Last night a poorly executed gag by Clint Eastwood ended up defining the 2012 Republican National Convention.
Here was an old, often incoherent and unmistakably contemptuous white guy slowly lecturing an empty chair about all of its shortcomings.
There was something Shakespearean about it, with Eastwood looking like old King Lear on the heath, because the 82 year old's bizarre speech had hard words for Democrats but only faint praise for Republicans.
(This was a trend by the way: at the RNC of 2012 Barack Obama was mentioned twice as often as Mitt Romney).
It began well. Eastwood, who had played an iconic tough guy in the early 1970's, appeared to roars of approval from the mostly white, mostly middle aged, crowd. But once he actually started talking their enthusiasm quickly plummeted.
Eastwood ordered the empty chair to get out of Afghanistan. 'I know you were against the war in Iraq, and that’s okay. But you thought the war in Afghanistan was OK. I think you’ve mentioned something about having a target date for bringing everybody home. You gave that target date, and I think Mr. Romney asked the only sensible question, you know, he says, 'Why are you giving the date out now? Why don’t you just bring them home tomorrow morning?'
That line brought heavy applause but the Romney team winced, they have said their candidate wants to keep the troops there indefinitely. This is when things started seriously going wrong.
If I was a comedy writer for Saturday Night Live I would have seen this moment for it was rapidly becoming: tragicomic comedy gold. You can bet it will be all over The Daily Show, The Colbert Report and SNL by Sunday.
And I predict that empty chair will come back to haunt the GOP in November. Because it did something team Romney didn't want it to: it reminded the nation who was not there.
Blacks, Hispanics, Gays, Immigrants, Women and Young People. There is simply no room and no real welcome for them in the all-male Christian Brotherhood that is the GOP in 2012. There are only the true patriots versus the un-American now.
Oddly enough, looking at that empty chair, I also thought of John Lauber, the teenager at Cranbrook prep school that Romney once led a group of frat boys to attack as he cut his hair off with scissors. For a moment Lauber's ghost was sitting in that chair, being bullied by another malicious swaggering tough guy who was sure that the crowd was on his side.
It began as a joke but it ended by telling the truth, and it was nauseating.