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Jul 14, 2005

Your Turn: Second Row Center


I know you are dying to get at this because I've never had so much mail about one image before. 

What do you pick up from Rove's expression?  What is your sense of the relationship?  From the standpoint of visual politics (which is the main reason for the BAG's existence), what is the strategy behind the White House lining up a shot like this?  Does it indicate a stonewall tactic, or simple brash defiance?  Is the best defense a good offense?

A BAGreader, Carolly, sent me the following take: 

As a character study, much could be read into Rove's expression.  It looks almost paternalistic, but there is nothing affectionate, very controlling.  His nostrils also appear oddly flared (I wonder if Bush was exuding nervous sweat?).  The light on his hair is almost a halo, which contrasts with his expression.  Bush doesn't look nearly as much in control... one photo has him doing the "I can explain" of a kid in the cookie jar... but he isn't as defensive as Scotty at the latest press conferences.

There may be other images showing Rove pulling Bush's strings, but this seem effective at making the relationship palpable.

I particularly agree with the comment about image selection.  Given the complexity of these political relationships, I've been wary lately of single photos that imply more one-dimensional conclusions.  I chose not to run a companion shot of Bush looking down.  That picture gave too much of an impression of Rove as mastermind.  Overall, I think Bush likes people to think he's an idiot and Karl is "his brain."  I think it's W's favorite strategy for lowering expectations. 

So, fire away....

REVISED: 7/14/05 5:05pm PST

(image: Susan Walsh/AP. July 13, 2005 in YahooNews.)


What's going through his mind?: It will be a relief finally to be convicted.

Well, if there are two minds at work here, it is obvious that one mind is blurry, while the other mind is focused.

i see the puppet and the puppetmaster.

From what I understand, Bush Sr. and Rove were both friends before Rove kinda 'adopted' Bush Jr's political career.

When I look at this picture, Rove looks like a proud parent.

This is classic Bush face. It's the stupid chimp grimace (vs. smirk) that he overcomes him when he is totally pissed off and TRAPPED in his own shit.

This is classic Bush face. It's the stupid chimp grimace (vs. smirk) that he overcomes him when he is totally pissed off and TRAPPED in his own shit.

Pretty much what Asta said: the head of the administration (Bush) has lost his focus--on the deficit, war, etc.--and instead has decided to focus on not so much policy-making but the political machine.

oh yeah. Asta.

Bush is blurry;

Rove is sharp.

BAGman: I think Bush likes people to think he's an idiot and Karl is "his brain."


inviting you to jump on in here and 'splain that one, Michael (^_^)

Maybe Rove's breathing heavy because he's overweight.

Seriously, though. I'm not sure Rove's looking at Bush. It's like he's looking past him, anticipating questions and Bush's rehearsed answers.

I got the paternal vibe too.

It's said that Rove's father died when he was a boy and his beloved mother killed herself when Karl was 25. What kind of mental state does that leave a young man in as he sets forth into the world?

1. Could Rove be any more pasty-faced? His physical appearance is so anti the Bush "he-man" fantasy.

2. Rove is completely self-assured, looking into the cameras with an attitude of "bring it on, "m'f-rs."

If this second picture of Rove w/Bush doesn't chill you,

I don't know what would.

It's got to be a bit dull being Rove at this point in the Dauphin's regency; this chase is an interesting cat/mouse game for the one behind the curtain. He's in the public eye, now, and he's enjoying it.


Besides the two that I sent you (Washington Post and Seattle Times), there is this one, (also Washington Post):

and this one:

which makes 4 from a sequence. I noticed that Rove held iron stiff while Bush was moving all over the place, but would love to see the entire set of shots and their time stamps!

I worked as an animator for 15 years, so sequential art and body language are matters of deep interest. One thing I realized years ago is that real-world villains never look as outrageously evil as our fantasy creations... except that Rove's boring gaze is deeply unsettling, otherwise, you've got my "take" up in your intro.

You've brought up the matter of image selection before. The photographer brings back the results of the shoot, and the editors choose. Usually we see the same image across the media, so I was curious why each paper chose a slightly different image. There are subtle distinctions, but only 1 had Bush in focus, and Rove himself wasn't giving anything away.

We've already mentioned paternalism, however I have seen Rove's expression before. I'm pretty sure that it was the prayer service for the 9/11 victims and Barbara Bush was watching her son with the same controlling tautness and the same lack of affection.

Thanks for putting this up for review!


Rove looks like the cat that ate the canary- a smiless cheshire grin. In the picture, Rove seems very confident almost like he knows in advance what's going to unfold and it's going to go his way. As arguably the most powerful man in the world, who wouldn't feel confident.

Rove's thoughts "hope this meeting ends soon... it's sloppy Joe day in the cafeteria..."

Rove always has this look. his brow is unfurrowed. He looks calm, assured, and somewhat bemused. His eyes are slightly crinkled and the glasses reflect light, feeding the sense of lightness. However his gaze is distant and powerful (he appears to look right through Bush's head). His mouth is set, but slightly curled at the corners, giving the impression of gentle satisfaction or humor. I isolated his mouth and asked my wife to look at it and tell me what it expressed. (She reads people really well). She said she has often seen this kind of mouth on Priests. It is giving the appearance of being satisfied or even happy but covers inner dissatisfaction.
Bush - isn't it interesting that his faces can be cataloged?

Rove looks smug. He's where he wants to be, the most powerful man in the country (Cheney is the second).

Incidentally, Bush pere fired Rove for leaking information. I am not so sure that Rove would be considered a good friend by all the Bush family, more like the icky friend that your kids make that you wish would go away.

BAGman: I think Bush likes people to think he's an idiot and Karl is "his brain."


