Bush's Brain Reviews
This pretty much put me to sleep.
It's a documentary about how Karl Rove made George W. Bush Presidential, or so the subtitle states, which was by unscrupulous smear tactics against all of his enemies, and vigorous training. According to this film, and the book which inspired it, Karl Rove's entire political life has been about winning elections by destroying the other guy, both personally as well as professionally. In his first campaign in college, for example, he found a way to defeat his mentor by turning George Bush Sr. and the RNC against him. In another campaign he falsified the bugging of his office to draw attention away from a debate his candidate was going to lose. He called Bush's opponent for Governor a lesbian, had other critics jailed, and while the movie doesn't say it directly, for me, I suddenly get why there was all that recounting surrounding the 2000 election, why Osama Bin Laden's tape seemed to be hoping for Kerry's election victory, and where the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth came from in the first place. In a week in which the Downing Street Memo has proven that Bush undertook the Iraq War before having reason, adding to the discovery that there were no weapons of mass destruction, I now understand how a President so inept has done so well in his political life - like all of my heroes, from Biggie Smalls to "The Simpsons" he has a dope producer. ;)
The style of [u]Bush's Brain[/u] is your typical talking head / clip documentary, ala a show on A&E, or [u]Outfoxed[/u] (Robert Greenwald, 2004). The difference is that [u]Outfoxed[/u] was activism, anti-Fox News propaganda, while this is a visualization of the book that it's taken from. It clearly has a viewpoint, and makes the case quite convincingly, when you consider that Karl Rove has never been a part of an election that ran without anything shady. The man is good at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice.
So what do I think of all this? Well first of all, I now understand why the Clintons were able to win where other Democrats have failed - they were dirty too. I love them to death as politicians, but they also had a penchant for doing underhanded things to win elections. Karl Rove has them beat pretty good, though, and with him in power, it's really difficult to see how the Democrats [i]could[/i] win an election. Like I said, Bush has failed on Social Security thus far, he was on an unpopular side with Terry Shiavo, Iraq is going to Hell really quickly, and there's now documented proof that none of his reasons for entering that war were true in the first place. Yet we're stuck with him for four more years because his handlers - most notably Karl Rove, as this film argues, are so good.
And again, that was why I wanted to be a producer, and not an artist. Becuz it's been my experience that the behind the scenes people are the [i]real[/i] talent in entertainment. Art is one thing, but when you're talking about making money, it's the smart guy in charge, the dude who laces the beats, who cuts the deal, who keeps everybody on schedule, who gets ownership, who knows how to put the package together, that creates true success. I envy directors, because they get to be both artist and business person, but in general, there was a reason why Puff Daddy was my idol as a teenager. I knew then that it was his beats, not the artists themselves (let's be real - did anybody think Craig Mack was actually talented?) per se that made his records successful. Same is true of Karl Rove and Bush. Karl Rove saw a guy who had charisma, young, good-looking, and from a celebrated political family, and knew that he could train him to be President. Rove knew that he himself was smart, not pretty, and by pulling the strings, he could get power without having to earn it on the front lines.
It's the American way, IMO.
Perhaps the book makes a better case of how Karl Rove is truly "Bush's Brain," but I still believe the film is another excellent documentary concerning the excessive loss of democracy with the Bush administration.
A total nerd as a kid, Rove was a star of his high school debate team. He later ran for chairman of the College Republicans where he attracted the attention of George Bush, Sr., then head of the Republican National Committee, who was called in to investigate allegations of election hanky-panky. Bush not only cleared Rove of any wrongdoing and awarded him victory in the election, he also gave him a full-time job working for the RNC.
From there, Rove went on to work on many political campaigns, leaving a trail of accusations of lies and chicanery on his part in his wake. The movie doesn't exactly prove any of these allegations; it just sort of establishes a pattern of dirty tricks and implies that Rove is too slippery to ever be caught orchestrating them himself.
