The last time an empty seat got this much attention in politics, Clint Eastwood was talking to it. At President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union address, there will be an empty chair in the First Lady’s box. The vacant seat will symbolically represent all the victims of gun violence who, as the White House describes it, “no longer have a voice.” The president recently made a tearful case for why he’ll act through executive orders to try to curb gun violence, since Congress hasn’t acted. It’s too late, the empty chair silently admonishes, for those already lost. But hopefully not too late to prevent some future tragedy.
The famous and quizzical Eastwood speech occurred during the 2012 Republican National Convention, when the conservative actor/director spoke at length to an empty chair as if addressing an “invisible” President Obama. The parallels between the two empty chairs are strange indeed. Eastwood is probably more associated with gun violence in film than any other actor — especially for his Dirty Harry character’s fondness for his Smith & Wesson firearm. In 2012 Eastwood said that he cried when Obama was elected. But unlike the tears of the families who will see their departed children and loved ones in the empty seat near Michelle Obama, Eastwood’s tears weren’t real.