The Bulworth Factor
January 24, 2004
By Diane E. Dees

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In the 1998 black comedy, Bulworth, Warren Beatty plays a presidential candidate who takes out both a big insurance policy and a hit contract on himself. Senator Bulworth is consequently set free of all restraints, and says everything he wants to say instead saying what he should say. He goes to war against racism, economic inequity and the corruption of the political system itself.

It's hard to see this film and not want to immediately elect Jay Bulworth president. The in-your-face honesty of the protagonist would appeal to anyone, political values aside.

In real life, there is no Bulworth, but until now, there has never even been anyone Bulworth-like. Now we have Howard Dean, who comes the closest to this ideal that I have ever witnessed in my lifetime, and that is why he is in trouble.

How frightening it must be to every established entity-from the White House to the National Democratic Party-to see this shirt-sleeved New Englander doing everything short of sky-writing about the stark nakedness of the emperor. Dean has not only refused to say the "right" things about the issues-he has refused to say and do the "right" things about his campaign. Raising money through the Internet and saying he doesn't need his wife for a campaign prop would be throwaway statements in a healthier culture, but this is the United States of America.

We are obsessed with coloring inside the lines, no matter how ugly the picture is. And we are even more obsessed with "how things look." A president's wife or lack of wife, and his religious affiliation, have nothing to do with anything, but the unspoken rule in America is that we always judge someone by superficial standards. Anyone who doubts this has only to look at the current occupant of the White House, a person with next to no job training, little intellectual curiosity, and an abundance of morality problems. However, his constant promotion of God, the flag, and ethnic-based fear-mongering has gained him thousands of followers.

My purpose here is not to push Howard Dean forward as the best candidate, though I certainly think he is a good one. Rather, I am concerned with a greater issue-the fact that honesty and independence in campaigning will always be punished. It happened to John McCain, and it is happening to Howard Dean. The Dean campaign has enemies, and they are formidable.

There is no doubt that the Democratic Party establishment is turned off by Howard Dean. He will not play by their rules any more than he will play by anyone else's. However, the news media is his greatest enemy. Indeed, it is currently a significant enemy of democracy as we thought we knew it. According to the major print and broadcast outlets, Dean is "angry" (as though that were a bad thing, given the current administration's rape of the nation), he is vague, and he is "unelectable." Add to that the general criticisms that he is a New Englander, he doesn't talk about his very personal beliefs, and he is married to a woman who has a life.

I am angry. I am so angry I just about can't see straight. Why aren't my senators and representatives angry? Why aren't my Congressional leaders angry? It isn't Howard Dean who is acting strange-it's everyone else. But in this Lewis Carroll scenario of denial, everything is backwards, and Dean is the scapegoat, left to stand alone while ridicule is slung at him.

That "Dean is vague" or "Dean has no message other than his opposition to the war" is absurd. He has set forth detailed programs on healthcare, education, civil rights, and the environment. The majority of Americans do go out of their way to avoid fact-finding. Iowans, on the other hand, give us the impression that they seriously study the issues. But consider this: Right after the television talking heads announced that Dean's message was vague, Iowa caucus members started telling reporters they couldn't vote for him because "his message is vague."

Dean, of course, isn't the wild "leftist" enemy of society portrayed by the media, either. He is a proven fiscal conservative. He has supported the gun lobby. He has repeatedly interrupted his own campaign so he could fly to Vermont to attend his son's ball games. But when it comes to discussing these characteristics of the candidate, it's as though Tom Ridge's duct tape has been plastered across the mouths of every anchorperson, reporter and commentator in America.

The result of all of this labeling, selective reporting, and consumer ignorance is that the media-and the Democratic Party-can now call Howard Dean "unelectable." If he is unelectable, it is only because the establishment media made him that way, knowing that Democratic voters-like Republican voters-have little interest in learning the facts.

Bulworth, by the way, doesn't die. He is saved at the last minute by his own will to live, and by his hitwoman's compassion. But that's only a movie.