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'Bush's Brain' looks at the man behind the manqué politician

To anyone attentive to his misstatements ("More and more of our imports come from overseas") and misdeeds (assaults on the environment, civil liberties, the economy, and Iraq), claims to mental competence by the 43rd president of the United States are bushwah. "Bush" and "brain" alliterate, but they do not rhyme. Yet, even if your daddy was rich and powerful, you don't get to live in the White House by being a dummy. George W. Bush is canny enough to realize that no one was ever elected by overestimating the American public's esteem for intelligence. Has Bush dimmed his bright lights in order to work dark deeds, disguising an interest in fractals and Finnegan's Wake by professing a passion for NASCAR?

Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey offer a different take on the resistible rise of Bush II. The two filmmakers set out to prove that even if corporate interests have bought Bush's ear, his brain belongs to someone else - a Republican Svengali named Karl Rove: It is the prodigiously cunning Rove, a college dropout, who transformed a shallow, callow millionaire into a shallow, callous commander-in-chief.

Bush's Brain begins with footage of Bush exiting Air Force One and swaggering past the trappings of imperial power. "How did this happen?" asks a title. The answer is a series of assertions about Rove's role as malevolent but invisible puppeteer. He used questionable tactics to crush high-school debate opponents in Salt Lake City and later to gain control of the College Republicans. Rove worked closely with Lee Atwater, the legendary maestro of dirty tricks who, expiring from AIDS at 36, issued a deathbed repentance. Rove, as yet, has no regrets.

In 1986, Rove allegedly planted and exposed a bug in his own office in order to discredit Democrat Mark White and ensure the re-election of Governor Bill Clements. He persuaded Rick Perry to switch from Democrat to Republican and run for agriculture commissioner against Jim Hightower, whom he smeared with trumped-up charges of corruption. Commandeering Bush's bid for governor of Texas in 1994, he tutored the clueless candidate on how government works and kept him tethered to a simple message. Rove is said to have orchestrated a devastating campaign of whispers that Ann Richards was lesbian. In the 2000 South Carolina presidential primary, rumors that John McCain had sired an illegitimate black child bore the filthy fingerprints of Rove. So, too, did aspersions on the patriotism of Max Cleland, who sacrificed three limbs in service to his country, which led to the loss of his Senate seat.

Fired in 1980 from the Reagan-Bush campaign for leaking a story to columnist Robert Novak, Rove might have been behind Novak's recent outing of CIA agent Valerie Plume to punish her husband, Ambassador James Wilson, for denying Iraqi connections to nuclear material in Niger.

Bush's Brain

Dir. Michael Paradies Shoob, Joseph Mealey; based on the book by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater (NR)
"There is no rule he won't break if he thinks it will help his candidate," claims Garry Mauro, another victim of a Rove operation. A formidable roster of politicians, journalists, and scholars appears as character witnesses, testifying that Rove is a character who will do anything not only to outsmart but to annihilate his opposition. Especially pungent are statements by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, who wrote the book, Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush President, on which the film is based.

However, films lack footnotes. They rely on images in order to make their case, and this film offers no visual proof for its most serious allegations. If Rove is a master of scorched-earth politics, he is also adept at covering his tracks. What Mealey and Shoob are left with is a gallery of talking heads talking trash about a sly monster who eludes capture. It is the kind of defamation by hearsay, innuendo, and circumstantial evidence that might make Rove himself proud.

At the end of the film, Bush's Brain visits the grieving family of a Nevada Marine slain in Iraq on the fourth day of combat. Like the final section of Fahrenheit 9/11, in which an inconsolable Michigan woman laments the senseless loss of her son, the sequence is distressing, but its connection to Rove is tenuous.

A January 18, 2002 speech in which Rove assures the Republican National Committee that war will help them at the polls does not absolve George Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, Congress, and the American people of responsibility. Without Rove, Bush would surely be just another wealthy wastrel. Yet, now that he is president, the buck must stop at Bush. Lack of a mind does not excuse lack of a heart. That's a no-brainer. •


Pulling back the curtain

Co-directors Michael P. Shoob and Joseph Mealey want everyone to know who controls 'Bush's Brain'

By Kiko Martinez

Michael Paradies Shoob, co-director and producer of the documentary Bush's Brain, was astonished by NBC's Olympic correspondents interview with the United States women's gymnastics team after they had just won a silver medal. "NBC was talking to these 15-year-old girls like this was the ultimate kind of failure," Shoob told the Current during an interview at the Courtyard by Marriott Hotel. "It wasn't good enough because they hadn't won the gold, but only silver."

It is this "idea of America always having to win" that Shoob and collaborator Joseph Mealey used as the basis for Bush's Brain, a film about the strong influence presidential senior advisor Karl Rove has over President George W. Bush - earning him the unofficial title in some circles of co-president.

"I really think this whole Bush-Rove phenomenon is about winning at any cost," Shoob said. "America would rather have a winner, even if the winner got there through deception, lies, and dirty tricks, than playing fair. They don't respect politics. You look at Bush and Rove and they're not doing the right thing. The only thing they've done right is win."

The film, based on the book by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, hit theaters last Friday. Much like Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, it takes a stance on debatable political issues. Co-directors Shoob and Mealey, however, don't feel they are at the same level as the outspoken populist just yet.

"We are thankful that films like Fahrenheit 9/11 opened up people's eyes for films like this to work," Mealey said. "But he's a gorilla and we are this little film that is happy that we are showing anywhere."

Bush's Brain accuses Rove of underhanded actions throughout his career. From bugging his own office before a major debate, to "whisper campaigns," which labeled former Texas Governor Ann Richards a lesbian, to shoehorning George W. into the White House in 2001 - all Republican political roads, according to Bush's Brain, go through Rove, a man whose greatest talent is discrediting his opposition.

"Rove plants seeds of doubt about people," Shoob said. "He makes people have discussions that shouldn't happen. But by the time they get around to correcting it and realizing it was Rove, the damage is already done."

While Bush's Brain portrays Rove as the terminator of American democracy, Shoob and Mealey feel that if Americans want to see change, they should not solely blame Rove, but get out to the polls and do something about their disappointment in the electoral system. "All that is happening with Rove is because people are not involved," argues Shoob. "What stops Karl Rove is awareness. The more people know his game, the better chance of people catching up with him."

Although George W. Bush is favored to win his home state of Texas, co-directors Shoob and Mealey hope this does not deter Lone Star voters from entering the voting booths in November. "I think Bush will win (Texas) and lose other states, but it's important to make a statement," Mealey said. "It's important to participate so you can feel good about what is going on and so your voice can be heard."

So, what can American citizens anticipate from Bush's brain in this year's election?

"With Karl Rove anything is possible," Shoob said. "Is Osama Bin Laden in Karl Rove's basement waiting to be unveiled just before November?"

Only time will tell. •

By Kiko Martinez


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