Bush’s Brain

 Authors:   James Moore and Wayne Slater
 Book Review by Tamara K
 This riveting account of the political strategies of Karl Rove, political consultant to George W. Bush, details the dirty tricks that destroyed careers and
 reputations along their path to the White house.   James Moore and Wayne Slater, Texas journalists who have followed this path for almost twenty
 years, piece together news articles, first hand accounts, and an interview with Rove himself to paint a compelling (if somewhat repetitive) portrait of what
 happens when raw ambition and intellect meet opportunity.  Bush’s Brain tells the story of a political consultant whose brilliance in the art of
 manipulation and ‘take-no-prisoners’ strategy motivated and guided Bush to a governorship and a presidency.  The authors make their case that Rove
 still shapes presidential policy and is the de facto president.
 The book begins with the premise that George W. Bush would have no political aspirations except for his father’s defeat by Clinton and thus a need to
 redeem the Bush family name.  The authors portray him as intellectually mediocre and disinterested in national politics.  The evidence presented shows
 that Karl Rove provided the vision and the political substance lacking in the “improbable president.”  Bush himself calls Rove “the man with the plan,”
 and makes no secret of his admiration of Rove’s political skills.  As the authors chronicle the rise of Rove, they detail the actions of a man without
 scruples-  a political operative who does whatever it takes to win.  If Bush needs it, Rove does it-  while Bush stays above the fray.
  Rove came from a modest background and never knew his biological father.  His mother divorced when he was twenty, and soon after committed
  suicide.  Without roots or a place to belong, he immersed himself into the world of politics, where he found a home that he vigorously and viciously
  defends.  He never graduated from college, and still carries insecurities with him regarding his lack of a formal education.  Rove started his political career
  with Lee Atwater which provided him with access to the most influential of republicans, and he hit the ground running.  He first worked with the elder
  President Bush, and recalls his first impression of a “cool” young George W. Bush.
 Bush’s Brain provides an in-depth account of the most questionable tactics employed by Rove as a political consultant, first detailing his work for
 the ex-governor of Texas, Bill Clements, in his campaign to regain his position from the incumbent Mark White.  This was an early indication of to
 what lengths Rove would go to win.  The authors lay out convincing evidence that Rove engineered a political stunt by having his own office bugged,
 then swept for bugs, and then leaking to the media that the opponent had done it.  Later, while consulting for a republican candidate for Texas
 Agriculture Commissioner, Rove used connections with the FBI and U.S. Attorney in Austin to launch investigations into credit card billings - and
 of course the investigations were leaked for maximum effect, with little proof.  However, once the ball got rolling, revelations about the Commissioner’s
 use of employees to solicit political contributions while doing regulatory work for the department did ruin political careers-  and landed a few minor
 players in prison.
 By the time Rove became the consultant for George W. Bush in the race for Texas Governor, he had plenty of experience in dirty tricks and media
 manipulation.  The Bush team used Ann Richards’ appointment of several women (one who was openly lesbian) to government positions, implying that
 Richards was homosexual.  One prominent appointee was exposed as a liar when it was leaked to the press that she never graduated from college.
 By all accounts, Richards should have won but did not take the Bush campaign seriously enough - and the momentum swing was one her campaign
 never recovered from.   She tasted the revenge of a Bush family smitten with anger after her now famous speech:  “Poor George, he can’t help it
 …   he was born with a silver foot in his mouth!”

 The dirty political tricks were not reserved for Democrats only.  In the presidential primary, Rove used targeted phone “push-polls” and an email from a
 Bob Jones University professor to start rumors in South Carolina that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child and that his wife was a drug
 abuser.  Such obvious race-baiting was only enhanced by Bush adopting a stronger southern accent.  As McCain bristled and steamed, questions arose
 about his ‘competency,’ and his Vietnam POW experience was used to imply mental instability. The enmity between McCain and Bush runs strong still,
 so personal were the attacks.

 Some personal anecdotes allow us to see Rove’s need to be respected and his insecurity regarding his social status, which fuels his thirst for power.
 Rove’s property dispute with a neighbor regarding covenants and restrictions stayed with him for years.  Later, when the neighbor expressed surprise
 that Rove was still angry, Rove told him, “You said that you moved out here to get away from people like me.”  That he took such a comment so
 personally and held the grudge for so long is shocking, and illuminates Rove’s deep seeded insecurity regarding his social status.

 Rove is credited as the genius behind Bush’s presidential win because he had the foresight to place importance on West Virginia.  Generally overlooked
 as a small state with few electoral votes, West Virginia provided the requisite votes necessary for Bush to win the Presidency.  During the Miami-Dade
 County recount, he is also credited with staging the highly publicized ‘protest’ that stopped the counting.  Little mention is made in Bush’s Brain of the
 fact that Bush the father sent in James Baker to help with the situation, that brother Jeb Bush’s Secretary of State stopped recounts, and that ultimately
 Bush family connections played an important part in the election.

 When quoted, Rove sounds like a quintessential braggart who takes credit for achievements not his own.  In one ludicrous statement this is made
 obvious:  “Later, we added tort reform.  I sort of talked him [Bush] into that one.”  Tort reform has been the political agenda of corporate America for
 twenty years, and Rove could hardly have been the first person to influence Bush’s decision to pursue it as a political goal.

 While providing valuable insight into Rove’s character and history, Bush’s Brain does little to reveal the inner workings of the president himself.  There
 is little doubt that Karl Rove believes that he is Bush’s brain, but is this the self-serving, grandiose perception of a bloodthirsty political operative who
 lives out his political ambitions vicariously through Bush?  The authors do note the following:

“There actually were two campaigns against [Ann] Richards, one in which Bush floated above the fray and another in which Rove targeted the
 Democrat’s politics and gender.  It was an arrangement that allowed Bush plausible deniability, no matter what.  And it was a model of future
 Bush races:  Bush traveling the high road, Rove pursuing the low.”
 The authors clearly believe that Rove is the puppet master and Bush the puppet.  However, the reader is left with the uneasy feeling that the roles may
 very well be reversed.  Perhaps George W. Bush is smart enough to be affable and make friends while turning a blind eye to the egomaniac Rove’s
 underhanded tactics.  It seems naïve, if not preposterous, to believe that Rove, the college dropout without familial ties, is calling the shots when Bush
 the elder carries such powerful political and financial clout- and yet this is the tale to which so many of Bush’s adversaries and acquaintances bare
 witness.  True or not, it is a perception that serves to insulate the President from appearing to advance his father’s agenda.   Rove has inspired fear when
 he has not earned respect, and perception has become  reality-  the stuff myths are made of.

 In the end, whether Karl Rove is the brilliant puppeteer or Bush is a skillful manipulator who is using an eager wannabe to do his dirty work,  there is little
 doubt that things are not as they seem-  and that the face of American politics could forever change into little more than a tabloid game of guerilla tactics,
 where style outweighs substance and fear rules the universe.

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