Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic is all about a confused man-child with daddy issues

March 3, 2009

FROM JASON’S RENTAL CARD — Just because you’re simple doesn’t mean you’re uncomplicated.

That’s how I felt about George W. Bush — or at least his silver screen caricature — after watching Oliver Stone’s W. Sunday night. That, and surprisingly a small amount of pity for a man whose policies I’ve despised and whose actions I’ve cursed.

I told Andrew after watching the film that it’s too apologetic, too humanizing of the 43rd president. It gives ol’ W. a bit of leniency by showing his Oedipal angst and constant quest to find self-worth despite his skin-deep Texas swagger. Stone pushes the younger Bush as a man-child desperately seeking his father’s attention and trying to come to terms with his lack of career acuity, and it feels like a back-handed sympathy party.

From his failure to make it as a blue collar salary man, to his drunken Harvard fraternity nights, and then his coat-tails ride into the political arena, Josh Brolin as Bush seems more a confused teenager in an adult body than the evil corporate oilman his opponents have labeled him.

brolin-bushAnd trust me, the guy from The Goonies (Brolin) is good. The face is Brolin’s, but the trademark derisive snicker is Bush’s, as is the Lonestar State strut and the halting delivery of contorted Bushisms lifted straight out of the newsreels. He infuses W. with a mannish petulance, showing Bush trying desperately to maintain a pretense of control as his decisions constantly kick him in the groin.

It’s the facial expressions, really, that clinch the performance. Brolin gives the recognizable Bush squint while mulling the really tough ideas, radiating the idea that if he can only knit his brow a little tighter then he might be able to pierce the veil of information around him and find out what is really going on, and why his policies are having such disastrous consequences.

Brolin and Stone also dally a bit, much to my delight, on the right-wing religious angle, making a fairly acute statement on the pandering of Bible Belt politicians.

“Nobody’s ever going to out-Texas or out-Christian me again,” Brolin-as-Bush says after losing his early Congressional bid. He spends the rest of the film pausing frequently for showy prayer breaks and even telling his preacher that God is speaking to him audibly.

My stance on such things: Hearing imaginary friends talking to you is a sign of paranoid delusional schizophrenia.

Bush is in the reticule with this one, but Stone doesn’t miss an opportunity to skewer Dick Chaney (Richard Dreyfuss) as a manipulative, power-hungry warhawk; to simultaneously golf clap and give a shame-on-you to Colin Powell for his role as a Bush enabler; to jab at Karl Rove’s smug calculative nature; to borderline impune Donald Rumsfeld as certifiably insane; and to cast Elizabeth Banks as an (unrealistically) sexy version of Laura Bush.

I don’t know exactly why W. scored just a 59 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but I’d be willing to guess it has to do with the political charge of the film; it scores slightly higher with a 6.9/10 rating on IMDB.

Personally, I’d recommend it slightly higher than either of those metrics, but with the admonition that it’s not going to spur much demand for repeat viewing. I definitely wouldn’t buy W., especially considering how it will be dated as we put the Bush presidencies behind for good.

It will be interesting to see in eight years whether Barack Obama will require Stone to rev up the camera for a similar treatment.


Help Bush avoid loose shoes

December 16, 2008

FROM THE GIRL WHO DATES THE GUY WHO, ALONG WITH ANOTHER GUY, MAKES THOSE PODCASTSOur friend Emily of the Bunny People is a graphic and game designer in New York. After ol’ W was assaulted by an angry Iraqi protester Sunday, Em sat down with an accomplice and created this hilarious game that lets you take control of Bushy and help him avoid a horde of suddenly airborne footwear:

duckbush

There’s not a whole lot to it, but it’s hilarious (especially the faces W makes) and topical, and that’s enough for peasants like us.


The old tax-and-spend slur is laughable in the face of a $10 trillion debt

October 23, 2008

FROM JASON’S TAX STATEMENT — The Anti-Federalists were right in 1780s when they rallied against Big Government.

Since then, they’ve become Republicans.

I used to be one, at least from a fiscal point of view. The Republicans say they believe in limiting the size of government, preventing a nanny state, lowering taxes, protecting privacy, and keeping hands off business.

Good ideas, right?

But while they’re chanting those mantras, and while “Tax-and-Spend-Democrats” is a label used as a slur in Sen. John McCain’s campaign advertisements, the Republicans are spending us all into a black hole of debt.

