Bulworth and Political Scandals

Published 14 Feb 2017

To a person who has seen the movie Bulworth, the story of the main character, Senator Jay Billington Bulworth’s (Beatty) honest admission at the California preliminary rounds in 1976 may appear from an ideal world. This will seem to have no parallel example in real life. (Beatty, 1998). Thus when he decides to confess his political wrongdoing before an audience while campaigning for reelections, the plot exposes how politicians hide their actual life and show to people an artificial side of their selves which is false.

Since Bulworth has decided to commit suicide, he is willing to reveal the truth. He is not worried about what people have so far thought about him. He thus tries to reveal the dirty side of American politics which is based on lobbying and campaign funding. Thus he confesses to an African American crowd that they were neglected so far because they did not contribute adequate money to campaign funds. This was quite shocking news but in the heart of hearts they probably knew it to be true.

He similarly blasted the Hollywood producers at a grand reception for the poor quality of movies they have been producing. He then went on to tell them that the only reason for his government supported them and their business was the contributions they have been making to the campaign. This frank talk by Bulworth showing the real side of political leaders in the United States impresses Nina (Berry). He is the first politician who she feels speaks the truth.

The result of this honesty surprises Bulworth as he wins support of people who he had neglected so far. However at the same time he loses the support of the rich and the famous. In turn he also regains his spirits which had perhaps left him when he had thought about committing suicide.

Warren Beatty has attempted to show true colors of American polity biased by lobbying and catering to the needs of special interest groups rather than those who have necessary numbers but their candidate never wins elections as he does not have the money power with him. Election scandals are not new to America; the most famous recent one involved Tom DeLay in 2005. (Delay, 2005).

Many know about it but it is the political satire shown in the movie Bulworth which has placed the subject in the correct view. The confessions of Bulworth are rare in democracies as America. Leaders here try to hide their true face behind a mask of privacy and the need to protect their personal interests. Thus there has always been a great debate over the issue of what political scandals are and how interfering can investigations be.

Political scandals are not new in human history. They have been with us ever since politics has denoted power. Semiatin (2004) has indicated the vast scope of political scandals from paid advertising to inner corruption in campaigns. Generally a humiliation which involves a public official, concerns public money or interest and involves a politician could be classified as a political one. The event thus either constitutes a conduct which is not within the guide lines laid down by the constitution or is essentially criminal in nature involving a public personality.

This criterion will enable us to focus on those scandals which should be investigated once first signs of misconduct are noticed. This should also enable us to decide the probes in which privacy of the person who is being investigated can be violated in public interest. By making such a clear difference it would also be possible to leave out many scandals which though quite horrible by nature do not fall into the category of political scandals. One such example could be the involvement of Michael Jackson in sexual abuse of children. While as a public person such an act is terrible and could be said to be a public scandal, it cannot be classified as a political one. The issue of classification of a scandal as political or otherwise may be simpler than assessing whether it has to be investigated by violating privacy of the subject. The guiding principle apparently should be that where ever public interest is involved and the act cannot be treated as private it should be thoroughly investigated.

Political scandals are of different types and those that involve profit, money making or fool the public should be given greater priority. Others which involve public persons but do not harm the population in general should be treated as normal social misconduct. Senator Edward Kennedy’s personal problem with alcoholism thus may not necessarily be classified as a political scandal. On the other hand the Iran-contra affair has long been regarded as a major political shame as it involved wrongful use of public and also harmed national interest in the long run. There is also a tendency to side step scandals from political to other forms such as military. For instance ill treatment of Abu Ghraib prisoners in 2004 could possibly be attributed to political leaders but was conveniently passed off as poor judgment by the military. This could also be seen as deliberate violation of human rights sanctioned by some of the highest political authorities in the administration. This example shows the problem of not only classifying scandals as political but also in investigating these. There is always resistance to attribute blame to powerful persons in the chain. This in turn results in investigations taking an unexpectedly soft course or being evaded by people in power. Another problem arises in classifying scandals by their scale. Thus some people would prefer to let those that are considered as smaller scandals be ignored and investigate only the larger ones. However the problem is who classifies wrongdoing. Is it a matter for the public to decide or an issue of how much money is paid or number of personnel is involved? In many cases the media takes the lead by acting as the judge in determining whether a scandal is big or small. Frequently that which is considered as minor initially enlarges in scope as more information is revealed during the investigations.

Thus there is reason to investigate issues of bad behavior which have come to public light as and when incidents occur. Another powerful weapon available with investigating agencies is public criticism of a cover up. Public patience of attempts to conceal a fraud is much lesser than perhaps their tolerance of the actual scandal. It is commonly believed that it was not as much Watergate as the attempt by the Nixon administration to cover up the scam that finally led to his impeachment.

Vigilance on media investigating issues is also important as where media itself is biased the main problem is likely to be forgotten. The draft dodging allegation against George W Bush was brought up by Dan Rather and CBS News. Use of fictitious military records in the investigations however resulted in the case losing its value. Thus the net result was Rather being accused of wrongful conduct by using biased material. Similar issues are raised when there is political agenda in investigations conducted by officials.

Such motives can be real or imaginary as was alleged by many in the McCarthy investigation of the 1950’s and the Monica Lewinsky affair involving former President Bill Clinton. Thus investigating political scandals is essential as leaders like Bulworth who readily confess are very rare in the real world. However due caution should be exercised by investigating agencies to ensure that they disclose the scam rather than getting involved in controversies and letting the culprit get away.


  • Beatty, Warren. (1998). Bulworth. Movie.
  • Delay. (2005). FEC finds misreporting by DeLay committee. The Associated Press, 11 August 2005.
  • Semiatin, Richard. (2004). Campaigns in the 21st Century: The Changing Mosaic of American Politics. New York : McGraw-Hill
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