It's not that I don't believe that there's something to all this. It's just that watching a series of talking heads saying "Karl Rove is an evil genius" over and over doesn't make for a very compelling film. One goofball summed up Rove's philosophy with the famous Vince Lombardi quote: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." But then he attributed it to Bear Bryant. Doh!
One highlight of the film was that I got to see what syndicated Bush-hating columnist Molly Ivins, whose Tribune photo depicts her as a smiling poodle, looks like in real life. Not a lot better than the photo, I'm afraid. Thankfully, the perm is gone, but she's got a crooked mouth (ironically, she appears to talk only out of the right side), and about 18 chins.
One lowlight was a tacked-on bit at the end about a small-town football hero who got married, had a baby, joined the Marines, and was killed in Iraq. Tears all around as his father and his wife take turns breaking down in front of the camera and his little daughter gleefully points out "daddy" in the photo album.
Seriously, what does this have to do with Karl Rove? Is this supposed to be putting a human face on the war which Rove supposedly blithely prodded Bush into starting for purely political purposes? Such crass attempts at manipulation really irk me and, conjuring up those feelings of irkedness just prompted me to lower my rating of this film from 6 to 5. Ha! Try to manipulate me, will you? Take THAT, filmmakers.
And another thing. Maybe Rove really did do all of the underhanded things his accusers say he did and maybe he really IS "Bush's brain". But being told that it's really Rove -- as opposed to Dick Cheney or Paul Wolfowitz or Donald Rumsfeld -- who's actually running the show in the White House doesn't send any extra shivers down my spine. I was scared enough as it was, honest.
The documentary briefly sketches in Karl Rove?s background, from high school debate champion, to president of the Young Republicans, a position that drew him inexorably into the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., and later into the orbit of the elder George H.W. Bush, almost a decade before he became Vice-President under Ronald Reagan. Rove's interaction with the younger Bush was minimal at the time, but apparently Rove saw political potential in the younger Bush. In quick succession, Rove found himself under the tutulege of the late Lee Atwater, a master political tactician also known for a "take no prisoners" approach to campaigning that often slid into dirty tactics. Atwater orchestrated the infamous Willie Horton ad released in 1988 that helped tip the momentum from then Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to George H.W. Bush, who eventually won that election. The Willie Horton ad is considered a masterpiece of the smear ad, based partly in fact, but drawing from the reserves of racism and fear of violent crime in the American public. Karl Rove seems to have learned his lessons well.
Through a series of ?talking head? interviews, Mealey and Shoob attempt to draw a pattern of conduct from mostly testimonial, anecdotal evidence, in large part because the success of Rove?s tactics and methods depend on ?plausible deniability.? At no time does the smear, exaggeration, or outright lie lead back to Karl Rove, and through him his client, except through a web of associates and other political operatives. Mealey and Shoob begin with Rove?s first successful campaign in 1986, when the Democratic incumbent governor of Texas, Mark White, ran against a Republican candidate, Bill Clements. Working for Clements, whose poll numbers were sagging in the weeks before the election, Rove claimed he had found a small surveillance device (a ?bug? in common parlance) in his office. The media turned its critical attention to Mark White and his campaign staff. White lost that election. Clements served for only one term as governor of Texas, before in turn, being succeeded by a Democratic candidate, Ann Richards.
[i]Bush?s Brain[/i] also covers another, underreported incident from Rove?s days as a political consultant in Texas: a contact in the FBI helped to prosecute (some would say prosecute) two men who worked for the Texas Agricultural Commission, both Democrats, for their association with political operatives who solicited contributions to their reelection campaigns while on state business. Both men served jail time and paid costly fines. Neither returned to public service. The scandal helped to unseat the popular Agricultural Commissioner, Jim Hightower. His Republican replacement, Rick Perry, not coincidentally, was appointed governor when George W. Bush became president.
