Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Someone Needs to See "Bulworth" Again

First Read (Chuck Todd et al.) really, really, really has this wrong (via Goddard):
Newt Gingrich was provocative to the point of looking like the “Bulworth” character (suggesting that Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should be jailed).
I normally like Chuck Todd, but...huh? The point of "Bulworth" was that Warren Beatty's character was blurting out the things he was really thinking, and things which (at least from the movie's point of view) are true -- things that normal politicians won't say because they'll offend the people they're attempting to appeal to. So at a fundraiser:
My guys are not stupid. They always put the big Jews on my schedule. You're mostly Jews, right? Three out of four of you? [brandishes speech]
I bet Murphy put something bad about Farrakhan in here for you!
Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, makes stuff up that appeal to the prejudices of his audience. It's the exact opposite of Bulworth! Even if what he's saying was true, there's no Bulworth in bashing Frank and Dodd to a GOP electorate.

Senator Jay Bulworth is one of my favorite political movie/TV characters, and the idea that Newt has anything in common with him at all really just shouldn't stand. Of course, long time readers will know that Plain Blog already has cast Newt as Tom P. Baxter, because he's a total fraud. But he certainly isn't a Bulworth.  Not good, First Read.


  1. >Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, makes stuff up that appeal to the prejudices of his audience.

    Correction: Newt makes stuff up that he thinks appeal to the prejudices of the audiences. I'm not convinced he has at all a good feel for the Republican id.

  2. Beatty is (was?) a much better womanizer than Gingrich.

  3. Newt ha a great feel for self-educated white men who watch too much CSPAN, don't like where the country is going, and think they are very clever. That used to be a lot of Republicans. Now -- much uglier animal. 10 years of FOX News has resulted in lot of brain tissue loss.

  4. @charlie, there's a lot of disrespect in your post. A lot of people knew that they weren't getting the whole story from the major media, so Fox filled a void that the media created. Brain tissue was dying before Fox.

    @JB I agree. Gingrich isn't just blurting it out, it's planned pandering. I've got a post on this topic too.

  5. Newtie has few defenders these days, so I'll jump in. His shtick is, in fact, analogous to Bulworth's, although the content of it, policy-wise, is the opposite, and the way he achieves the effect is different. What they're both doing is trying to break free of the conventions of normal political discussion -- the dismal repetition of predictable arguments that so many citizens, and especially nonvoters, hear as just pointless and prefer to tune out altogether. The "mainstream" answer to this problem is to wish for some great nonpolitical alternative who will just get in there and solve problems and "get the job done" using goodwill and the plain common sense of ordinary people. Hence the establishmentarian calls for third-(non)party candidates like Bloomberg. (As several commentators have noted, the centrist policies that people who pine for Bloomberg and the like seem to want are mostly already on offer from Barack Obama. But I digress.) If you want movie/TV versions of this idea, see Dave with Kevin Kline or Commander in Chief with Geena Davis.

    Bulworth's strategy for solving this problem was different -- to find a completely new, more "authentic" language, a "no-BS" language of "the street" that sounds a lot like hip-hop. This is an old idea (or myth) that the historically dispossessed, especially racial minorities, the people with the least stake in the existing establishment, know "where it's at" and can "tell it like it is." Word.

    Newt can't do hip-hop, so he tries to break through the stultifying conventions with rhetorical escalation. One of his favorite words is "historic" -- every event, every proposal, is "unbelievably historic," civilizational, or some kind of turning point in history (the history that he "teaches" in his other life, in which he has referred to himself as "Teacher of the Rules of Civilization"). Similarly, he likes the word "insane" -- using it, for instance, to refer to the court ruling that relieved an atheist's kid of having to recite "under God" in the Pledge on a school district's orders. It's not that this decision struck a wrong balance between parental rights and the demands of the state, or even that it was further evidence of civilizational decline -- no, it had to be "insane." Newt's rhetoric just gives no quarter.

    So: Barney Frank and Chris Dodd didn't merely pursue a wrong approach to banking regs. They're not even merely (as other GOP candidates would say) class warriors or partisan attack dogs determined to destroy capitalism. No, they must be actual criminals. If someone else were accusing them of being criminals, Newt would have to one-up this and accuse them of, I don't know, "financial genocide" or something. He just always has to be making the most extreme claim. It's very like Bulworthian, let's-get-real, cut-the-crap truthtelling, except for the minor difference that there's nothing real about it and it happens to be crap.

  6. Jeff,

    I disagree. Bulworth wasn't a strategy exactly; it was as I read it somewhere between a nervous breakdown and just a total surrender to the id. Newt's is entirely calculated, as all snake-oil salesmen are.

    I mean, I agree with you about Newt's language, but disagree completely about Bulworth as a character. Now, Bulworth's stuff as a statement by the movie-makers...that, you can argue. But as a description of the character, Senator Jay Bulworth, it's wrong. IMO.

  7. To be honest, I don't remember what the movie was saying about the character. It wasn't memorable to me as a character study, so you're probably right if we're talking about Bulworth's motives. I was talking about the movie's politics, and the whole hip-hop-as-authenticity theme. The issue there, as I recall it, was the contrast between the bland language of political normalcy and some other language that cuts to the quick. I'm pretty sure that's what Newtie's going for too, in his usual endearing way.

  8. .....and of course, I wouldn't rule out that what drives Gingrich is also the result of a nervous breakdown, perhaps after he first ran for office as a moderate and lost.


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