Katrina vanden Heuvel
Katrina vanden Heuvel
Opinion Writer

Going Bulworth

Going Bulworth.

The New York Times reported last week that President Obama fantasizes with aides about “going Bulworth.”

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Editor and publisher of the Nation magazine, vanden Heuvel writes a weekly column for The Post.

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For those who don’t remember, Bulworth is a brilliant 1998 film by Warren Beatty, depicting a corrupted and suicidal liberal senator from California who is facing a primary challenge while dealing with financial ruin. Unable to sleep or eat, Bulworth suddenly busts out before an African American congregation in a black church in South Central Los Angeles and begins rapping the unspeakable truths about our politics. The Times report has led commentators to speculate on what the president might say if he went “Bulworth.” What’s revealing, however, is how much could be taken directly from the movie itself.

As Republicans and the press hyperventilate about inflated scandals, the president could simply “go Bulworth” by borrowing directly from the movie to talk about what the actual scandals are:

We got babies in South Central dying as young as they do in Peru.

We got public schools that’re nightmares

We got a Congress that ain’t got a clue

The real crises are mass unemployment and falling wages. Mindless cuts in government spending are costing jobs, slowing any recovery. We have an economy that rewards only the few. Corporations are pocketing record amounts of the economy in profits, while wages hit new lows. The richest 1 percent captured more than 100 percent of the income growth of the society in the two years coming out of the recession. Yet Republicans continue to demand more cuts in programs for the vulnerable and reject even closing tax havens for the wealthy. Or as Bulworth put it:

The rich is gettin’ richer an richer an richer

While the middle class is gettin’ more poor

Those gentlemen there on the monitor

They want government smaller. Weak.

They be speakin’ for the richest 20 percent

While pretendin’ they defendin’ the meek.

The Republican House just voted for the 37th time to repeal Obamacare, without having a plan to replace it. While Obama’s reforms have helped to slow the rise of health care costs, the United States still pays about twice per capita what other industrialized countries pay for care. Obama is forced to defend his program, but he might consider just quoting Bulworth and telling the truth:

Health care, managed care, HMOs

Ain’t gonna work, no sir, not those,

Cause the thing that’s the same in every one of these,

It’s those mother****s there, the insurance companies.

Yeah, you can call it single-payer, or the Canadian way

Only socialized medicine will ever save the day.

And Obama is girding for a fight with his own party on fast-track trade authority as the administration keeps trying to peddle more of the corporate trade accords that ship good jobs abroad. He’d be better off going Bulworth:

We got so many factories closin’ down

Where’d all the good jobs go?

My contributors make more profits

Makin’ . . . makin’ . . . makin’

Hiring kids in Mexico.

We got Americans with families

Can’t even buy a meal

Ask a brother who’s been downsized

If he’s getting’ any deal

Of course, to do a Bulworth requires exposing the money that so pervades and corrupts our politics. Bulworth took delight — and gained massive popular support — in calling out his donors:

You know it ain’t that funny , you contribute all my money . . .

As long as you can pay , I’m gonna do it all your way

Or as Obama might say to his Wall Street donors:

You are too big to fail

And too big to jail

And we’ll keep paying you that tribute

So long as you continue to contribute

Facing down a drug dealer, Bulworth suggests that telling the truth is an act of true integrity:

There’s a time when any homey got to risk his neck and fight

For the thing that he believe in and he got to preach it right.

But the film’s view is less redeeming. Bulworth goes rogue only after he secretly takes out a contract on his own life, while getting his insurance company donors to ante up a $10 million life insurance policy. He calls that off when he’s smitten with telling the truth (and with Halle Berry), but when it looks like his antic candor could sweep the country, an insurance company representative takes him out.

But that’s Hollywood. In Washington, Obama doesn’t have to run again. He can’t win by continuing to play the game against the Republicans and the corporate lobbyists. Why not go Bulworth and see if Americans can face the truth and rally behind someone bold enough to “preach it right.”

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