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Think Before You Cheer--Michael Moore is Making a Noose for the Left's Neck

by Shlomo Svesnik

Who can resist the urge to cheer?

George W Bush has gotten away with stealing an election, waging an illegal war of aggression, and redesigning the entire federal security and intelligence apparatus, expanding its powers on a level not seen since the dawn of the Cold War. A sniveling mediocrity who achieved the pinnacle of global power entirely through family connections, he is leading the world into a state of permanent war, turning the planet's lone superpower into a despised and isolated pariah. All decent, thinking people want to see him soundly trounced in November, and Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 9-11 is the most effective piece of anti-Bush propaganda to hit the American mainstream, by a mile.

It's far more effective than any rhetoric to issue forth from the Democrats precisely because it calls out the Dems for capitulating to big chunks of the Bush agenda--beginning with the 2000 power-grab. The viewer's blood starts to boil right from the C-SPAN footage near the opening sequence, when members of the Black Congressional Caucus, one after another, petition to challenge Bush's pending inauguration as illegitimate, and no senator--not Kerry, not Kennedy, not Edwards--will add the needed signature. Gore, presiding over the Senate in one of his final acts as vice president, condescendingly interrupts and dismisses them. It is, of course, all downhill from there. By the time you leave the theater, you are bursting with righteous anger at the betrayal of the country.

But in the inevitable effluence of enthusiasm--its been a long time since I've seen an audience clap so loudly and resolutely for a film--few seem to notice Fahrenheit 9-11's uneasy contradictions.

For starters, the film can't make up its mind if it is taking an anti-war, pro-tolerance position or faulting the White House for being too lax in pursuing the War on Terrorism. That the film gets away with this equivocation seems indicative of prevalent sloppy thinking on the American left--which will come back to bite us on the ass in due time.

Early on, Moore complains that Bush had the FBI counter-terrorism budget cut before 9-11. Later, he takes the agency on for over-reach and paranoia, and accuses Bush of cynically using 9-11 to beef up domestic surveillance. This particular cognitive dissonance is alarmingly widespread. Arguing that Bush and his spies should have been omniscient enough to stop the attacks, we decry how the attacks are being used to expand their powers--blissfully unaware of how we are giving our own adversaries propaganda on a silver platter.

Inevitably this confused cheerleading for the national security state gets into some ugly racial politics. Moore protests that hundreds of Saudis were allowed to leave the US in the aftermath of 9-11, even as all air traffic was officially grounded. There is the requisite note of irony that this took place even as Muslim immigrants were being massively detained in federal sweeps. But Moore's protests of the sweeps are lukewarm compared to those about all those Arabs allowed to slip through the net.

The undercurrent of xenophobia becomes clearer in Moore's lengthy exegesis on Saudi power in America, and the special status the Sauds are apparently afforded within the Beltway. His fears about the Saudis are poorly defined (why would they support an attack against a government that so favors them?), but Moore ironically mirrors those who believe US foreign policy has been hijacked by another uniquely privileged Middle Eastern power: Israel. Judeophobe critics bash Moore for not taking on Israel, but the subtext of their worldviews is identical: America is being played for a rube by some wiley, Semitic, powerful foreigners, our sovereignty is being undermined. This is the oldest trick in the book--letting imperialism off the hook for its aggressions (or the rage deflected back onto itself) by scapegoating a client state.

Finally, Moore turns to Iraq--and further confusion. While the Saudis are fairly demonized, there isn't the slightest intimation that Saddam Hussein is anything other than a great guy. For all the grisly footage of Iraqi children mangled by US cluster bombs, you'd never know that Saddam had harmed a hair on a child's head. Brief footage of Baghdad before the bombing shows happy, smiling citizens--a wedding, a kid flying a kite--a vivid contrast to the horrorshow sequences of post-bombardment civilian casualties. The hapless Afghans, meanwhile, had it coming for harboring that Osama bastard. In Moore's marshmallow-soft interview with Rep. Jim McDermott, the Washington Democrat actually disses Bush's aggression in Afghanistan as insufficient, says more troops should have been sent--and our hero raises not a peep to challenge him. (Moore is a veritable pitbull in such publicity stunts as cornering congressmen to ask them to send their own sons to Iraq, but when he is talking to a lawmaker he likes they just nod their heads in agreement.)

