We went to see Fahrenheit 9/11 on Saturday night. The 10 PM showing packed two theaters, and it was obvious that not everyone there was either a dyed-in-the-wool Michael Moore fan or a wild-eyed liberal. There was a high percentage of those, to be sure, but most of the people I saw were trying to find out what all the hullabaloo was about.
I cannot say that it was the best documentary I’ve ever seen. Personally, I’d rather have Edward R. Murrow presenting the facts in a straightforward, relatively non-partisan manner. I think a far more damning case could be made that way, but I’m an old-fashioned kinda guy.
As it is, I think the film’s mocking tone makes it easy for Bush supporters to dismiss it as just a political piece that will only appeal to those already anti-Bush or to the easily swayed fence-sitters. It is dangerous for the Bush camp to ignore the film on either of those counts. Anti-Bush folk will come out of the theater more determined than ever to remove this President from office. The rest are the swing voters that will re-hire or fire his ass. The Bush people might want to focus less on Michael Moore and more on the growing throng of people marching behind him.
To say that the film is strongly anti-Bush would be like saying the Pope is a “little bit” Catholic. There is nothing but disdain for the President displayed on the screen. Fox News is more fair and balanced than this movie. If you’re already anti-Bush, you’re not going to be transformed into a conservative Republican at the end of two hours. However, unless you’re a complete Bush apologist (and there are plenty who will forgive him any transgression so long as we’re at war), I don’t see how anyone could come out of the theater with the sunny feeling that all is right with America and that we have the best people in charge. Just listening to Ashcroft sing will cure you of that notion real quick!
While I like a more measured, just-the-facts-ma’am documentary style, Moore’s shotgun approach is good at making sure there’s a little something for everyone to latch onto. He blasts away at every liberal rant of the past four years: the unfair 2000 elections, the oil money, the Saudi connection to 9/11, the mishandling of security post-9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, poverty in America, racism, the Abu Graib scandal, human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia… it’s all there in kind of a K-tel Greatest Hits collection for the left.
One of the things that Moore has said is that he doesn’t need to defend the facts, since it is a “work of art.” I don’t buy that, and I think it really blunts the salient points of the film. But with a few exceptions (most notably the piece by Christopher Hitchens), all I’ve heard from critics is “it’s all lies.”
What, exactly, are the lies in the movie? Nobody, not even Hitchens (who focuses on his perception of Moore’s motives and on facts that weren’t even presented in the film), tells you that. It’s just easier to take the party line that Moore is a “big, fat idiot” and that the movie is a big conspiracy theory without actually arguing against any of its specific points.
In reality, it’s hard to ignore things like clips of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice saying “Saddam has no weapons capability and poses no threat to anyone” pre-2001, then turning around and saying the opposite when it was necessary to convince people to go to war with Iraq. Were they stupid or lying? Neither inspires a lot of confidence. (Oh, I know, they were all taken out of context. Yeah, that’s it. Or, no, wait, it must be Bill Clinton’s fault. We can all play that game.) And there were at least a couple of things I had not seen before: like the Bush inauguration limousine being pelted with raw eggs and his reaction to the first plane hitting the World Trade Center (go on with the photo-op) and to the second (stare blankly until you’re forced to do something).
But that’s not what I took away from the film. Frankly, the whole “Al Gore should have won” opening made my eyes roll back in my head. (OK. We get it. We wuz robbed. It was four fricking years ago. Get over it.) And the pictures of Administration officials looking stupid or saying stupid things is cheap. You can find pre-game footage of anyone where they’re looking silly. Being one of those anti-Bush lefty whackos, I sympathized with all of the points of the movie, even though I’d heard them all before. What really hit home with me, though, were the scenes filmed in post-invasion Iraq.
The sweet images of a serene and peaceful Iraq on the eve the war are a bit much to swallow. But what we forget (or fail to grasp) is that there was a middle class Iraq that just went to work, played with the kids, bitched about their President, and said, “Thank God it’s not me.” There are a lot of Americans who do the same. Yet, if someone decided that Bush was a threat to world peace and started dropping bombs on us, and an invading army tried to take over, we wouldn’t sit around and say, “Whew! Thank God the invaders are here. I couldn’t stand that Bush another minute. I’m so glad they blew up the government office building where my friend worked. So what if they missed and hit my cousin’s neighborhood, too? I’ve got plenty more sisters! At least we’re free.” But that’s what we expect Iraqis to do.
We marginalize the Iraqi people because it’s convenient. Either they’re the faceless mass of “freedom-loving people” that are ever so grateful for our help in ridding them of Saddam, or they’re a terrorist. There is no gray area. They couldn’t possibly be people who–while being thankful to be rid of Saddam–are rising up in arms against a foreign army, because that army just blew up their house or came in the middle of the night and took away their father to a prison formerly run by Saddam and now staffed by sadists in foreign garb, could they?
In fact the attitude of this guy in Iraq today is a lot more typical than you might imagine (as inexplicable or exasperating as it is to those who keep insisting we’re doing this out of the goodness of our hearts and not for oil profits): “I want to behead Saddam Hussein for what he did. He killed four members of my family,” said Akeel Kathim, another driver. “Despite that I hope he comes back because only he can end the security crisis.”*
Forget about whether we should or should not have gone to Iraq in the first place. Are we comfortable re-electing the government that has messed up the situation so badly that Iraqis are wishing they had Saddam back?
As a movie, I’d have to give Fahrenheit 9/11 a couple hours on the Give Up Scale™. It’s entertainment value depends too much on how much you hate Bush. But it’s an insulin on the scale of needing to know what it’s all about before you start complaining about it or praising it.
Has everything in it been said before? Yeah, mostly. But put together in one place, they make a powerful statement on the duplicity of this Administration that will be hard for all but the most stubborn Bush supporters to ignore.