During the course of George W. Bush’s administration, the United States lost millions of jobs. Strangely, during this same period scores of new jobs were created within the film industry – specifically, jobs related to the seemingly endless skein of movies designed to condemn the Bush policies in the war against al-Qaeda’s terrorism and the occupation of Iraq.
“Bush’s Brain” is the latest theatrical release designed to question what the f**k is going on in the White House. The brain in question does not reside in the presidential noggin, but rather it belongs to Karl Rove, the political consultant whose reputation for dirty tricks and hardball campaigning has made him among the most feared and loathed figured in American politics.
The Rove story is a dramatic and frightening one, yet “Bush’s Brain” is a relatively mundane production with a surplus of talking heads and an absence of genuine balance that border on a hatchet job. It is not until the film’s unexpected finale that the impact of Rove’s work hits home with a raw, emotional impact which more than absorbs whatever flaws the film may carry.
The film traces Rove’s chicanery from his involvement with the College Republicans in the 1970s, where he caught the eye of the Watergate-era head of the Republican Party, one George Herbert Walker Bush. It also recalls Rove’s claims of having his campaign office bugged when he was a consultant for the 1986 Republican candidate for Texas governor. The charge was dubious on the surface (the bugging device itself only had a very limited battery), but it did enough damage to sink the Democratic incumbent.
Nasty campaigning has been a hallmark of the Rove-inspired campaigns orchestrated for George W. Bush: the weird 1994 “whispering” campaign that the Democratic Texas Governor Ann Richards was a lesbian (she lost to Bush) and the scurrilous slandering of John McCain’s mental health and family history in the 2000 South Carolina Republican presidential primary (it is amazing that McCain can remain civil to the Bush White House, given its miserable tactics to ensure the senator’s defeat in that race). The film goes further into the Bush White House, pointing out Rove’s role in issuing the phony data which was used to justify the invasion of Iraq and virtually accusing Rove of leaking the identity of Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife as a CIA operative when the ambassador blew the whistle on the White House’s lies.
Curiously, Rove remains something of an enigma throughout the film. There is very little video footage of him, and what is shown depicts the man as being a somewhat colorless and forgettable individual. With his large eyeglasses, receding hairline, expanding waistline and rumpled suits, he seems like someone you would pass unrecognized in the street – it almost seems impossible that this unassuming fat slob can be the most powerful man in Washington. Rove obviously is not interviewed here, but he is represented in a letter disputing the book “Bush’s Brain,” authored by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater. The voice reading Rove’s letter for the film sounds more like a bitchy Paul Lynde than the dullish Rove, which is a catty slam that demeans the production.
The film brings in the authors of “Bush’s Brain” and a host of Texas journalists (including Molly Ivins, a long-time Bush critic), former Rove colleagues and defeated opponents to talk about Rove. Almost no one has anything kind to say about the man. The endless one-sided talk becomes wearisome at times and filmmakers Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob seem intent on diluting the film of its potential juice or passion.
It is not until the film’s dramatic conclusion that “Bush’s Brain” finally puts a human and non-political face on the results of Rove’s lies, deceptions and puppeteering. The film heads to a small town in Nevada to interview the parents and wife of a young Marine second lieutenant slain in Iraq. The marine did not know Rove or Bush, but he was sent to his death in following out their orders regarding the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq.
Whereas the rest of this film is somewhat academic and clinical in its dissection of Rove and his results, this section of the film hits like a sledgehammer. It is a heartbreaking visit into a family whose world has been shattered by vile and reckless Washington policy. The unspoken message of this sequence is brutal and harsh: this young American, and more than 900 like him (not to mention more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians), were killed because of Karl Rove.
“Bush’s Brain” will not convert those committed to another four years of the Bush-Cheney routine. But for those seeking regime change in Washington, it provides enough fuel to keep the growing fire of discontentment burning.