I am told that “Bulworth” is a largely forgotten, fifteen year-old movie about a senator who, having contracted his own assassination, begins to speak the brutal truths that are really on his mind.
One can, apparently, speak of “pulling a Bulworth” or “going Bulworth,” and the president, it seems, often dreams of doing exactly that. Mr. Obama harbors a “desire to be liberated from what he sees as the hindrances on him,” and particularly from those hindrances that compel him to hold his tongue. He would surely like to give everyone a good piece of his mind, but other considerations trump that wish to be “truthful” and”straightforward.” Direct, unfiltered speech can cut like a knife and pound like a hammer. A president cannot wallop and slice at will. No, he must be “practical.”
Perhaps “Bullworth” was a dreadful, rightly unremembered movie. I have not seen it; I cannot say. But bulworth is a delightful, beautifully expressive neologism. It is the antonym of the anodyne bullshit that supposedly greases the wheels of our country’s practical political machinery. “Bullshit works,” I have read, “Bulworth doesn’t. That is, however, the exquisite significance of the word. Bullshit is what keeps the process chugging along. Bulworth is how you break it. If bulworth does not work, it is because bulworth is not supposed to work. Bulworth is destructive by nature.
Dreams of bulworth do not indulge in the happy fantasy that politicians “could transform American politics with the power of honest words,” if only they “gave it to ‘em straight.” No, to dream of bulworth is to dream of sabotage by shear force of honesty. This destructive impulse is neither malicious nor nihilistic. It is destruction for the sake of catharsis, both personally and politically. Washing yourself of all artifice, abandoning all reserve, you would finally say to Hell with all of you, I will speak the truth. Its feculence purged, the apparatus of politics would shudder and halt and disintegrate. To Hell with all of that too.
Bulworth is the fantasy of the man who can no longer stand the stench of the grease that keeps the practical machinery of government in motion. And even more so it is the fantasy of the man who sees all too clearly that bullshit no longer suffices to grease that old political machine. The president, I suspect, is becoming the latter sort of man.