Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 29, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

FAHRENHEIT 9/11....I caught Fahrenheit 9/11 yesterday. No long lines at a Monday matinee!

What to say? The argument over the film mostly seems to revolve around whether it's factually accurate and presents a logical case, a conversation so pointless as to be laughable. I mean, it's a polemical film from Michael Moore, not a Brookings Institution white paper. It's like complaining that editorial cartoons are unfair because they don't portray the nuance of serious policy discussions.

Now, as it happens, I thought Fahrenheit 9/11 was a bit mediocre even as polemic, but the thing that really struck me about the film was the almost poetic parallellism between its own slanders and cheap shots and the slanders and cheap shots of pro-war supporters themselves over the past couple of years. It was almost worthy of Henry James.

Take the first half hour of the film, in which Moore exposes the close relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud. Sure, it relies mostly on innuendo and imagery, but then again, he never really makes the case anyway. 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.

Which is all remarkably similar to the tactic Bush himself used to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11. He never flat out blamed Saddam, but rather made sure to include the words "9/11," "Saddam Hussein," and "al-Qaeda" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that Saddam had something to do with it.

Or take Afghanistan. In a lengthy and nearly unreadable screed in Slate, Christopher Hitchens takes Moore to task for arguing in 2002 that the war in Afghanistan was unjust but then arguing in the film that Iraq was a distraction from the real war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Surely I'm not the only one who's reminded by this of the ever shifting rationales for war from the Bush administration itself? In 2002 it was mostly about WMD. But there was no WMD. So then it became al-Qaeda. But there were no serious al-Qaeda ties. How about liberation? Maybe, except the Iraqis don't seem especially happy with their liberators. Democracy? Stay tuned.

Finally, the last half hour of the film includes a piece of street theater in which Moore accosts congressmen on Capitol Hill and asks if they'll try to get their sons and daughters to enlist in the military. It's a brutally unfair question, but one that echoes a standard debating point of Hitchens and others: "Would you prefer that Saddam Hussein was still in power?" It's a question that's unanswerable in 10 words or less, and about as meaningful as Moore's ambush interviews with congressmen.

So is Fahrenheit 9/11 unfair, full of innuendo and cheap shots, and guilty of specious arguments? Sure. But that just makes it the perfect complement to the arguments of many in the pro-war crowd itself. Perhaps the reason they're so mad is that they see more than a little of themselves in it.

Kevin Drum 1:03 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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