Fahrenheit 9/11 reaching the undecided?


From the Publisher/Arnold G. York

We went to see “Fahrenheit 9/11” with some trepidation. We have friends on the left and friends on the right, and you would think they were talking about totally different movies. Although several had not yet seen the movie, they nevertheless had strongly held, unshakeable opinions about it, which says something about the quality of the American political discourse and director Michael Moore’s place in what passes for an examination of American views.

What Karen and I both found was, as the movie unfolded, we both became increasingly uncomfortable. Now, some of you might take exception to my calling it a movie and not a documentary, but the truth is that a Michael Moore documentary is really a fictionalized version of reality in documentary form. It’s no more similar to a documentary than say Oliver Stone’s movie about the JFK assassination. As we talked about it later, we agreed that what made us so uncomfortable was that it was pure propaganda, and we could feel Moore manipulate us with propaganda tricks that haven’t changed since Leni Riefenstahl. It’s not difficult to see. Moore is most definitely not “Mr. Light Touch.” He insists on hitting you on the head with a hammer. And if a 15-pound hammer would be effective, then leave it to Moore to use a 30-pound hammer. Now propaganda has had a long and honorable tradition in the American political history of slamming our presidents, and some American icons like Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln were much more beloved by latter generations than they were by their contemporaries. George W. Bush is no exception to that tradition.

But a strange thing happened as I sat watching Moore attempting to skewer Bush in his “aw shucks” style. What came through this very partisan Michael Moore filter were inklings of Bush’s humanity, which I’m sure is not one of the effects Moore had in mind. Now let me be very clear about my prejudices. I wouldn’t vote for George W. Bush if you put a gun to my head. I personally believe he is a national disaster on a monumental scale. But this portrayal of him as the titular head of the evil empire is a myth. There are parts of his personality that are very likeable. He’s an American Brahmin, raised in privilege, who has had his path smoothed out for him every step of the way. But the truth is that he’s as common as clay, and in some ways that’s endearing. I don’t think it’s an act either. He’s really kind of a simple guy and in his soul is a Texas rancher, and most happy when he’s out there with other ranchers. But if Moore inadvertently shows Bush’s humanity, what he also shows is his stupidity. The sense you get of Bush is a man overwhelmed by events, adrift and uncertain, and in a tempest tossed between great shoals of advisors. Perhaps stupidity is too strong a word. What struck me was that he was sort of an average guy, trying hard to do a good job, surrounded by a core group of advisors who are all brighter, stronger and certainly more experienced than he is. When you look at his inner group-Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and perhaps even Paul Wolfowitz-you can see them manipulating this guy until his head is spinning. I haven’t seen a royal court like this since PBS did the “I Claudius” series. Watching him, Bush’s entire body language speaks “uncertainty,” which means that his advisors must put him through the wringer. No wonder this guy wants to go off and play golf. At least there he probably feels competent.

The problem is that the president of the United States doesn’t have the luxury of being just an ordinary guy. He can pretend to be an ordinary guy and do his best Jimmy Stewart imitation, but under it all he has to be as tough as nails because he’s called on to make some very tough decisions. He’s got to get all sorts of advice, even from people he doesn’t like or agree with because, if he doesn’t, his inner circle will eat him alive. He’s got to read newspapers daily, including the foreign press, and he has to have the patience to listen, which means he has to work very hard and long hours.

If you’ve ever been briefed, or staffed, particularly when you’re on the run, you have to insist that you get the bad stuff with the good stuff or they’ll fill your briefings with nothing but feel good information. That’s the problem with Bush. I don’t believe he ever insists.

Did Moore make his case? Certainly the committed will agree with him. Time and November will tell us if he’s reaching the uncommitted, the uncertain and the truly independent who are yet to decide.