“Rove Elephant” by Paul Cullum (Arthur, 2004)

Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (September 2004)

Rove Elephant
A “Camera Obscura” column by Paul Cullum

CAMERA OBSCURA is a regular column examining the world and its lesser trafficked tributaries, recesses and psychic fallout through the filters of film, video and DVD.

* * *

Directed by Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey

“The whole art of war consists of a well-reasoned and extremely circumspect defense, followed by rapid and audacious attack.” — Napoleon

“Controversy? … What controversy?”

Such is the tagline in ads for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, his excoriation of the Bush imperial presidency—devised in guilt and darkest rancor, nutrient-fed at Cannes and currently growing geometrically on the steroid hash of raw media frenzy. Although it’s not widely remembered, Moore may have tipped not one, but two national elections now with his last-minute full-court antics. His very public support of third-party candidate Ralph Nader had a decisive effect in 2000, regardless of how he parses it now. But back in 1998, three weeks before the mid-term elections, Moore sent out a series of mass e-mailings on his frustration over the impeachment proceedings, and urging angry young disenfranchised liberals to hold their nose and vote Democrat. That was the election that unseated Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America foot soldiers, and a woozy punditocracy attributed it to a last-minute appearance by Clinton on Black Entertainment Television, which supposedly energized his latent black base. But everybody I know saw those e-mails; they managed, like they say in Network, to articulate the popular rage:

“Yes, most of the Democrats suck,” read Michael Moore Newsletter #11 from TVNatFans@aol.com on October 8, 1998 at 21:44:47 EDT. “I rarely vote for the sorry, wishy-washy losers. But this election is not about how I feel about them—it’s about us using them to whack the right wing for good. Imagine if the Democrats are voted in by overwhelming numbers (when all the pundits are predicting a Republican landslide). The message would be loud and clear to all these new Democrats—the American public wants the agenda of the Christian right removed from the halls of our United States Congress!

This led, in a straight line, to Moore’s career as author, propagandist, gadfly, jester, freedom fighter and hero to the French. And power to him. Except now it looks like he may be sucking up all the oxygen in the room. Because another political documentary which could be of crucial benefit to an undecided electorate—more than Control Room, the Al-Jazeera doc; more than The Hunting of the President, about open season on Clinton—is apparently not slipstreaming into theaters behind him, but is instead perilously close to going unreleased in time for November’s election.

Bush’s Brain, co-directed by Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey, presents in horrifying, clarifying detail the sinister ministrations of advisor-without-portfolio Karl Rove, who occupies the post position on George W. Bush’s speed-dial, and who his enemies liken to no less than a co-president of the United States. Politics as policy, the Big Lie, junkyard dog attack ads, means justifying ends, operating out beyond the event horizon—all are part and parcel of what the film calls “the mark of Rove.” Based on the book Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential by reporters James C. Moore and Wayne Slater, the film features a who’s who of talking heads—Molly Ivins, Joe Wilson, Sen. Max Cleland—even Bill Clinton from a 2000 California recall photo op—in charting Rove’s rise and rise from the Texas of Ann Richards and Jim Hightower to one that is remorselessly Republican. And while the two-decade-old extranea of Texas electoral politics may seem of limited interest to a country with bigger problems on its plate right about now, it is said that Washington, D.C. is run by just three individuals—George Bush, Karl Rove and House Majority Leader Tom “The Hammer” DeLay—each of them angry Texans with a taste for wetwork. This shows where they come from. As with the Moore film, there may not be much new in the telling, but as we’ve just learned all over again from the Hallmark cards coming out of Abu Ghraib, one picture really is worth 1,000 words.

Continue reading