Fahrenheit 9/11: A Conservative Critique

I just returned from viewing Fahrenheit 9/11 here in Appleton, WI. I went to the 1:30 PM showing, which was – astonishingly – sold out. The crowd was overwhelmingly white and middle-class (this IS Wisconsin, remember), ranging in age from early teens to retirees. The people were polite, friendly, well-mannered (something we shouldn’t take for granted on the part of contemporary theater crowds). There was tumultuous applause at the end, punctuated by a moment of reflective silence as we read the dedication card invoking those murdered by terrorists on 9/11, and those murdered through state terrorism in the aftermath.

The film itself very much reflects its creator: It’s shaggy, flabby, occasionally witty, and frequently infuriating. It will have a HUGE impact because Moore – his facile leftist economics notwithstanding – has nailed his case against the Bush regime flush to the plank. It will be all but impossible for anybody who sits still and watches this film to view Bush the Lesser as anything other than a petty, spiteful, dim-witted, bloody-handed little fool – and the figurehead of a murderous power elite. This explains why the Bu’ushists are threatening to go Abu Ghraib on Moore: They’re busted.

The most powerful moments in the film are those that humanize U.S. troops, several of whom are shown on-screen criticizing the regime. A major arc of the film is devoted to a Flint, Michigan housewife from a military family whose son, just prior to being killed in Iraq, wrote a letter condemning “George ‘I wanna be like my Daddy’ Bush” for staging this useless, unjust war. Moore himself, who narrates the film (and makes himself too much a part of the story, incidentally) observes that the largest immorality of this entire enterprise is the actions of a dishonest president lying our country into war and forcing decent young men (and women) to do immoral things.

It should be pointed out as well that the film – despite being lambasted as an exercise in unalloyed Bush-bashing – doesn’t spare Democrats who acquiesced in Bush the Lesser’s power grabs and his criminal war against Iraq. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle comes off particularly poorly, which in his case merely requires a recording device of some kind.

An interesting encounter immediately after seeing the film underscores its fundamentally non-partisan nature. Some poor schlep had positioned himself outside the theater with a clipboard soliciting signatures on a nominating position for a would-be Democrat congressional candidate. A couple of people seized the petition and started to sign. Impertinent sort that I am, I asked, “What’s this fellow’s position on the war?”

The scribbling stopped, and several sets of eyes focused intently on the hapless volunteer. “Well, um, ah, he thinks we should do something,” he began, stammeringly. “Ah, he just thinks we should be more careful.” On hearing this, a lady looked at her husband, who had signed the petition, and snapped, “Scratch off your name.” I told the volunteer that I’m what most people would regard as an “ultra-conservative – not just a `conservative’ – but if your guy came out against the war I’d vote for him, and knock on doors.” “Well, I can’t really address all the details of his positions,” the increasingly flustered guy responded. “Just let him know what I said,” I suggested, telling him that there are a lot of people who have the same point of view.

I chatted with several other people as they left the theater, all of them roughly my age (early 40s) and of similar economic and cultural background. Each of them indicated that he or she would urge friends to see the film – which means that it will have “legs” even if the GOP and FEC were to choke off advertising somehow.

There were no screaming Bolsheviks (one viewer had an anti-animal rights T-shirt) or marijuana-scented bohemians in the crowd. This wasn’t the sort of crowd you’d see at a Phish concert, or storming McDonald’s at an anti-WTO rally. There were Wal-Mart customers, people who probably listen to country music (even Toby Keith), and even vote Republican. And they were PISSED – quietly, but palpably. A would-be political prisoner Martha Stewart would say, that’s a good thing. And well overdue.

June 26, 2004