Family Split Over Politics Is Now on the Big Screen

The partisan divide between the Woodhouse brothers is the subject of a documentary.

National Journal
Billy House
April 30, 2014, 5:46 p.m.

They are broth­ers di­vided over polit­ics. But are the par­tis­an teas­ing and sib­ling rivalry between Brad Wood­house, former Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee spokes­man, and Dal­las Wood­house, former dir­ect­or of the North Car­o­lina chapter of Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity (the con­ser­vat­ive group foun­ded by the Koch broth­ers), the mak­ings of a great film?

Bry­an Miller thinks so, and he has spent the past four years shoot­ing a doc­u­ment­ary with the broth­ers at its cen­ter. Now, the first-time film­maker is lob­by­ing to get his 72-minute movie, Wood­house Di­vided, in­to vari­ous film fest­ivals na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing at the Amer­ic­an Film In­sti­tute’s events in the Wash­ing­ton area this sum­mer.

The film cap­tures the broth­ers pas­sion­ately pick­ing fights in pub­lic and private over health care and oth­er is­sues dur­ing Pres­id­ent Obama’s first term and the 2012 cam­paign, in­clud­ing at fam­ily get-to­geth­ers over Thanks­giv­ing and Christ­mas.

“It’s all straight, totally real, and some­times crazy — they’re both big per­son­al­it­ies,” said Miller, who ad­ded that he tries not to take sides between the two.

Brad, 46, and Dal­las, 40, both say they like the movie. “And I think it’s an in­ter­est­ing story,” Brad said. “I think it re­flects a time when a lot of fam­il­ies are di­vided along lines of par­tis­an­ship, and how they feel about is­sues and policy.”

In the film, the broth­ers are con­stantly pok­ing fin­gers and fun at each oth­er, oc­ca­sion­ally caus­ing their moth­er, Joyce Wood­house, to cringe. “They get a little heated,” said Joyce, who lives in Raleigh and was her­self once ex­ec­ut­ive as­sist­ant to former North Car­o­lina Demo­crat­ic Gov. Terry San­ford.

When they vis­it or share time at the beach, she says, they both have a habit of con­duct­ing busi­ness loudly on their phones. She makes it a point to nev­er di­vulge in­form­a­tion she over­hears from one to the oth­er. She also re­fuses to tell her sons which pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate earned her vote. “They both think I voted for their can­did­ate. And I’m keep­ing my mouth shut,” she said.

The big ques­tion — not par­tic­u­larly answered in the film — is ex­actly why or how broth­ers who grew up to­geth­er, once shared a place as adults, and are both now mar­ried with two young chil­dren could drift so far apart polit­ic­ally. Joyce says she can’t ex­plain it, of­fer­ing what is sure to be­come her stand­ard line. “I rocked them as ba­bies in the same rock­er,” she said.

For Brad, who waves the Demo­crat­ic ban­ner, there is no clear an­swer for why Dal­las, who has spent his ca­reer in North Car­o­lina, views things dif­fer­ently. “I really don’t know how to ex­plain it oth­er than he’s be­come an angry not-so-old white guy,” he joked.

But Dal­las re­sponds that he’s al­ways been a little more cen­ter-right, and that it was Brad who “changed” after he left the state for Wash­ing­ton “and lost all com­mon sense.”

“He fights his battles and I fight mine,” Dal­las said, adding that “I can get un­der his skin. And he starts yelling. He gets mad­der about it than I do.”

Nat­ur­ally, Brad doesn’t agree. “I’m the first one who tries to de­fuse these situ­ations — be­cause if I am with my broth­er and my wife, I’m get­ting double-teamed,” he said. (Brad is mar­ried to Jes­sica Carter, chief of staff to Re­pub­lic­an Rep. Steph­en Finch­er of Ten­ness­ee.)

Brad says their fam­ily was in­volved in polit­ics as long as he can re­mem­ber, usu­ally as Demo­crats in North Car­o­lina state and loc­al races. He most re­cently spent five years at the DNC, help­ing to lead the mes­saging wars over the Af­ford­able Care Act and oth­er is­sues, and he has since re­joined Amer­ic­ans United for Change, a lib­er­al ad­vocacy group, as pres­id­ent, and runs the Demo­crat­ic su­per PAC Amer­ic­an Bridge. His primary role is daily rap­id re­sponse to Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates.

Dal­las, a former on-air tele­vi­sion host and polit­ic­al re­port­er, launched a new non­profit or­gan­iz­a­tion in North Car­o­lina called Car­o­lina Rising in April after work­ing with Amer­ic­ans for Prosper­ity. In that role he was a highly vis­ible crit­ic of Obama­care and the state’s two pre­vi­ous Demo­crat­ic gov­ernors.

In­deed, health care is a point of fric­tion between the two, at least ac­cord­ing to Dal­las, who is dia­bet­ic. “The mad­dest I ever got at my broth­er was when I lost my en­do­crino­lo­gist — a single-prac­tice en­do­crino­lo­gist,” he said, not­ing that the doc­tor told him he could no longer prac­tice un­der Obama­care. “I called up my broth­er and cussed him out for try­ing to kill me!”

In fact, the doc­u­ment­ary has its roots in health care, ad­dress­ing some of Dal­las’s three-year cru­sade against the law — and against the ef­forts of his older broth­er to sell it.

Miller says he star­ted film­ing Dal­las about five years ago at some “Hands Off of Health Care” events, then went up to D.C. and met Brad. His in­ten­tion was to do “a quick little 20-minute short on health care.” But then the broad­er story struck him.

“They are two totally po­lar op­pos­ite broth­ers — yet, at the end of the day they get along and truly love each oth­er,” he said.

As Dal­las put it, “The truth is that a lot of fam­il­ies who have dis­agree­ments might see their own lives in this movie.”

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