TCS Daily

Moore's the Provocation

By Duane D. Freese - July 2, 2004 12:00 AM

I just saw Fahrenheit 9/11, at a Monday matinee (ticket prices were cheaper). And I now feel what Dick Cheney must have felt when responding to Sen. Patrick Leahy the way he did.

The movie is that provoking, in a way, not of thought, but of anger, and not at Bush or at Michael Moore. No, mine is at Democrats who cheered this bit of film flippery and the film critics who basically think it so engaging. If that's what Democrats and film critics think about Republicans, then they can go ...

No, I won't say it. I was taught by my parents many decades ago not to. My father's worst expression for anything was: "Balls!" But then he was a golfer.

You do, though, really need to understand what people are cheering in this film. Its message isn't just that Bush stole the 2000 election, or that he's made blunders, or that he's a fool, the usual cant. It goes way beyond that. It says the president and his administration are in league with the Saudis and with big business, and that they are sending America's young men and women from poor neighborhoods abroad to fight a rich white man's war for personal political gain and profit. That's the message. And if you support the Bush administration, the next message is that you are either a fool or venal, but in any event an accomplice in mass murder, both here and abroad.

Now, A.O. Scott of The New York Times dismisses that message this way: "The movie's cheap shots and inconsistencies may frustrate its admirers, but by now we should have learned to appreciate Mr. Moore for what he is. He is rarely subtle, often impolite, frequently tendentious and sometimes self-contradictory. He is also a credit to the Republic."

Ah, hem. Calling somebody a venal murderer or accomplice to murder is something more than a cheap shot. And applauding the film and its maker while trying to disassociate oneself from its bottom line message is disingenuous. What would he write about a movie, say, that, however cleverly done, claimed that those here who opposed the war in Iraq were in league with the terrorists?

The point is that those who applaud this movie are cheering Moore's message, because there's really not much else to cheer in it. It's a grim movie. And, what can one say in response? What is the argument? Can you reason with them? What policy nuances can you discuss?

I suppose one might try to go over the "cheap shots and inconsistencies."

For example, Moore claims that Fox News miscalled the election late, and that somehow led to a recount that gave Bush the victory because somebody on Fox's staff was related to someone in the Bush campaign. There were plenty of problems in Florida from which people in both parties can be rightly angry. One example that cost Bush votes, which most in the media, most Democrats and certainly Moore like to ignore, is that all the networks called Florida for Gore between 7:49 p.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. That was before polls closed in the conservative Florida panhandle which is on Central time. Various studies have indicated Bush lost between 84, probably too low, and 10,000 votes, probably far too high. But it made a close race with its hanging chads even closer.

Some Republicans even called that a liberal media conspiracy. More likely, it was just network incompetence.

Another Moore "cheap shot" was his personal attack on Bush for spending 42 percent of his time "on vacation" prior to 9/11 -- 96 of 226 days because he was at his ranch in Texas, or Camp David, or his father's place in Kennebunkport. His purpose was to make it look as though Bush was not doing his job prior to 9/11. It amounts to an attack about anyone who does any work from their home. The "fact" was based on a Mike Allen story of Aug. 11, 2001. But even Mike Allen pointed out that Bush had a lot of official activities in his "vacation" time and much of it -- 66 days -- was on weekends, during which Bush also worked. Indeed, just a quick review of the White House press briefings indicates how hard a president works, even on vacation. Allen also noted the many days spent "on vacation" at their favorite places by Reagan, Bush the elder, Nixon, Eisenhower and, even, Truman.

And finally, just do this calculation of your own "vacation" time if you take the weekend off, have 10 days of vacation and take off the 10 federal holidays and you are "on vacation" 34 percent of the time. Work from home a day a week and that jumps to 48 percent. Members of Congress, since they have numerous district work periods and travel home most weekends to mix with district residents are on vacation 60 percent of the time.

Cheap shot? Distorting reality is distorting reality. It can encourage things like former President Jimmy Carter's foolish Rose Garden strategy in 1980 where he wouldn't leave the White House to even campaign after hostages were taken in Iran.

A plain flat wrong little fact was Moore claiming that only one member of Congress had a kid in the military. He made a big deal of that as a point about how the nation enlists poor men and, now, women to fight in its wars.

Moore's point about the make up of the military has resonance. Thirty percent of the services are made up of African Americans; 8 percent of Hispanics. Most are from lower-income and lower-middle income families. He believes that if only more of the leaders' kids were in service, the country wouldn't send so many of these poorer young people off to war.

History doesn't support that conclusion. And the conflation of who should serve in the military and whether to fight is illogical, as one sharp liberal commentator, editor Richard Just of The New Republic Online and who is opposed to Bush, noted. But it is an opinion that one can argue. What is wrong is to demean members of Congress as somehow being pro-war simply because their kids aren't on the line and claiming only one member of Congress had a child in military service.

The fact is at least four have kids in active military service, including in Iraq, and several others have them in the reserves. Still others have nephews and nieces in the service. And many simply have kids too young or too old to serve, or no kids at all. In addition, 30 percent in Congress have performed military service, so many know what war is all about.

But, hey, what difference does it make that Moore distorts these little facts? Isn't this all nitpickey little stuff compared to his big message?

Yes, it is. Everything one can say about the film is "nitpicky" little stuff, because that's what its fabric is all about -- nits he tries to patch together.

Moore's conspiracy theory about the Bush family being in league with the Saudis is woven together by Saudis and even members of the Bin Laden family being whisked out of the country after Sept. 11. Moore puts responsibility for that at the White House, implying presidential desire to prevent their being questioned and thus preventing embarrassing disclosures about Bush-Saudi ties. But who gave the word to let the Saudis go? Richard Clarke, the very same one Democrats cheer for scolding the White House for not doing enough about 9/11 in its nine months in office. Talk about a twisted conspiracy.

Then there's the Carlyle Group, the so secret defense and energy investment group in which the Saudis and Bush family are both involved. Only CalPERS -- the California Public Employee Retirement System -- is also, at a 5.5 percent stake. So now California's retirees are in on it, too!

Then there's the energy conspiracy with the Taliban, a leader of whom came to Texas when Bush was governor. Only thing, the leader never met with Bush and his entry to the United States was approved by the Clinton administration.

And oh, yes, there's the military-industrial complex profiteering from the war. When the mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, crying, asks, "What for?" Moore shoots to a convention of defense contractors for his answer: Halliburton. Ah, yes, that's why we went to war in Iraq.

As Christopher Hitchens has written in Slate Online, the various conspiracy theories all are at odds with each other. You can't bump one up against the other without realizing that the whole fabric of the film is "shoddy," the pressed material from which Union uniforms were made at the start of the Civil War and which fell apart with the first rain.

And to applaud Moore as "a credit to the Republic" basically applauds all that shoddiness.

No, if you come up to me praising Moore's film I won't tell you to go ..., but I may just yell, "Fore," in honor of my father, and ask to play on through. I don't want to coarsen the public debate anymore than it's degenerated to already.


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