Gonz, I think I overstated my point a little bit. Actually, I don't think Bush likes anyone to think less of him; in fact, I think he really can't accept the idea. Given the fact that he is a (intellectual) lightweight, and has such a confidence problem that he can barely function in his elected capacity without a script, however, I think he compensates for these inadequacies by seeing himself as someone who is simply underestimated.

Ironically, this personal rationalization has also worked brilliantly from a political standpoint. Early on, Bush/Rove created a whole strategy around it (which just continues to work more and more effectively) where smart people like us write Bush off as an idiot for being painfully insecure and non-intellectual, when -- at the same time -- he possesses a very viable, if much less respected form of intelligence (the kind you find in a very good poker player or a brilliant sociopath, for example.)

The guy certainly is smart enough to surround himself with people who can make him look good, and then match up what very little ideology he truly holds with whatever political direction the prevaling wind is blowing in. He also has a gift for playing people off against each other so that he grabs credit where he can, while avoiding almost any direct challenge and almost any ultimate responsibility.

If he isn't brilliant in this way, how is it possible that he has gotten away with all the shit he has, and we still can't put a dent in him? One can hate the guy and distain his lack of compassion and intellect, but a person doesn't get to where he's gotten without the wits to compensate for his tremendous mountain of liabilities.

My impression: the look on Rove's face chills me to the bone -- no, it makes me want to back away quickly and look for a big stick to defend myself with. On one hand this is the look of a school yard bully. This guy is dangerous, because he doesn't give a s**t what we think and is prepared to slap us down like a fly.
He also gives the impression that he feels secure and untouchable behind his frontman (Bush) as he very covertly stares down the photographer (we, the people), daring us to comment. He is tightly masked, almost serene; yet menacing, ready to strike.

Bush seems to appear like Rove's pinch-faced golem. In this photo the fuzziness of Bush contrasts Rove with that of a man who has only enough substance to attract strongmen like dogs to a steak.

Karl looks like a proud papa as he watches his words come out of Our Leader's mouth. Any publicity is good publicity, right? I had been thinking that our good buddy Karl doesn't care if he is accused of a crime, and in fact hopes to get charged on that sooner rather than later, as he is currently holding a "get out of jail free" card in the name of a Presidential Pardon. I've been suspecting that for a while now, and this shot certainly fits that assessment. It would explain such a smug expression.

Sports dad. Son is at bat and by god he better do it just the way he was taught. Rove is looking at the pitcher and the umpire - already planning his attack on them if Bush strikes out.
by the way - that's "mis-underestimated"

'One can hate the guy and distain his lack of compassion and intellect, but a person doesn't get to where he's gotten without the wits to compensate for his tremendous mountain of liabilities.' So writes the Bag a few comments above.

Well, so far so good you might say. But that works only as long as his wits outweigh his liabilities. When the scales tip...bang! Long lineages of autocratic rulers supply the evidence. We'll soon see: Fitzgerald.

No one has made any reference to Karl's hair standing up?





No no, none of you have it right. I see the wheels in Rove's mind turning, looking at his boy stooge who has the perfect combo of false machismo, piety and anti-intellectualism. Rove looks at his boy-tool and thinks:

"Our plan eez verking perfectley - soon dah verld vill bee ours - Ahahahahah!"

Like Robert Duvall in Apocolypse Now, he knows he's getting out without a scratch.

You hit the nail on the head: "Overall, I think Bush likes people to think he's an idiot and Karl is "his brain." I think it's W's favorite strategy for lowering expectations."

If/when Rove goes down, Bush can say, "I didn't know anything about it. Karl has always had leeway to do what he felt was best. I trusted him. In this case, he made a mistake and he will have to face the consequences."

Voila, Bush is off the hook.

Another in the Series: The Empty Vessel & the Rattlesnake

yeah (BAGman) unnerstand. the sociopath aspect or, PP = Psychopathic Personality as Kurt Vonnegut put it, is easy to see. it's kinda inneresting when (non-professional) folks are confronted by honest -to- god sociopaths. you keep thinking, "there must be a conscience in this con somewhere," yet, there ain't.

as Quentin sez, it's the "brilliant" sociopath description that i gotta quibble. yeah, he does have some very talented staff (in particular, imho ~ the PR wordsmiths) but, i'm not even sure if i'd give Dubya credit for choosing his own enablers.

lest we over-analyze the man, sometimes the simplest answers ring true; eg., IRAQ... wazzit oil? no, not even that: just a personal grudge.

i think it was the implication, Michael, that Dubya likes for folks to think he's inadequate...

...because he seems entirely obsessed with that paternalistic acceptance, that mob love thing: imho, he dreads being "the fool" again, with every fibre in his body.

In this photo, I get the sense that both of these guys know something that the rest of us don't--the punch line--and they are waiting for the right moment to deliver it. These guys are manipulaters par excellence and we the poor ignorant public are the puppets.... Cardinal Richleau and his Louis.....

"These are not the 'droids you are looking for."

Quentin wrote:

"Well, so far so good you might say. But that works only as long as his wits outweigh his liabilities. When the scales tip...bang! Long lineages of autocratic rulers supply the evidence."

I agree. Bush loves his high-risk management style because he has always played with other people's money and someone has always bailed him out. But the United States of America is a lot bigger than Arbusto or Harken. What happens when he gets in so deep no one can bail him out?

Until fairly recently, most people didn't even know who Karl Rove was - just the way he likes it.

You can see it in the smug, self-assured smirk on his face that as the rest of the press focuses on Bush, he hides in the background seemingly idle, but 'knowingly' in control.

What's really interesting about the physical aspects of the perspective in the shot is that Rove's head actually fits inside Bush's - you can strain yourself into relaxing your gaze (like for the stereogram 3-D pictures) or you can take the easier route and use PhotoShop.

You can almost literally make Rove Bush's brain.

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