Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 is a blistering and scrutinizing condemnation of George W. Bush, and the administration he represents. Moore presents a case with about two or three major threads. He presents his argument on how, through political connections, media connections, and Congressional weakness, Bush was falsely placed at the head of the U.S. government by the Supreme Court, not the voters. He reveals Bush’s faltering record not only as a business man, but also as a politician (pre-September 11th), making an argument that he continues to be this incompetent. The body of the attack in this film is split between the Bush family’s connections to the Saudi royal and Bin Laden families, an unsterilized view of the realities of war both for U.S. soldiers and Iraqis, and the use of America’s poor to fight for the benefit of the richest.
The film covers such a broad range of emotions, that I came out of the theatre unsettled and shaken, but further motivated against Bush. Moore’s sense of humor is consistent with the rest of his films, which usually let the subjects create their own absurdity, but he also tosses in movie clips and funny musical choices to amplify the sometimes astounding events he is describing and showing. This humor is dramatically offset by the revolting and terrible war footage of both Iraqis and U.S. soldiers killing and being killed. This horror is also set against the unbearable anguish of Lila Lipscomb, a mother of two veterans, who lost her son to the war. It was hard not to cry with pain and rage, as others in the theatre were, as her unbearable and unquenchable ache for her son came pouring out on her visit to D.C. In fact, one woman passing by Lipscomb, speaking to a protester outside of the White House actually accused her of being part of a staged event and questioned her about where her son was killed. Nice. Hurrah for another Bush apologist.
Ultimately, Michael Moore is a left-wing political bomb-thrower, but his film Fahrenheit 9/11 makes arguments that are as strong as or stronger than those made by the Bush administration to fund and start a war. If you swallowed the logic of the administration’s chain of facts (which flip-flopped after the attacks on the U.S.), this film is a searing condemnation of that administration and its leader. Even if you ignore the implications of unsavory and wide-spread war-profiteering and outright manipulation of global politics for the gains of businessmen (the Saudis and the Bushes), the demonstration of George W. Bush’s incompetence in the face of, well, presidency and responsibility, is very damning.
This brings me to the thoughts I had during the first half of the film.
Fahrenheit 9/11 gave a strong impression of tit-for-tat. It’s almost a direct response to the technique used by the Bush administration of “Well, if you have A and B, then A and B probably mean C. Therefore…” The viewer is presented juxtapositions that make cases. As many documentarians are accused of doing, Moore generates more questions than answers. He says many bold, accusatory things outright (and rightly so), but he leaves some larger, darker thoughts to the viewer in a manner that screams, “This is the proper conclusion!” I agree with him on most accounts, that something seedy and terrible is going on, but this technique will most likely draw all of the attacks from the Right and those that disagree with Moore.
The first part of the film also made me uncomfortable because it had a whiff of xenophobia. I realize that Moore wasn’t saying, “Look at the Bushes with the evil Arabs.” The Arabs shown are the Saudi royal family, a specific set of Arabs who are responsible for Saudi policy. However, the thought still occurred to me: is it so bad that the highest levels of the U.S. government are friendly with powerful and influential Arabs?
At first, this mingling would seem like a great asset, but it seems to make no difference in the actual settling of conflict in Iraq (for the people and the soldiers, at least). And, as Moore illustrates, it’s more about the upper echelons maintaining their power structure (although he also makes the point that it’s about money, rather than a masterminding of global conspiracies) at the sacrifice of all else. Through the course of the film, that whiff of xenophobia that I got dissipated, but I still wonder about that relationship between families.
This film, even if 50% of it holds, is a glaring contradiction to every edifice that apologists and the Republican party to fortify Bush’s image as a strong and competent leader who makes hard decisions with a near-impugnable patriotism and devotion to the hard-working people of the United States. And, as I firmly believe, it strengthens the argument that a vote for George W. Bush in 2004 is a vote for a holy war waged in the name of incompetence and fear.