Favorite Fictional Characters, #313: Dave Kovic
Dave is great fun and one of everyone's favorite political movies. The casting and acting is excellent - Sigourney Weaver's First Lady is aloof and perfect, Ving Rhames' self-conscious body man is worth a chuckle, Charles Grodin's bemused, rumpled accountant is great, and the cameos by early-90s politicians and media pundits makes for a great time capsule. Ben Kingsley, Laura Linney, and others are great in supporting roles as well. But Kevin Kline does fantastic work as protagonist Dave Kovic, the temp-placement everyman who bikes around DC and makes extra scratch doing impressions of President Bill Mitchell, to whom he bears a striking resemblance.
There's small need to recount the plot here (if you're in that tiny minority that hasn't seen it, rent it now). Suffice it to say that Dave is a boyish, earnest, compassionate, energetic, slightly bewildered creature who finds himself thrust into the Presidency, sort of. For a time, the film's central conceit is that he's just what the doctor ordered for a corrupt, rigged system - instead of playing politics with children's shelters and cozying up to fat-cat donors, he uses common sense and decency to get the job done in a way that the steeped-in-the-swamp career politicos can't or won't.
It's a delightful little dream, while it lasts. The movie, for all its starry-eyed naivete, can't sustain the illusion. Government, especially at the highest levels, isn't for amateurs, and the presidency isn't an entry-level gig. It's a lesson Dave takes to heart, so once he disentangles himself from the plots and snares of a crumbling White House, he does what people should do when they want to make a difference - in his own hometown, running for City Council. This business of representing people isn't for dilettantes or demagogues, thrill-seekers or tourists. It's serious business, and requires people of character and passion and intellect and dedication, and it helps to learn the process before you can hope to run it. Learn how laws are made, how taxes actually work, what government can and can't (and should and shouldn't) do. There aren't any simple answers or quick fixes or silver bullets or magic secret great plans. It's hard work everyday, laden with compromise and disappointment and complexity and frustration. But when good people turn away because it's hard, we get the con artists and grifters, the prostitutes and parasites.
We don't know if Dave won his race for City Council. But we do know he was a man of integrity, and with a little seasoning and experience, maybe he made a great president in his own right.