August / September 2004

Caught in the Act of Being Themselves:
Fahrenheit 9/11's images report; We Decide.

There is a good reason that so many right-wingers are outraged and terrified by Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's new documentary about the Bush Administration. Critics such as columnist David Brooks at The New York Times have attacked Moore and called him anti-American, but even that (ridiculous) charge isn't going to make demoralized right-wingers feel much better. People who have seen this movie - and there are a lot of them, leave it feeling transformed, and for the first time in a great while, actually informed.

No amount of spin is going to change that.

Here's why the film is so powerful, and ultimately, so damning. For all of his wicked humor and personal viewpoint (heard in Moore's voice-over), Michael Moore has also learned an important lesson from the classic Allan Funt TV series, Candid Camera. Like that old TV show, Fahrenheit 9/11 generates a full head of steam when it catches people in the act of "being themselves." In this case, those people "being themselves" are simply very powerful individuals, including the President of the United States, the Vice-President, the Defense Secretary, the Attorney General, and so on.

In other words, Michael Moore is a canny enough documentarian to let these Bushies hang themselves. And incredibly, that's what every single one of them does, again and again, for nearly two-hours. This is real footage of these government officials, and some repeatedly say ludicrous, damning, contradictory, and ultimately unsupportable things, leaving the unmistakable impression that Moore has given these guys enough rope to hang themselves with, and - to mix a metaphor, they walked off the plank all by themselves. Presumably, this footage has been around for a long time, but Moore's gift is that he has assembled it in one supremely entertaining and brilliantly scathing package.

For instance, before our very eyes, President Bush claims that the "haves" and the "have mores" form his political "base." I know, because I saw him say it! I didn't just hear the story spun by a partisan slime-slinger. The words came from his lips, and he should be responsible for them. In the Clinton years, weren't the Republicans supposed to be the party of "personal responsibility?" What happened to that?

We also see - incredibly, our "war president," sit frozen in a classroom in Florida for over seven minutes following the attacks on our country on the morning of September 11, 2001. But popular myth making to the contrary, Mr. Bush doesn't leap into action - he freezes like a deer in the headlights. He looks wooden, puppet-like, a political Pinocchio hoping to be a real boy...or in this case, a real President.

Fahrenheit 9/11 has also unearthed footage of Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice asserting most convincingly, in 2001, that Saddam Hussein - weapons of mass destruction and all, is well-contained, and that there is no need to invade Iraq or launch a war against him. In other words, their "flip flop," and our war against Iraq in 2003 is a total pre-text.

Some critics argue that these damning news clips, these moments when the President and his ilk are captured live "in the act of being themselves" - have been altered or otherwise spun by a crafty, sinister Moore. Well, does the President stick by his words and deeds or not? Because even if these comments are not seen within their original context, they still give viewers pause. Ask yourself, for instance, when is it ever appropriate for a United States President - a leader of all the people, to joke about the wealthy people keeping him in power? If this is how Bush truly feels, are we to believe him when he claims his rich-skewing tax cuts also benefit our society's poor? Is poverty just a light-hearted punch-line to this President?

And when is it ever acceptable for a Commander-in-Chief, the leader of our extraordinary military, to blink for seven minutes while our citizenry is under siege? Bush may not like Fahrenheit 9/11, but he has nobody but himself to blame for its incendiary imagery.

So many people on the right, and in the mainstream media too, are attacking Michael Moore these days, but he has only remembered the truism that a picture is worth a thousand words. Those doing the attacking should look inward and ask a more pertinent question. Where did Michael Moore get the ammunition to launch this politically guided missile?

And there is only one answer to that question. The real scandal surrounding Fahrenheit 9/11 involves our leader. It's a an American embarrassment that President Bush is so inarticulate, so blundering, so bumbling that Moore could stitch together a movie out of his gaffes. Michael Moore's great victory is that Fahrenheit 9/11 shows us -- doesn't tell us -- that our Emperor wears no clothes.

And Moore does so with a little help from his friend, Dubya...