the Nineties film, Dave, the president ends up comatose, and his chief of staff secretly hires a body double.
Kevin Kline stars in the 1993 Warner Bros film, ‘Dave.’ (Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

‘Dave’ Predicted the Biden Debacle

In the Nineties film, the president ends up comatose, and his chief of staff secretly hires a body double. These days, the plot feels eerily familiar.

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Ever since the Great Debate Debacle—and its successor event, the Stephanopoulos Sit-Down That Could Have Gone Better—Joe Biden’s most fervent supporters have chosen one of two tacks. The first is full-on denial: the president is doing fine, they say! Amazing, even! Any blips in his performance were merely the result of poor preparation, or a cold, or some secret saboteur inside CNN who installed a “ghastly pallor and verbal incoherence” filter on the camera in front of him. 

But in the second camp, the one not completely disconnected from reality, an arguably more disturbing idea has emerged: that Biden's fitness for office actually doesn’t matter and never has, because he has good people around him

Is the president sane? Competent? Entirely alive? You need not ask yourself these questions, because the president is not the president; he’s just a figurehead, more of a mascot, really—like the Geico Gecko of the executive branch. The actual presidency consists of somewhere between five and 50 people, whose identities may or may not be public knowledge, who stand behind or around or sometimes on top of the president and execute the duties of the office according to their collective wisdom. Did you think, when you pulled the lever for Joe Biden in 2020, that you were actually voting for Joe Biden the singular human being? You fool. You absolute imbecile. 

Needless to say, it has been quite something to see some of my fellow liberals, who have been arguing for years that democracy is on the ballot this November, now also insisting with a straight face that it’s ridiculous to expect our democratically elected president to, like, do the job. (Also: per news reports, the team of good and competent people currently advising the president is led by his son, Hunter, which is not exactly reassuring. It’s almost like the type of cognitive decline that affects a person’s presidential capacities could also affect his judgment about whose advice to trust.)

But if you’ve ever wondered if those folks are right—if Americans are in fact totally cool with a group of unelected officials pulling strings behind the scenes, while the man known as POTUS watches Dick Van Dyke reruns and drools contentedly into a bowl of creamed corn—may I direct your attention to one of my favorite movies, the 1993 Kevin Kline comedy Dave, in which some devious Washington insiders attempt to do exactly this?

The premise of Dave is simple. When the president has a stroke and ends up comatose, his chief of staff Bob Alexander secretly hires a body double—that’s Dave—to impersonate the president full time. Obviously, hijinks ensue (the scenes between Kline and Ving Rhames as his Secret Service agent are particularly fun) but for our purposes, what matters is Bob, a power-hungry schemer who takes advantage of the president’s incapacitation to veto bills and set agendas and generally keep his corrupt, conniving hands firmly on the levers of power. 

But that’s fine, right? After all, Bob is part of the team, handpicked by the president to do exactly this; surely it would trouble nobody to learn that he’d taken over the president’s duties. Except, of course, it’s not fine—as illustrated perfectly in the moment when Dave threatens to reveal their charade to the public.

“The whole press corps is right out there,” he says. “Should I go tell them, or do you want to?”

Bob doesn’t answer. He’s trapped, he knows it—and so do we. It is impossible to watch this movie, this scene, and not understand intuitively that he can’t tell the press what he’s done. That what he’s done is a bad thing. That the American people would absolutely not be comforted by the notion of a shadowy cabal secretly running the country, while the man they voted into office lies comatose in a basement room under the White House. 

That’s not what they voted for. That’s not what we vote for.

Kat Rosenfield is a columnist at The Free Press. Read her recent piece, “Harrison Butker Is Catholic. So What?” Follow her on X @katrosenfield.

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