The National Debt has increased an average of $3.6 billion per day since Sept. 28, 2007, reaching $10 trillion on Sept. 30, 2008. In 2006, the government spent $406 billion paying just the interest on the National Debt.

The total debt has jumped more than $500 billion every year since 2003. Meanwhile, the federal budget for 2008 is the largest ever — with a record $438 billion shortfall.

What could you buy with $10 trillion?

I don’t think people understand how much money we’re talking about. I have a calculator.

With 305 million people in the United States, $10 trillion would be enough to cut a check for $34,000 for every man, woman, and child — including illegal immigrants.

There are 124,000 chronically homeless people in the U.S. With $10 trillion, we could afford to give each of those homeless people $80 million.

The 2009 Honda Civic base model is priced at just over $15,000. You could buy 649 million of the cars with $10 trillion.

The Statue of Liberty cost $530,000 to build in 1886 (the statue and the base included). With $10 trillion, we could build 827,458 of them today, adjusted for inflation.

The Space Shuttle Endeavor cost $1.7 billion to build. With $10 trillion, we could build 5,582 space shuttles.

If we fed every single person in the U.S. a McDonald’s double cheeseburger for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day, with $10 trillion we could feed everyone for almost 30 years. I’m not saying it would be healthy.

Jacob’s Field (now Progressive Field) in Cleveland cost about $176 million to build. You could build 56,818 of them with $10 trillion.

The average teacher for grades K-12 makes $46,752 per year. With $10 trillion, we could afford to hire nearly 214 million teachers.

As of August 2008, the average home in the U.S. cost $203,100. That means with $10 trillion, we could buy a house for everyone living in Atlanta.

Who is spending all this money?

We didn’t used to have  much debt as a nation. From World War II through Vietnam, it held fairly steady at well under $300 billion. It started to seriously spend up under Gerald Ford (R) and continued at a steady clip under Jimmy Carter (D).

The real problems began when Ronald Reagan (R) took office. During his eight years as president, the debt ballooned by $2 trillion, and continued on that line under George H.W. Bush (R). Spending only slowed when Bill Clinton (D) put tight restrictions on budgetary benchmarks.

This chart says it all: Mathematical proof that Republicans have not only outspent Democrats in the past half-century, but they have done so at an incomparable rate.


{CLICK CHART FOR LARGER VIEW]

At the end of the Clinton presidency, the National Debt was nearly flatlining at under $6 trillion. Then George W. Bush was elected, campaigning hard on the old Republican bread and butter of lower taxes, smaller government and more restricting federal spending policies.

“Spending without discipline, spending without priorities, and spending without an end,” he criticized Democratic candidate Al Gore in 2000 during a speech in Minneapolis. “Al Gore’s massive spending would mean slower growth and higher taxes. And it could mean an end to this nation’s prosperity.”

Under Bush II’s leadership since 2001, the debt has increased by $4 trillion — that’s more than 60 percent — and America’s economy has been plunged into chaos. That is not fiscal discipline. That is not small government.

In the first five years of Bush’s administration, while he had the backing of a Republican congress, federal spending exploded by 45 percent. In his final year in office, Bush has asked for $3.1 trillion going into 2009, which is a spending increase of 6 percent over 2008 and 67 percent over 2001.

Cut taxes and spend

Democrats have been labeled as the “tax and spend” party since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. But no president since FDR has orchestrated such blatant expansion of the federal government and its spending as Bush II.

Worse, his initiatives have been riddled with problems. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found $1.1 trillion was spent between 2002 and 2008 on 700 projects that were mismanaged, wasteful, fraudulent, or abusive.

At the same time he was spending recklessly, the Bush congress agreed to lower taxes. So less money has been coming in to feed more programs, which in turn means the country has to borrow even more to stay “solvent,” by which we apparently mean choked on debt but not officially pronounced dead.

The Tax Policy Center has projected the impact of the Bush tax cuts will cost $1.9 trillion in lost revenue between 2008 and 2017. By that same year, the tax cuts will have increased the National Debt by another $3.4 trillion.

Republican fiscal conservatism, according to the math, is a joke. No, it’s a myth. If you want better government, choose a party that won’t lie (as much) about its spending policies. But for the love of your pocketbook, don’t let the Republicans continue to choke us to death while telling us they’re good with money.


Newt Gingrich’s college lecture: Bail-outs, stumping for McCain, and why Obama is wrong to be a “citizen of the world”

September 25, 2008

FROM JASON’S JOB — “Hi. I’m Newt.”

