George Bush’s Tell

August 14, 2007

It seems appropriate that in the waning months of the Bush visigothracy, with Karl Rove quitting the White House staff and the neocons trying to sell us on at least one more war, David Mamet’s brilliant con-man movie House of Games is about to get one of those ultra-spiffy Criterion Collection DVD editions, complete with a commentary track by Mamet and magician Ricky Jay.

I’m not going to give away any of the movie’s twists and turns, but early on there’s a scene that hinges on the idea of a “tell.” That’s an unconscious gesture somebody makes when he’s lying or trying to hide something. According to one reviewer, Mamet announces on the commentary track that he’s figured out George W. Bush’s tell, though apparently he doesn’t reveal it. Thanks, Dave. Mamet also remarks that he actually thinks better of Bush because he’s such a bad liar. Personally, I think the fact that Bush’s people are such bad liars contributes heavily to the sense of weary disgust that will always be my strongest memory of the Bush years. Whatever.

I don’t know which of Mamet’s con men track most closely with Rove or William Kristol or Abu Gonzales or any of the other placidly smiling liars at work in government and the media. But I’m pretty sure Lindsay Crouse, playing a psychologist who starts studying the con men and develops a queasy fascination with the ease and smoothness they bring to victimizing anyone outside their circle, perfectly symbolizes the American voter.

So there you go, wingers. Put away the John Wayne movies and shelve those episodes of 24. The true spirit of the Bush era is contained within House of Games and those second-season Sopranos episodes that track the fleecing and ruination of Tony Soprano’s childhood buddy. Watch them carefully and pat yourselves on the back while you do so, because this is what you helped do to America.

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