Who's a Bulworth Democrat?

Who's a Bulworth Democrat?

For the latest episode of the pod, I sat down with Matt Duss (@MattDuss) and Colette Shade (@MsShade) to talk Bulworth—a movie from 1998 that played an outsized role in my political education during high school.

As I stress during the episode, I loved the movie probably a bit too much.

In some ways it doesn’t entirely hold up today. I’ve noticed recently that a lot of old great movies have a pacing that’s just too slow for our wired brains. Even with an award-winning hip-hop soundtrack and what at the time was a jarringly radical script, Bulworth too has a pacing problem that makes it feel different than anything you’d watch now. Still highly recommended.

In Bulworth, Warren Beatty found a way to talk to a mass audience about the intersection of race and class. And to have it be at once funny and heartfelt and enraging. He didn’t always stick the landing analytically, and leaned on stereotypes a bit too much. But he deserves a lot of credit for doing what literally nobody else could.

The politics of the movie were the true standout--ahead of its time. During 2016 and 2020, Bernie Sanders’s left populism, if you will, was a real-world version of the truth-telling populism that was on display in Bulworth. I remember in late 2019 and early 2020 seeing old codger, Never-Trump establishment liberals who openly despised Bernie in 2016 begin to muse about how maybe Bernie wouldn’t be so bad. They were largely making their peace with the prospect of Bernie versus Trump…until, that is, the night of the long Buttigieg knives.

Anyway, the social democratic critiques of establishment liberalism that found so much resonance during the Trump years existed 25 years earlier, and were just as valid then as now. Trump himself came to power by seizing on those critiques—he just did so without offering any solution to them.

Bulworth, I’d like to think, shows us what could have been. Anyone who was active in the alter-globalization or antiwar scene during the late 1990s knows two things: 1) There was a growing progressive movement pushing for big changes in political economy and foreign policy around the turn of the century, and 2) the Global War on Terror and Iraq invasion massively undermined it. It was one of those national security-versus-democracy moments that happen far too often in American history.

Full audio here, or wherever you get your podcasts.

A teaser video here:

P.S.: I’m hoping to do more “Movie Night” episodes in the future, so let me know 1) if you liked it, and 2) if there are specific movies you’d like to see covered.