Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Bush's Brain

An example of dirty Texas politics taken to a national level, the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth boondoggle represents the greatest masterstroke yet for behind-the-scenes George W. Bush advisor Karl Rove. Amplified by the right-wing echo chamber and sustained by a complacent media slow to question their veracity, the Swift Boat charges have succeeded in distracting the electorate from the real issues of the day, not to mention the incumbent's record. Of course, Rove and the Bush campaign had nothing to do with it, since plausible deniability figures into all of their alleged schemes. But in the off chance that the Bushies were behind this independent, not-at-all-politically motivated smear against John Kerry, they've orchestrated it to diabolical perfection.

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Joining the scrap heap of quickie leftist documentaries leading up to the election, Bush's Brain doesn't need the Swift Boat ads to make its case against Rove, but they might have helped. Based on the book by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, the film attempts to pull back the curtain on Rove, revealing a brilliant take-no-prisoners tactician who enjoys a frightening sphere of influence in Washington. Time and again, directors Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey ominously cite his "fingerprints" on a pattern of maneuvers and policies, but they never quite pin him down. Constructed out of poorly supported accusations, vague innuendo, and naked emotional appeals, Bush's Brain has a Rove-esque quality of its own. Like the sloppy Bush-Saudi connections in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, it relies too heavily on guilt by association and not enough on solid, nuts-and-bolts journalism.

In the broadest sense, Shoob and Mealey succeed in establishing a pattern to Rove's "junkyard dog" methods: Through leaks or whisper campaigns, concoct a well-timed scandal and fan the flames until your political enemies are vanquished. On this count, Rove's résumé includes the 1986 Texas gubernatorial race, where a bug found (and possibly planted) in his office made the difference in Bill Clements' successful bid to unseat then-Gov. Mark White; an election for agriculture commissioner that resulted in two Democrats serving 27-month prison sentences; and the outing of Valerie Plame, a CIA operative who was unfortunate enough to be married to Joseph Wilson, a diplomat who'd just refuted the administration's claims about Iraqi uranium deals in Niger.

The list of takedowns goes on and on, with Max Cleland and John McCain joining Kerry on the list of tarnished Vietnam War heroes, but Bush's Brain provides the blueprint without the building. A target as elusive as Rove needs a rigorous adversary to catch him, but Shoob and Mealey are content to just mash a few talking heads together and hope something sticks. In a desperate ploy, they drag out their own answer to Fahrenheit 9/11's Lila Lipscomb by telling the story of an all-American soldier killed on the fourth day of combat in Iraq. Here, the trail of logic gets fuzzy: If Rove has the president's ear, and the president declared war on Iraq, then Iraq is "Rove's War." Therefore, he's responsible for this kid's death. Huh?