In many ways, George W. Bush: Faith in the White House lives up to its title. The 70-minute documentary, released to Christian bookstores this week and eyeing a possible network TV primetime slot in September, is indeed an informative and inspiring look at the faith that drives our President.
The film, from Grizzly Adams Productions, is based primarily on two recent best-sellers—Tom Freiling's George W. Bush: On God and Country (Allegiance Press/FaithWorks) and David Aikman's A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush (W Publishing Group). Numerous interviews with Bush experts, advisers and observers—many of them evangelicals—are spread throughout the piece, giving it credibility.
We see not only Bush's faith in its current form—a man driven by prayer and the principles of Scripture—but we also see his journey along the way, warts and all. We meet a much younger Bush, a rowdy, brash, hard-drinking Texan who in no way looked like he would some day be his state's governor, much less President of the United States.
We learn about the heritage of faith passed down from his parents, and how Dubya turned his back on that faith for many years before finally coming back to it—thanks, in large part, to Billy Graham's regular summer visits to the family vacation home in Kennebunkport, Maine. On one of those visits, during a walk on the beach, Graham pointedly asked Bush if he was "right with God." Bush responded, "No, but I want to be." And the rest, as they say, is history.
A number of people offer their takes on Bush and his faith, including authors Freiling and Aikman, noted above; James Robison, a religious broadcaster and a close Bush friend; Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; and Don Hodel, who served in the Reagan Administration and is now President/CEO of Focus on the Family. These, and others, provide even more insight and perspective into the President, his spiritual life, his resolve, his servant leadership. It's revealing and inspiring.
Neither Bush nor the First Lady are interviewed for the documentary—the independent film was made without their knowledge—but we see plenty of videotaped clips of both.
We also "hear" from a number of Bush critics, though they're never seen talking onscreen. These critics—including Ralph Nader, Richard Gere, Al Franken, and Barry Lynn—are typically represented with a mug shot and the text of a quote, which is read aloud by a narrator. The problem is that all of these quotes are read with a tone that's dripping with sarcasm, spite, malice. Obviously, these critics aren't Bush fans, but I'll bet they didn't all sound like whiny, sniveling punks in the real sound bytes. The quote from Barry Lynn, for example, was excerpted from a public testimony before a Senate subcommittee; why not just run the tape?
The film also uses cheesy "dramatic re-enactments" to illustrate key moments throughout Bush's life that weren't caught on tape. These scenes also sometimes leave the viewer scratching his head, wondering what's "real" and what's staged. For example, there's a re-enactment of Billy Graham talking to a younger Bush; the camera looks over Graham's shoulder at an actor who's playing Bush—but the actor looks like he is a member of the Bush family. My wife even asked, "Is that Jeb?"—referring to the President's younger brother, now Florida's governor. It was so distracting that we missed some 20 or 30 seconds of narration while we talked aloud while trying to discern if it actually was a Bush or not. We finally deduced that it wasn't—and rewound the DVD to pick up what we'd missed.
But the film's biggest problem is in the way it's being promoted. The DVD cover—and a number of press materials—bills it as "An Alternative Program to Fahrenheit 9/11"—referring, of course, to Michael Moore's recent Bush-bashing documentary.
I'm assuming they chose the word "alternative" carefully, rather than something like "response" or "rebuttal," because the film doesn't come close to being a rebuttal to Moore's charges. Indeed, never in the 70 minutes is Michael Moore or Fahrenheit 9/11 mentioned by name. There's no hint of a response to Moore's criticism of the Bush Administration's reasons for invading Iraq. And the film almost completely dodges the question of whether Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which Bush had said was one of the main reasons for the invasion.
Instead, narrator Janet Parshall quickly changes the subject, saying, "And even as the argument over Hussein's weapons of mass destruction raged on, Muammar Qaddafi, the leader/dictator of Libya, suddenly abandoned his atomic weapons program. Things are changing in the Middle East, and changing for the better." During this narration, we see an image of a U.S. soldier shaking hands with smiling Iraqi children, and another shot of Iraqis holding up a picture of Bush with the words, "The Hero of the Peace."
