Thursday, July 01, 2004

The Summer of George
The Onion has a nuanced review of Fahrenheit 9/11 this week--it's distinctly lukewarm, but it acknowledges the film's emotional punch and its likely power as "a historic provocation, one that could popularize truths that have been soft-pedaled by an acquiescent media." And if F9/11 does nothing but open previously closed eyes to the way people have been manipulated by this administration--and how ridiculously hamfisted some of the manipulation has been--you can argue that it will be a plus, regardless of who wins the election in November. Our willingness to "trust our president" (which is the comment that got Britney Spears hissed when I saw the film) has made a lot of things worse in the last three years. Trusting the president is fine--provided there's evidence he's trustworthy. But we need to remember what constitutes trustworthiness and what doesn't.

In the New York Times today, Nicholas Kristoff explores the phenomenon of calling Bush a liar, which is, as he notes, at the heart of F9/11. I suppose whether you buy his argument depends on what your definition of a lie is. For example, MoveOn.Org publishes the "Daily Misleader," which provides a different example of administration deception each day. As Spinsanity noted last winter, equating political spin with lying doesn't make partisan spins into lies. But if your pattern is to spin everything (even to explain away your falling off a bike by claiming it had been raining when it hadn't been raining), sooner or later it makes everything you say seem deceptive. In my view, if your listeners find repeatedly that they can't take your words at face value, your spin is not that far removed from a lie. Kristoff offers Bush and his administration what you might call the Costanza Defense: as George once observed, "It's not a lie if you believe it." Except people didn't buy it on Seinfeld, and it isn't working in real life, either.

Kristoff also observes that many liberals have dropped their preference for nuance and adopted the conservative tactic of shrill polemic. I don't have a problem with that, anymore than I have with anyone else in any other field adopting a practice that's been shown to work. The American people don't do nuance, and for liberals to keep acting like they do is how we got into this mess in the first place. (I will leave the thorny issue of how shouting louder will eventually lead us to a more intelligent politics for a future time.)

The Onion review of F9/11 made me think again of something that occurred to me while watching the film on Tuesday. If Bush wins in November, the power of this film (at least the first half of it) is likely to dissipate like fog at 10:00 in the morning. All the troubling facts and theories surrounding September 11 and the selling of the Iraq war could start to seem as quaint as the speculations surrounding the Kennedy assassination do now. The minutiae of the assassination remains deeply important to a small coterie of people, but for many millions more, it represents little more than an entertaining historical puzzle, and one that doesn't feel as though it means much anymore. If Bush wins, the Bush version of history will triumph. We will have moved on, and that will be that.

Although he praises F9/11 for its entertainment value, blogger Robert Dreyfuss has a problem with the Moore version of history. He slams the movie for missing the point entirely--that Bush isn't driven as much by his family's relationships with Saudi Arabia as he is by the neocon/Christian fundamentalist axis of support for Israel. That's a tougher movie to make--and one even more controversial than F9/11 has been so far.

Baghdad, Washington, or Back to Oconomowoc?: One of the funnier sequences in F9/11 has Moore trying to convince various congressmen to enlist their children in the military to serve in Iraq. Here in Wisconsin, the administration's callup of the Ready Reserve might have an impact on our U.S. Senate race. Republican Tim Michels, a 12-year military vet, is one of the 5,600 who could be called back to active duty. Michels, who is running third in a recent poll (albeit one conducted by the campaign of the "front-runner," car dealer Russ Darrow) expects to find out in the next couple of days whether he's going.

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