Karl Rove?s relationship with George W. Bush was renewed in the early nineties, after George W. Bush had become, with the help of family connections, a successful businessman and part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team. Rove saw a potential challenger for the popular governor of Texas, Democrat Ann Richards, who would run for reelection in 1994. George W. Karl Rove selected group of expert advisors to tutor Bush in preparation for the intense campaigning season. George W. Bush won the governorship of Texas in 1994, and was reelected in 1998. Only two years later, Rove quickly pushed for a then improbable presidential campaign. The early primaries saw John McCain, a maverick, independent Senator from Arizona gathering momentum for his improbable run for the Republican nomination. McCain's support evaporated after the South Carolina primary, due to a series of negative ads, including one that alleged that McCain had fathered an African-American child illegitimately, as well as ads that questioned his mental and emotional stability (McCain had been a prisoner-of-war for five years during the Vietnam War). McCain lost the South Carolina primary to George W. Bush, and never seriously challenged for the presidential nomination again.
Flash forward two years, and a similar series of negative ads, this time aimed at Max Cleland, a triple amputee Vietnam War veteran and then U.S. Senator from Georgia. The negative ads compared Cleland to Saddam Hussein and Osama bin laden, and questioned his loyalty and support for congressional legislation related to national security. Flashforward another two years to 2004 and the smear campaign against John Kerry?s military service, funded primarily by Texas Republicans with strong ties to Karl Rove, appears to have Rove?s more than tangential involvement (given the timing, the funding, etc., during Kerry?s ?quiet period? in August when, due to campaign finance laws, he was unable to raise additional money for his presidential campaign, having accepted limited public financing after the Democratic National Convention at the end of July). Unfortunately, due to the timing of recent events, [i]Bush?s Brain[/i] doesn?t cover the recent anti-Kerry attacks, but with two months left before the general election, it?s more than likely that the general public hasn?t seen the end of negative ads or personal attacks. Why? For the simple reason that negative ads work, they influence public opinion, and ultimately, elections. Negative ads also depend on a compliant, and complicit, mainstream media that only slowly examines the factual content of the ads (but often after serious damage has already been done to the subject of the attack ads). Add to that the clearly conservative Fox News Channel (and the other so-called unbiased 24-hour cable news channels), plus numerous radio shows, and the the result is a vast "echo chamber" that repeatedly airs unsupported testimonial "evidence" as truth, or as equally credible with the contrary, often substantiated (i.e., by contemporary documentary evidence) counter claims.
[i]Bush?s Brain[/i], while superficially informative as a political biography of Karl Rove (we learn early on that he?s driven by an amoral hunger for power, and his personal motto seems to be "the ends justify the means"), does falter in several key areas: (1) most of the evidence presented by the filmmakers comes through second-hand, anecdotal testimony by ex-associates and victims of Karl Rove?s tactics over the last thirty years, leaving them, and the filmmakers, open to accusations of smearing the smearer, using the same tactics Rove has been accused of, without documentary, objective proof, (2) the documentary take an odd, uncomfortable foray into Michael Moore land, focusing one segment on a Texas family that?s lost an adopted son in Iraq; while moving, (4) the documentary is at its least convincing when it places responsibility for the war on Iraq with Karl Rove, almost failing to mention the influential roles played by Condeleeza Rice, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfield, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, and Douglas Feith (the Office of Special Plans, run by Feith, is currently under investigation for passing classified information about Iran to Israel) in deciding when and how to go to war, although we can?t and shouldn?t discount the political reasons that also underlay the invasion of Iraq (i.e., raising domestic approval numbers for a floundering presidency which, in turn, helped the Republican Party in the 2002 elections for Congress and the Senate) and (3) the filmmakers should have provided more examples of Rove?s campaign tactics, whether those aimed at Al Gore during the fall 2000 presidential campaign, or during the current presidential campaign against John Kerry, the Democratic nominee for president. There is the possibility, however, that this documentary can be easily revisited and revised, after the fallout from the 2004 presidential campaign becomes clear.