Funny how the Taliban are portrayed (accurately enough) as medieval-minded thugs, while Moore lets Saddam go virtually scot-free. OK, the Taliban, unlike Saddam, probably had some complicity in 9-11, but does that mean their suffering subjects don't deserve our sympathy when the US bombs them? The Afghans don't seem to merit gruesome footage of civilian casualties in Moore's universe. Yet in another blithe contradiction, the Afghan campaign is also portrayed (again, accurately enough, probably) as a get-rich scheme for Bush's pals in the oil industry. The film repeats as fact the widespread but never substantiated allegation that US-installed Afghan President Hamid Karzai had been a consultant for Unocal.

The Iraqis themselves serve as little more than objects for atrocity pornography, the camera lingering lovingly on disfigured babies and grief-wracked mothers. In Moore's much longer treatment of the families of US servicemen killed in Iraq, he actually portrays real human beings. These are the most powerful sequences in the film, and the rollicking show starts to get pretty somber towards the end.

But these scenes reveal an unsavory underside to Moore's studied image of working-class populism. Moore's America of hard-working yeoman is a basically white place. Blacks exist mostly as cannon-fodder for the poverty draft. The military family Moore chooses to focus on (from Flint, Michigan, of course) is actually biracial, but it is white mom who does nearly all the talking. Given that Moore's beloved post-industrial Michigan is now a center of the very immigrant group most impacted by the post-9-11 witch-hunts, there is a glaring absence of Arab-American voices in the film. Moore does interview a serviceman with a Muslim first name (Sgt. Abdul Henderson, presumably an African American) who pledges he will resist mobilization back to Iraq. It is effective footage, but even here it feels like Moore only affords the young man honorary Real American status because he is serving in the military.

While there is barely a mention of the draconian immigrant sweeps, much time is given to the case of a Fresno peace group that discovered they had been infiltrated by an undercover cop. It seems a group of largely white, middle class folks, who pass around homemade cookies at their meetings. The Fresno incident is indicative of a very dangerous climate in America--no argument. But getting infiltrated by a sheriff's deputy isn't the same thing as the warrantless detainment and even torture faced by Muslim immigrants since 9-11. Somehow the moral clarity seems much more stark (to a mainstream audience) when the targets are cookie-munching white peaceniks. Why is that? And why is nobody asking the question?

An Oregon state trooper--a clean-cut, corn-fed type--is sought out by Moore to complain on camera that he has to patrol a long stretch of coastal highway by himself, with no anti-terrorist training or assistance. The Oregon coast is portrayed as ominously open to terrorist infiltration (taking a geographical cue from World War II, it seems). If this kind of propaganda was coming from the right, we would view it as sinister.

There's more. In illustrating the USA's isolation from its traditional European allies, Moore treats such "coalition of the willing" partners as Palau, Costa Rica and Morocco in extremely patronizing terms (quaint primitives, more or less). It was sort of surreal to see a theater of New York lefties laughing at this stuff.

Michael Moore, whatever his much-hyped working class origins, has become a part of the otherwise hated "media elite" no less than the networks and newspapers that manufacture consent for the endless war. If we let our cheering drown out any misgivings about the subtly dangerous (if garbled) ideas he is purveying, we are still being empty receptacles for propaganda--just propaganda that we like this time.

Beware Mooremania--this is manufactured, mass-produced dissent. And it is no substitute for the real thing.


Special to WORLD WAR 3 REPORT, July 10, 2004
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Also by Shlomo Svesnik: The Last Temptation of Mel Gibson

Reprinting permissible with attribution.