People have long hungered for an outsider to come in and upend politics as usual. Well, now we know what it looks like to have a political rookie in charge.
The worst political movie ever made was 1993’s “regular-guy-becomes-president” comedy, “Dave.”
The premise of the movie is that a presidential impersonator stands in for the real thing, who is a typical conniving politician. It’s a fish-out-of-water goes to Washington, D.C.
And of course what happens is the outsider slices through intractable Capitol Hill problems armed only with his rapier of common sense. For example, there’s the inane scene in which he painlessly lops $650 million from the federal budget using only a No. 2 pencil, a memo pad and the wisdom of the people accumulated from years of balancing his own books at the kitchen table.
Ugh. This made me irritated when I saw it in the 1990s. (I know, it’s just a gooey Hollywood rom-com. What can I say, I take my politics seriously.)
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But now that art has become life, and we are suffering a real presidential impersonator who actually believes politics is for simpletons, well, now I’m really angry.
What America was just treated to this week was the march of the amateurs. This is what happens when you install in the White House a businessman with no political experience and even less curiosity about how politics works. Or why.
President Donald Trump is not just new to politics. He disdains it, thinks politicians are stupid and thought health care was so blindingly obvious that he could repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act in a blink of the time it took to pass.
He promised as his main argument for being president that he would run circles out-negotiating everyone, from world leaders to the patsies in Congress.
“So I’ve watched the politicians,” Trump bragged when announcing his presidential bid. “I’ve dealt with them all my life. If you can’t make a good deal with a politician, then there’s something wrong with you. You’re certainly not very good.”
Now that you’ve tried your first deal with politicians, care to revise and extend those remarks, as they like to say on the Hill?
There’s this intoxicating notion, propagated in the movie “Dave,” that politics would be a cinch without those oily politicians, or even without politics itself. It leads to the idea that there are simplistic answers to incredibly complex policy problems, such as health care. It leads to the false notion that redemption can come only if we get some ball-busting outsider in there.
It leads to Trump.
“Nobody knew health care could be so complicated,” Trump pathetically realized in February.
I got the sense listening to Trump’s health-care failure news conference on Friday that he remains delusional about why his party’s efforts cratered. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, to his credit, nailed it.
“We were a 10-year opposition party, where being against things was easy to do — you just had to be against it,” Ryan said. “Now, in three months’ time, we’ve tried to go to a governing party … And, well, we’re feeling those growing pains today.”
In other breaking news, the movie “Dave” was not a documentary.
The Republican health-reform effort died because it was a terrible piece of legislation. It was terrible because it was hastily built on a foundation of simplistic exaggerations. These easy promises (“health-care freedom!”) may spin campaign gold, but in the end, they aren’t going to treat peoples’ cancers.
I had to shake my head at Trump’s exhausted paeans to how he had labored away, only to be stymied in the end by … stupid politics.
“He’s tired of the drawn-out negotiation,” said his budget director, Mick Mulvaney, on Friday. “He’s tired of folks always coming up with better ideas and nitpicking the bill as it is. This is not a politician. This is a businessman.”
This was 17 days after the health bill was introduced. He’s tired? In Congressional Time, that’s like 17 minutes.
The president needs to learn that he’s not running a business anymore, but rather the largest political operation in the world.
Silver lining: Maybe this experience will show us that “politics as usual” is not such a bad thing after all. Now that we’re seeing the alternative.