2004 has become the Year of The Documentary with an Axe to Grind. Mere mention of Farenheit 9/11, OutFoxed, The Corporation, Uncovered: The War in Iraq, The Hunting of the President and now Bush’s Brain is enough to send certain partisans into hissy fits that make the most emotional leftist seem calm by comparison. More interesting is the fact that with the exception of Fahrenheit 9/11, none of these films were slated for a theatrical release, but now almost all are seeing some basic distribution in movie theaters in advance of the November election.
Most recently, Bush’s Brain was released in the Los Angeles area, and a premiere held on September 3rd featured a Q & A session with the producers of the film, Joe Mealey and Michael Shoob. I missed the big event due to my extended trip to Pennsylvania on behalf of Progressive Majority, but I did manage to get ahold of a copy on DVD and checked out the film.
To be honest, I was not thrilled about this movie, not so much because of any concern as to whether it might hurt Karl Rove’s feelings, but because I tend to wince at the suggestion that political consultants have all that much power in our political system. It’s a nice media hype that makes reporters feel good when penning a half-researched piece on the election cycle, but the sad fact is that the “power” of political consulting is limited at best. (Just ask anyone who’s worked for a winning candidate who’s been stiffed on their paycheck! Yes, it really happens!)
That said, I still wanted to see the film and hear what the creators had to say. To my surprised it was not as much a film about the alleged “power” of Karl Rove, President Bush’s longtime campaign manager, but instead a recounting of the kinds of tactics Mr. Rove has been willing to use, be it running for the presidency of the Young Republicans in the 1970s, or running candidates for office in Texas, or for President.
The picture painted is not a very pleasant one, and even I, who knew who Karl Rove was long before most people even knew who George “W” Bush even was, learned some new things about the person the President puts his trust in to run his campaigns. None of it was particularly good. It’s worth seeing – to try and repeat the entire film in this space would take too long, and not have nearly the impact, that seeing the film has on the viewer.
For me, the message was simple: Rove is not a “genius” in the sense of a master strategist who has an intimate knowledge of public opinion and history. Rather, he’s an asshole. An asshole, who will do whatever it takes – lie, cheat, steal, attack, slander, and claw his way to the finish line. More to the point, he’s an asshole with over $500 million dollars and the leverage of the federal government’s executive branch to manipulate public opinion. Hooray for him.
To me that’s not a genius, and I regard him for what he truly is. Let’s be clear – give me 500 million dollars and deny me free access to Pabst Blue Ribbon and I can get anyone elected President, too. Heck, cut off my access to my Netflix DVDs and you can ensure that your candidate of choice will get elected.
Why? Because you’ll have on your hands someone with the enmity and the overwhelming resources, to engage in every single sneaky, lying, underhanded tactic and whim needed to get your clown elected, ethics be damned. Anyone.
This may sound cynical, but it’s not – it’s more of an appreciation of the landscape we live in these days. This is the era that substitutes honesty and straight talk for lawyer-like obfuscations, the hair-splitting lie, and the wink and a nod when it comes to what is said versus what was meant. It’s what allows people to put things out in the media to create an impression, while at the same time giving themselves wiggle room Nixon could only dream of to avoid any accountability if someone tries to call them on their foolishness.
That’s why you can do a photo-op on an aircraft carrier with a banner that says “Mission Accomplished” and then say it wasn’t you who put it up there when you find out more people died in Iraq after “mission accomplished” than before. Don’t take responsibility, don’t fess up – make up some nonsense saying it wasn’t really your idea and you don’t really know who put that up in the first place, and oh by the way, didn’t they just say ketchup causes cancer today?
It’s also how you can have a sitting Vice President lie about a statement we all know he said and rather than just cop to a mistake and move on, have to weasel his way out with bluster and foolish rhetoric. In fact, I don’t know that any member of the current administration who has the ability to cop to a mistake or even admit they’re less than perfect – no matter how much they screw up.
But then I remembered this is a hallmark of the Rove style of campaign, and win or lose, we’ll be seeing more of this kind of nonsense from more than one side in the future. It’s unfortunate that most voters won’t call their own people on such foolish behavior. If they did, it might stop. Might.
PS: For another example of the kinds of sneaky, underhanded tactics being employed by self-styled Rove wannabes, the Attorney General race in Washington State has produced a truly nasty situation, one worth condemnation by good people of all parties and ideologies.
A rash of nasty TV ads attacking Deborah Senn, a former Insurance Commissioner and Democratic candidate in the September 14th primary, have popped up on the air, with no disclosure as to who is paying for the ads.
The group’s spokesman is engaging in classic lawyer doublespeak to try and evade any sort of disclosure as to who is doing this smear campaign and why, hoping that by the time anyone finds out who did what, the election will be over and the damage done. It’s not unlike those anonymous smear ads that hit Howard Dean during the primaries earlier this year.
Whatever it is, it’s disgusting, and I’m urging people to send Deborah Senn the support she needs to stand up to this kind of crap. She is not only someone I consider to be of unimpeachable character – she is also someone I consider a friend with whom I had the pleasure to work for during her re-election campaign in 1996. I often cite “the Commish’s” hard work and straight talk when I coach candidates around the country on how to be effective and thoughtful candidates on the campaign trail. Go get ’em, Commish!
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com
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