Saturday, May 18, 2013

At last a candidate Maureen Dowd can support

Jonathan Chait has a good column about President Obama's recent comments about "going Bulworth," an allusion to the 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a politician who as a result of a drunken but honest rant finds his career reinvigorated.
The trouble is that these [frank] answers, while true, don’t actually help Obama. Any political scientist will tell you that the scope for possible legislation in this term is very narrow: The median House member is a very conservative Republican who represents a district that voted for Mitt Romney, and whose biggest political risk is losing a primary to an even more conservative Republican.

But most political reporters and analysts don’t pay attention to the political science. They like narratives that revolve around the president as a protagonist. When you confront them with structural analysis that confounds their narratives, they just get upset with you. It serves no purpose. That’s why I advised Obama to use “less real talk and more bullshit.”

A post-presidency Obama who actually spoke his mind, rather than fashion himself a post-partisan eminence, as post-presidents do — now that would be awesome. But the reason politicians don’t go Bulworth is that it doesn’t work. The truth about legislative dynamics is complicated and depressing. People don’t want to hear it.

Last night, for example, Obama said of the IRS scandal, “The good news is it’s fixable, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to work together to fix it.” That is some prime-caliber bullshit. Of course it’s not in the Republicans’ best interest to fix the problems with IRS enforcement. It’s in their interest to prevent any fix and let the problems linger as long as possible.

But if he had said that, there would have been a huge outcry, and probably a presidential apology. Nobody objected to Obama’s faux-na├»ve claim that Republicans will naturally want to solve the problem. Bullshit works. Bulworth doesn’t.
Bulworth is variant of the "straight-talking everyman takes control from the politicians" genre. Bulworth starts out as a standard politician then becomes a straightshooter, but the underlying fantasy is basically the same as that of Dave and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: a political savior who would cut through the corruption and needless complexity with plain talk and common sense.

Not surprisingly, this notion holds a special appeal for Maureen Dowd.
Mr. Obama’s errors on the helter-skelter stimulus package were also self-induced. He should put down those Lincoln books and order “Dave” from Netflix.

When Kevin Kline becomes an accidental president, he summons his personal accountant, Murray Blum, to the White House to cut millions in silly programs out of the federal budget so he can give money to the homeless.

“Who does these books?” Blum says with disgust, red-penciling an ad campaign to boost consumers’ confidence in cars they’d already bought. “If I ran my office this way, I’d be out of business.”
But if we're going to go down this road, why not take it to its logical extreme?

[and in case you're wondering, the sketch preceded the movie]

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