And there he was, shaking my hand. I looked him in the eye. He looked me back. I don’t think he was very impressed.

I was.

The man gripping my hand Wednesday was a legend. Some people hate him. Some people love him. But he was still Newt Gingrich, in the flesh, trademark white mop and all.

The former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives carried himself with a confidence indifferent to my opinion. But he smiled, and in the smile I could see a solid half-century of handling — handling the economy, handling to his own party members, handling heads of state, dissenters, reporters like me.

I don’t agree with his politics, not since the Republican Party abandoned the ones that count in favor of fear-mongering and social discrimination. But before our handshake ended I realized I was no match for “Hi. I’m Newt.”

Here was a man who authored the Contract with America, was Time magazine’s Man of the Year, bullied Ronald Reagan’s campaign as a freshman Congressman, led the movement that end with Bill Clinton’s impeachment, browbeat the Republican machine into order, and stood third in order for presidential succession.

Here was a man I respected on so many fiscal issues: Limiting the size of government, eliminating waste, cutting taxes, implementing tort reform, fixing the welfare system, giving tax credits for children, repealing the marriage tax, instituting “loser pays” laws. These were good ideas — it’s just too bad that spending under the provisions of the Contract with America increased spending 13 percent.

Here was the man who ran roughshod over House rules, described as “reckless” by Ethics Committee investigators, who was sanctioned and eventually was forced to resign from one of the nation’s most powerful posts by a cabal of his own Republicans.

And here was a man who got down to business as he took a seat in front of some dozen reporters and photographers, stumping for Sen. John McCain while mocking President George W. Bush.

Gingrich’s agenda for the night was to lecture at Oberlin College — a liberal stronghold in a liberal county in the battleground state of Ohio. During a 20-minute press window before the lecture, he told me how glad he was that the Bush-backed Paulson plan for a $700 billion banking industry bail-out was on the rocks.

(I suppose he told all the reporters this, not just me. If you want to count those other guys, go ahead.)

He railed at Sen. Barack Obama for having the solid brass cajones — how dare he! — to want to move ahead with Friday’s presidential debate at the University of Mississippi. He suggested that the debate should play second chair to the banking crisis, which McCain had “rushed to Washington” to solve.

Except that McCain didn’t rush to Washington — he rushed to CBS News to talk to Katie Couric about it. Nothing like a little face time.

Gingrich praised Obama as being the”best political speaker since Ronald Reagan” and “tactically the best politician in the country today.” But coupled with the compliments was a bizarre accusation that I can’t fathom; the former speaker’s most incisive declaration against Obama was his summer trip to Germany, where Obama spoke to a crowd of 200,000.

The problem? Obama told the Germans he was a “citizen of the world.” Gingrich said Obama should know better — he’s a citizen of the United States, not the world.

With respect, I think Gingrich needs to learn about subsets. The U.S. is part of the world, and any responsible leader should consider the impact his actions have on the world stage. That’s something that Bush has not done in all his arrogance over the past eight years; it’s a subtlety that employed by Obama could restore America’s global credibility and reverse our image as a nation of cowboys.

“Do you really want someone as president who thinks he’s a citizen of the world?” Gingrich asked an audience of 1,200 later in the evening.

In the midst of that crowd, I lost my journalistic cool for a moment. Normally, I keep my mouth clamped shut and my pen scribbling while reporting. But this time an involuntary and slightly loud “yes” jumped past my lips.

But “Hi. I’m Newt” didn’t share that opinion. In his lecture later in the evening, he harped again at Obama’s “horrid” claim that the U.S. is part of a larger picture. The complaints didn’t end there, though. He said Obama should never have gone to Germany — that the presidential campaign should stay in America since it will be decided by Americans. He said it was presumptuous for Obama to tour as though he were already president and not simply a senator.

I disagree. I want a president who earns respect, who can build a real Coalition of the WIlling with words instead of weapons. Allies are only allies if you hold their hearts and minds — which is something lacking in the so-called Coalition in Iraq. The same Iraq where Gingrich’s candidate wants to stay as an occupying force for the next century.

I walked away from the lecture with certain phrases from the departing crowd ringing in my ears: They were talking about Gingrich’s succinct delivery, his obviously masterful analysis of the political scene. They were saying how here was a Republican whose mind was sharp and whose experience was to be lauded.

But they were saying he was still wrong. Dead wrong.