- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

“Bush’s Brain,” opening exclusively at Landmark’s E Street Cinema today, is possibly the reductio ad absurdum of anti-Bush political documentaries this year. Its case is circumstantial at best and backhandedly complimentary to its target.

Less ambitious than their brethren Michael Moore, Robert Greenwald and Tim Robbins — those guys took on the Saudis, Leo Strauss, Rupert Murdoch and neoconservatives — Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob have contented themselves with just one bogeyman on whom to pin the blame for the country’s woes — Karl Rove.

Based on a book by Texas reporters James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, who appear prominently in this movie adaptation, “Bush’s Brain” recounts the rise of Mr. Rove, the president’s chief political adviser, from geeky roots to West Wing perch.

“Bush’s Brain” says Mr. Rove is nothing less than a “co-president,” the bespectacled bookworm who pours the cement into President Bush’s cement head. It traces the man’s iniquities to the early ‘70s, when Mr. Rove, a history buff and master debater, ran for president of the College Republicans.

The movie charges that in one contest for Texas agriculture commissioner, Mr. Rove pulled strings at the FBI to land two political consultants for the opposing candidate in jail.

The “mark of Rove,” says one talking head, is the use of third-party smear campaigns. Mr. Rove, the filmmakers say, outsources the dirty work of character assassination. They know this to be true intuitively; it’s just that they can’t prove it.

Even when the stakes were low, “Bush’s Brain” argues, Karl Rove settled for nothing less than the personal destruction of his opponents.

Now the stakes are high — we’re at war — and Mr. Rove is leveraging September 11 and fear of terrorism for political advantage. Jarring the movie’s narrative, the film shoehorns in a visit to Nevada to wallow in the grief of a family of a soldier killed in Iraq.

This is pernicious. To bolster its line that Mr. Rove is a stealth smear artist, “Bush’s Brain” trots out the shopworn complaints about the 2000 primary against Sen. John McCain and the 2002 Georgia Senate race.

You’ve heard them before: With Karl Rove pulling the strings, George Bush spread lies about Mr. McCain’s mood swings and “black love child” to defeat the senator in South Carolina. And, in 2002, Mr. Rove masterminded a TV ad that made Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee, look weak on national security.

“Bush’s Brain” is so monomaniacal in its suspicions of Mr. Rove that it won’t admit other, simpler explanations. It’s so obsessed with what’s behind the curtain, it misses all the action onstage.

John McCain has no one but himself to blame for losing South Carolina. He’d sown up independents and Democrats in New Hampshire; he needed support from the conservative base. So what does he do? He attacks the religious right. Not smart.

As for Max Cleland’s patriotism, was it so objectionable to question his holding up of a homeland security bill over collective bargaining rights? Isn’t it possible that Sen. Cleland’s opponent, then-Rep. Saxby Chambliss, had something to do with the content of his political advertising?

No, not according to Messrs. Mealey, Shoob, Slater and Moore.

Mr. Rove is all-wise, all-powerful and all-consuming.

If they didn’t despise his politics, it’s possible that these clowns would pray to Karl Rove.

TITLE: “Bush’s Brain”

RATING: PG-13 (Brief profanity)

CREDITS: Produced and directed by Joseph Mealey and Michael Shoob. Based on the book by James C. Moore and Wayne Slater. Cinematography by Mr. Mealey. Music by David Friedman and Michelle Shocked.

RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes.

WEB SITE: https://www.bushsbrainfilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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