This article was originally published by Salon, on June 1, 1998.
Just when you thought the old socialist left was dead and buried, it is sprouting up across the cultural landscape like a spring weed on Viagra.
Last week, Warren Beatty’s terminally silly agitprop, “Bulworth,” opened in theaters nationwide. The premise of the film is that a liberal politician has to first suffer a nervous breakdown in order to speak truth to power. To be fair, the film is quite funny — a tribute to Beatty’s comic talent as writer, actor and director. And its critique of political hypocrisy and cant is often telling. But the “truth” that it proposes as its main thesis is — unintentionally — funnier still.
According to “Bulworth,” all liberal politicians are bought by “big rich guys” in order to keep them from publicly identifying the real solution to society’s problems: Socialism! (This, of course, will earn particularly big guffaws in the newly liberated markets of eastern Europe.) Even more bizarrely, Bulworth-Beatty proposes Black Panther Huey Newton as oppressed America’s lost leader. According to the pop Marxism of the film, the “deindustrialization of urban America” has deprived minority communities of champions like Huey, who in real life was a coke-head, murderer and rapist. Huey’s message — as Eldridge Cleaver told a “60 Minutes” audience shortly before the latter’s death last month — was a summons to race war that would have created a “holocaust” in America, if enough people had heeded it.
Of course, the movie’s reform-minded posturing — with Bulworth attacking the media for being bought by the same rich guys who buy him — begs the larger real-life question: namely, how a right-wing corporate billionaire like Rupert Murdoch, owner of 20th Century Fox, could drop $30 million on a left-wing bomb-thrower like Beatty to promote such subversive claptrap.
Like a true Hollywood dilettante, Beatty, of course, has no actual experience on which to base his theories. When asked in TV interviews whether he has actually known any corrupt politicians, the aging matinee idol — who has been close to most significant liberal Democratic legislators over the last 30 years — responded he did not.
Bulworth belongs to the Oliver Stone school of political pontificating. But where Stone was slapped hard by liberal centrists who were among Stone’s targets, Beatty has been given a relatively free ride. So it is not surprising that the Marxoid message of “Bulworth” has been trumpeted as a newly rediscovered gospel: “It may be the most keenly astute and honest film about politics ever,” gushed a critic for a Los Angeles TV station. Others coyly endorse the movie’s supposed wisdom. According to New York magazine’s David Denby, Bulworth is a “thrillingly dangerous political comedy” and the senator is a “holy fool,” i.e., an idiot who tells the truth.