The last four years have been an extended exercise in Republican denialism: This cannot be. This isn’t happening. If you’re really the president, show us your papers.
Imaginary Barack was invented in Hawaii, sneaked into the Oval Office, and has no legitimate claim on the presidency. As for the real tall black guy posing in Washington, go ahead and treat him any way you want. You can jab your finger in his face, shout him down, call him a Muslim, a Kenyan, an illegal alien, you can invent all kinds of lies about him and then you can tell him – get out of that chair.
In reality, the president is a more-or-less mainstream, smarter-than-average pol, left-of-center on some things, to the right on others, like guns, disturbingly hawkish on ordering the killing of American citizens suspected of terrorism, on national security, executive secrecy and immigration. He is, too, an inveterate compromiser who used to bend over backward to make deals — sometimes in advance! — with Republicans.
But that guy is not as scary as Imaginary Barack.