Clint Eastwood’s Imaginary Friend was really his convenient friend

I wonder if Clinton will speak to an imaginary Clint Eastwood tonight at the Democratic National Convention. 

I doubt it.

I’m guessing that Clinton knows the first rule of Imaginary Friends:

Keep them to yourself. Don’t talk to them in public. (People will think you’re strange.) Don’t set a place for them at the dinner table. (People will think you’re strange.) And whatever you do, don’t talk to them on stage at the Republication National Convention. (People will think you’re really strange.)

Imaginary Friends (or foes, in this case) have their purpose. They serve as the ideal confidante: always available, always willing to lend a hand . . . and an ear. I had an imaginary friend when I was a child—his name was Johnson Johnson. He was a boy about my age, conveniently shorter and smaller than me with ice blue eyes perpetually focused in my direction. Johnson Johnson was my best friend for several years, and for a time, he may have been my only friend. When I was feeling lonely or faced with a difficult decision, it was Johnson Johnson I turned to.

I thought a lot about my imaginary friend while watching Clint Eastwood speak to his imaginary version of President Obama. It was an interesting rhetorical device—our nation’s quintessential tough guy literally talking down to an empty chair. But I wasn’t thinking of rhetoric last Thursday night. I was thinking of how similar Eastwood’s imaginary president was to the imaginary friends of millions of children across the country.

As an elementary school teacher for the past fifteen years, I’ve come across my fair share of imaginary friends. I know their world and I understand their purpose. Imaginary friends are convenient, agreeable, and above all, there when you need them.

Rather like Imaginary Obama. The empty chair to which Eastwood directed his words was remarkably agreeable. When a smirking Eastwood turned to Imaginary Obama and posed his first question about the promises that the President had made to the American people, Imaginary Obama ignored the fact that the question made no sense and had no possible answer.

And it didn’t matter in the least.

Like any good imaginary friend, Imaginary Obama did not refute Eastwood’s claims or even attempt to answer him. He just sat there: invisible, imaginary, irrefutable.

Hardly surprising.

After all, imaginary friends serve their imaginers at all times. It’s their job. They fill the gaps in a child’s life, serving roles unfilled by parents, teachers, and even real life friends. In Eastwood’s case, Imaginary Obama served as the agreeable prop that he required.

Eastwood’s first question showed his apparent lack of concern with coherence while speaking to Imaginary Obama, which is common with children and their imaginary friends. In some cases, children begin babbling to imaginary friends before they are capable of speech, but even older children with rich vocabularies develop their own special languages—languages that are full of meaning and nuance and often indiscernible to outsiders. Eastwood did his share of babbling on Thursday night as well, often straying into unintelligibility. While it may have been uncomfortable for the audience and presumably for Mitt Romney and his campaign team, Imaginary Obama didn’t seem to care one bit.

Imaginary Obama had no say over where Eastwood brought him. The real President Obama would never consider being seated off-mic to the right of Eastwood at the Republican National Convention (particularly if he was expected to answer questions), but imaginary friends are excellent companions in this regard. When I brought Johnson Johnson to school, he often had to wait in the boys room for me, regardless of the persistent bathroom smells. When I brought Johnson Johnson to the park, he was required to wait by the chain link fence rather than joining me on the swings. When we rode in the car, he was often forced to sit in the trunk. It’s nice to have a friend who is willing to accompany you at every turn, regardless of how unwelcomed he or she may feel. Johnson Johnson never complained about being my trusted sidekick, but I have to wonder if how much Imaginary Obama enjoyed the stage at the Republican National Convention. He may have preferred to wait by the fence.

Imaginary friends are convenient. And even imaginary foes have their purpose. But I have to wonder if Eastwood had wanted to debate Obama so badly, did he ever consider inviting the real President Obama as opposed to his imaginary counterpart? Something tells me that had the real President been invited to debate Clint Eastwood on the stage of the Republican National Convention, he might have accepted.

But Eastwood didn’t ask, and on Thursday night a man known in his films for toughness, grit, and unwavering courage chose to bring his imaginary friend to the party because Imaginary Obama was convenient. He was guaranteed to show up, certain to offer no rebuttal, and assured to understand every word of Eastwood’s speech, regardless of how indiscernible and crazy it seemed to the rest of us.

Eastwood also chose convenience over challenge on Thursday night. Rather than debating a man who would have likely spoken rings around him, Dirty Harry chose to chat with a chair. I’m sure that even Imaginary Obama was a little disappointed in his lack of courage.