Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Oh, My Goodness Gracious!: "Bush's Brain" (2004)

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but I feel any potential viewer should be warned before watching this film. Sit down, take a deep breath...here goes: politics is a dirty business...now you can start gasping.

Reporters James C. Moore and Wayne Slater have written a book entitled "Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential." This documentary covers the same ground, how ruthless evil genius Karl Rove got George W. Bush, the spoiled son of a former president (who is unable to put one foot in front of the other and form a comprehensive sentence, yet is the mastermind behind everything from 9/11 to the milk going bad in my refrigerator) president.

The film makers reenact Karl Rove typing a thirty page e-mail disputing the book (only a couple of passages get into the film, the ones where Rove is wrong), while everyone who has ever been associated with Rove is trotted out with their sob stories. Rove has done a lot of unorthodox, and perhaps illegal, things over the years to get his clients elected. The film makers can do nothing more than allege his activities, since Rove certainly is not going to admit he planted a listening device in his own office during a Texas governor campaign just to get more votes for his candidate. We hear of Rove and George W. Bush's friendship, Rove's coaching of his candidate, negative ads against now-former Georgia senator Max Cleland, Robert Novak's outing of a former friend's CIA agent wife, all played to some bland music by Michelle Shocked and David Friedman. The film ends with footage of a Nevada family mourning the death of their son in Iraq, which is Rove's fault, too, if you follow the big flashing dotted lines drawn by Moore and Slater.

Here's the problem (and yes, if this film was called "Clinton's Brain," and dealt with James Carville or Hillary Clinton, I would have the same reaction). Rove coached George W. on how to be more political? Horrors! No candidate has ever been coached in the history of the United States, ever! Rove resorts to dirty tricks and lying to get his candidate elected? Say it ain't so! No candidate has ever spoken a false word to get into office! Throughout the segment on Joseph Wilson's CIA agent wife, no one thinks to question why Robert Novak will not put this story to rest and reveal his source.

I have seen Wayne Slater before, in the film "Journeys with George," which covered Bush's first presidential campaign. In that film, Slater certainly loves the limelight after grunt reporting for so many years on George W. Bush. The other reporters on the press bus in that film realize this, and here Slater is our gallant hero, showing Karl Rove for the maniacal menace that he is. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but the film makers come down on the anti-Rove side so often, with so little back up, that it begins to get silly. Mentioning a half dozen times that Max Cleland lost an arm and both legs in Vietnam more than makes its point. Showing the negative ad that perhaps cost Cleland the election three times loses its effectiveness. Watching Cleland whine about all the money the Republicans had to get rid of him is sour grapes. Not showing Cleland's response to the negative ad, or any of his own negative ads, is a mistake. Rove beat up on John McCain in the 2000 primaries, as a bitter McCain campaign worker will tell you, but the film makers ignore the fact that McCain actively campaigned for Bush then, and does four years later.

In one of the DVD's deleted scenes, a former Bush opponent in Texas expresses awe that this president had never been to Europe until he was elected to national office. Presidential candidates from Congress (like John Kerry!!) are better qualified, he states, since they see issues in a national light, not the narrow focus of governing a single state. Of course, Clinton was the governor of an even smaller state than Bush's, and went to Europe to avoid the draft (for Vietnam, where Max Cleland lost an arm and two legs!), but then again this film is all about Bush and Rove.

Except for the footage about the fallen Marine's family in Nevada, this is a whiny attempt to bring down a president through one of his inner circle, blaming the country's problems on a nerdy star high school debater who went on to become the president's closest adviser. Much mud is flung, some of it sticks, but in the end it will join the ranks of other forgotten anti-Bush films once the election is over...

...of course, the election is being fixed as we speak, as Karl Rove is looking to prolong his power. I am sure "Kerry's Brain" or "Hillary's Brain" is on the horizon, these two good reporters, Moore and Slater, certainly do not want to be accused of a liberal bias! (* *) out of five stars.