Obama dreams of ‘going Bulworth,’ New York Times reports

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

President Barack Obama—exasperated by scandals, a seemingly stalled domestic agenda and armchair chiefs of staff in the media—wants to tell you what he really thinks, Washington. Really let you have it. In fact, he’s so frustrated with all of the inside-the-Beltway BS that he might hire an assassin to target him in a couple of days, but not before he’s really ripped politicians (especially Democrats), denounced the outsized weight of money in elections and used “socialism” as a rallying cry against health insurance companies.

Wait, what?

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Obama "has talked longingly of ‘going Bulworth,’ a reference to a little-remembered 1998 Warren Beatty movie about a senator who risked it all to say what he really thought."

“Probably every president says that from time to time,” the Times quoted longtime Obama adviser David Axelrod as saying. ''It's probably cathartic just to say it. But the reality is that while you want to be truthful, you want to be straightforward, you also want to be practical about whatever you're saying.''

The Times' description of the movie is a bit antiseptic. Bulworth, a disillusioned veteran Democratic senator from California facing a tough primary, takes out a rich life insurance policy on himself, with his daughter as beneficiary, and hires an assassin to kill him in a few days' time. Thinking he's going to die, Bulworth decides he has nothing to lose and hits the campaign trail skewering the state of politics—and notably the Democratic Party and race relations.

It’s easy to imagine Obama profoundly unhappy with the state of politics in the infancy of his second term. Most Americans, after all, loathe Congress, worry about the fitful economic recovery and are deeply skeptical that politicians or the media share their concerns.

And White House aides haven’t been shy about bluntly dismissing pundits second-guessing Obama’s strategy for advancing his agenda. (It bears noting, though, that even as those aides roll their eyes at the “Green Lantern Theory of Politics”—the idea that the president just needs to change things by force of will—or at the idea that he needs to cut more deals, or at calls for him to schmooze more with lawmakers, Obama has been putting all of that advice into practice.) Obama himself has shown flashes of angry candor in recent months, charging in April that the National Rifle Association "willfully lied" about bipartisan legislation to tighten background checks on would-be gun buyers, and dismissing Republican charges of a cover-up in the Benghazi controversy as a "sideshow" and a "political circus" that dishonors the memory of the four Americans killed there.

The president also played his frustration for laughs at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, though not without a sharp underlying message.

"Everybody has got plenty of advice. Maureen Dowd said I could solve all my problems if I were just more like Michael Douglas in 'The American President.' And I know Michael is here tonight. Michael, what’s your secret, man? Could it be that you were an actor in an Aaron Sorkin liberal fantasy? Might that have something to do with it?" he joked.

"The American President" (1995) and "Bulworth" both reflected growing liberal frustration and disenchantment with then-President Bill Clinton. Ironically, Sorkin reportedly helped punch up the Bulworth script but was never credited.

Maybe Dowd just had the wrong Hollywood fantasy?