Huh? I'm glad Qaddafi has just said no to nukes, but what does that have to do with Hussein's alleged WMDs? My college philosophy teacher called that a "red herring."
Moore has been criticized for his one-sided portrayal of pre-invasion Iraq—happy images of smiling children flying kites, but nothing showing Saddam's horrendous atrocities against his own people. And Moore's portrayal of post-invasion Iraq is just as one-sided, including images of giddy U.S. soldiers blowing people away to heavy metal music, followed by disturbing close-up shots of dead civilians, including children.
Where Moore completely ignores the good things that have come to Iraq as a result of the U.S. invasion, this film ignores the bad things, instead accentuating only the positive, showing images of smiling Iraqis and U.S. soldiers while Parshall recounts some of the U.S. accomplishments—1500 rebuilt schools, 240 rebuilt hospitals, 1200 clinics, vaccinations for 22 million kids, a stronger Iraqi economy, and so on.
Right after that, NAE president Haggard announces that Bush "will be known as the man who stood up to Islamic fundamentalism being used to tyrannize their own people, so that in another hundred years, in the Islamic world, he'll be viewed as a great liberator."
I winced at that quote: A hundred years? And how will the Islamic world regard Bush in the meantime? It was an odd—and hardly ringing—endorsement.
The film finally addresses Michael Moore, less than five minutes before its conclusion. Well, he's sort of addressed. Parshall narrates: "But will George W. Bush be allowed to finish the battle against the forces of evil that threaten our very existence? One thing appears to be certain: He has already paid a very high price politically for this dedication. One Hollywood filmmaker who claims to be non-political has written and produced what he calls a documentary, that many critics quickly disclaimed as pure propaganda dedicated to the sole purpose of damaging the president's image …"
During Parshall's narration, we see Moore on various magazine covers, including Entertainment Weekly: "Michael Moore Speaks Out: A Candid Interview with the Most Dangerous Man in Movies." Interestingly, there is no image of the Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster. And, as noted, we never hear the words "Michael Moore" or "Fahrenheit 9/11" spoken. I'm guessing they didn't want to be perceived as mudslingers. (For what it's worth, the DVD does include some bonus material under the heading "Responses to Fahrenheit 9/11—but they're text-only documents accessible only when the DVD is plugged into a computer's DVD-ROM player. These responses include an essay and an F 9/11 review from the Christian website MOVIEGUIDE, plus an excerpt from Unfairenheit 9/11: The Lies of Michael Moore, by Christopher Hitchens.)
The documentary's narration concludes with these words: "Not all Americans agree that we have always had the right man in the right position in a moment of crisis. But one thing is indisputable: Those who have led the nation in its darkest moments have always been willing to humble themselves before God, to call the nation to prayer.
"President George W. Bush has set the example for maintaining faith in the face of unrelenting criticism …Will the faith of George Bush be sufficient to keep us in God's hands today? Perhaps—if we all join our faith to his."
The film closes with a clip of Bush reading from the Bible at a church service.
It's a fine and fitting conclusion to a film titled, George W. Bush: Faith in the White House. If only they had remained focused on the title—and not tried to set it up as an "alternative" to Moore's F-9/11—it would have worked pretty well.
A movie about our President's strong faith is a valid project, and one that should inspire us all. But it should've been left simply at that, and no more.
This video can be purchased here. It will be available in Christian bookstores by August 30, and in mainstream stores on October 5—the same day that Fahrenheit 9/11 releases on video. The film will also air on a number of Christian TV networks (TLN, TBN and INSP among them), and there remains a possibility of a primetime special on a major network sometime in September.Discussion starters
- What did you learn about President Bush's faith that you didn't know before? Does anything in his journey of faith parallel your own journey?
- What can we learn from President Bush about how he handles crisis situations?
- Many have called Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 "propaganda" because it is so one-sided, and that it has a clear agenda. Could this film also be called "propaganda"? Why or why not?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
This film is not rated, but it's suitable for all ages, though it might be boring for young children.
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