Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Kevin Drum's posted his take on Fahrenheit 911, and it's the typical "I'm a liberal who doesn't really like Michael Moore" sort of review. He specifically compares its "slanders and cheap shots" to those of the pro-war crowd, saying "He never flat out says that the Bush family is on the Saudi payroll. Rather, he simply includes '9/11,' 'Bush,' and 'Saudi Arabia' in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that George Bush is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the Saudi royal family."

Um, okay. Except Moore's "insinuations" are filled to overflowing with facts, not one of which I've actually heard refuted. And I must have seen a slightly different edit from the one Kevin saw, because the argument I saw presented on screen on Saturday was that the Bush family's long-standing personal and financial friendship with the Bin Ladens and the Saudi royal family created a blind spot that got in the way of Bush doing his job properly.

And then there's Afghanistan. Many reviewers have characterized Moore's 'argument' like this: "The invasion of Afghanistan was a sham, and we didn't send enough troops!" Sort of like the classic restaurant review, "the food was no good, and the portions too small!" Some have also brought up Moore's objections at the time to our invasion of Afghanistan, or, more accurately, to the way in which we invaded Afghanistan.

There's a difference, you see, between agreeing on a goal, and agreeing on the means. I've got a great-uncle out in Santa Cruz, for example, who's something of a family legend for having invented the most effective gopher trap ever. I'm probably violating some sort of secret family compact by telling you this, but the secret ingredient is a blasting cap. Trust me, it's very effective, and the damage it does to your yard is minimal, geologically speaking. It is a little hard on your sleep schedule, though. And the water main. But it's very effective, and you want the gophers out, right?

Moore's complaint regarding Afghanistan is that we used so few ground troops that the people we were after got away, set up a puppet government certain to be sympathetic to business interests friendly to Bush, et al, then moved on to going after Iraq without doing enough to protect against Afghanistan dropping back into the chaos that allowed Al Qaeda to find shelter there. That strikes me more as a listing of facts than a structured argument, and it's a pretty damning set of facts.

The negative reviews I've read of F911 fall into two camps. They either say Michael Moore Hates America! And You! or they bemoan the sorrow of having such an intellectually dishonest person on their side, and why don't his arguments make sense?

You can't even talk to the first group, but it's sure fun to watch them sputter while their heads turn red. As for the second, his arguments don't make sense because he's not making arguments, he's telling a story. That's generally what documentaries do.

Here's the story he's telling: an incompetent, corrupt son of priviledge finagles his way into the White House, where he glided through life screwing things up but doing relatively little actual damage, until terrorists attack New York. If he'd been paying attention, he might have seen it coming, and possibly even taken steps to prevent it, but we wasn't. Ironically, though, the attacks give him political power like he's never tasted before, as the American people rally behind their leader. Logic and political realities dictate that he go after the people who attacked us, but that's not exactly in our hero's best interest, since his personal wealth was largely created by and is dependent on the same people who support the terrorist who attacked us. So he leads us instead into Iraq, where things go terribly wrong.

There's another, parallel story being told, of an Everywoman who loves America and supports our president, but comes to realize after her son is killed in Iraq that she's been conned, as have the rest of us. It's a much simpler story, and definitely more emotionally powerful than the first, but it would lose its power without the first to give it context, just as the Bush story would, on its own, lack real-world impact. The two stories need one another.

So it's fair to ask if the stories hold together, and if they fit the facts. Unfortunately for Bush, they do - much better than the assortment of stories we hear from the mainstream media these past few years.

Does that mean I think it's the literal truth? No. I think the truth is probably less interesting. Incompetence is a thousand times more common than corruption. But we live in a country where more than half of the populace think Bush is doing a bad job, while the media continues to ignore basic facts of his biography and job performance while broadcasting out and out falsehoods put out by his supporters. No wonder Moore's getting standing ovations across the country.

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