The obfuscations of an ‘infantile leftist’

Reality for Michael Moore is only what his camera can see.

If the media punditry and glitterati are to be believed, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” is the left’s view of the Bush administration. To paraphrase Karl Marx, “If this is leftism, then I’m no leftist.” OK, maybe it was never Moore’s intention to paint such a portrait – whatever “left” looks like today. What is certain – following Marx’s actual allusion – is that the film has nothing in common with how Marxists see the world. And it suffers politically just for that reason.

Reality for Moore is what his camera can see. What is less apparent, specifically structures and the past, is rendered invisible.

Thus, the actions of the Bush administration, rather than the system that produced and stands behind it, are the beginning and end of his polemic. While there are revealing moments in “Fahrenheit 9/11,” they are compromised by Moore’s conspiratorial bent that obscures rather than enlightens.

The ties between the Bush family and the ruling elite of Saudi Arabia are the focus of the first part of the film. The message is that President George W. Bush was unable to effectively respond to the attacks in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, done mainly, and allegedly, by Saudi citizens.

The cozy relationship with the Saudi royal family, and indirectly with the family of Osama bin Laden, put in place by former President George H.W. Bush stayed and/or delayed the hand of the White House.

Had Moore noted, those ties might have even violated Washington’s embargo of Cuba. There’s a brief glimpse of the Saudi ambassador and good friend of Bush II, Prince Bandar, smoking contraband in the White House – Cuba’s world-famous Cohiba cigar.

First, the ties between Riyadh and Washington have a long history. They began with the Democratic Party administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. No Arab regime has been as loyal to U.S. rulers as have the Saudis – long before both Bushs occupied the White House.

Riyadh has provided invaluable service to its allies on the Potomac and Wall Street – at the expense of not only the masses of the Middle East but elsewhere, especially those in OPEC countries. The interests of the Saudi extended family in staying in power, at the expense of those it rules over, converge with Washington’s need to control what is still the world’s leading oil-producing region.

What Moore engages in is gratuitous Saudi-bashing that verges on racism and xenophobia. In a moment reminiscent of Japanese-bashing that was fashionable before the bubble burst in Tokyo in 1991, he notes ominously that the Saudi royal family has close to a trillion dollars of investments in “our country.” His disparagement, later in the film, of the smaller nations in the so-called “coalition of the willing,” is also problematic, given that they continue to be victims of U.S. imperialism.

Rather than educating U.S. audiences about the real reasons for Washington’s bipartisan support of the Saudi regime, Moore reduces it to simply crass economic self-interest of the Bush family. They certainly aren’t above such behavior but neither is most of official Washington.

But it is this tendency, on Moore’s part, to argue that the Bush administration is somehow exceptional to business, literally, as usual in Washington, which is his greatest failing. He betrays – apologies to Lenin – the politics of “infantile leftism” which, in this case, again, begins and ends with the demonization of the Bush administration. His public endorsement of a Democratic Party White House as an alternative – perhaps, for Moore, the lesser of two evils – is no surprise.

George W. Bush is nothing if not the product of the system of capitalist politics. The opening scenes of the film, the most valuable images in my opinion, illustrate this better than anything.

Mostly black members of the House plead unsuccessfully with their Senate colleagues for just one vote to have a debate about the Supreme Court ruling that made him president. Moore is appalled that none come forward. But this is exactly how the elites, many of them slave owners, designed the system to operate in 1787 – to prioritize governance over democracy in order to protect the most privileged layers of U.S. society. Never should it be forgotten that the architects of the Electoral College ever pretended to be real Democrats.

That not only former Vice President Al Gore, who as vice president presided over the session, was unwilling to offer what was essentially a second to a motion but neither were Sen. John Kerry or the most liberal members of the Democratic Party, including the late Democratic Sen. Paul Wellstone, speaks volumes about the system. That the aforementioned House members all obediently returned to the Democratic Party fold after their impassioned pleas went ignored is also telling.

Moore seems to forget that what happened was not new. Richard Nixon also declined in 1960 to contest an election in which there was more than credible evidence that his opponent John Kennedy did not win fairly. Factional party differences were put aside, just like in 2000, to further the ruling- class interests of the contestants. That this came at the expense of electoral democracy was of no importance to them.

Until “leftists” such as Moore come to grips with what really happened in the “fiasco” of 2000 – not only on the Senate floor and in Florida itself, but also with the racist consequences of Clinton’s war on drugs for the electoral process – as opposed to simply mourning or being angry about the outcome, they will continue to miseducate those who think they offer political direction.

Only at the end of the film does Moore make a nod toward history. Following revealing footage about the class and racial bias of U.S. military recruitment, he correctly comments that the underprivileged have always been used as cannon fodder by elites to fight their wars.

But that insight is immediately undermined with the lament, “will they ever trust us again?” after disillusionment with the war in Iraq sets in. Working-class youth who might have until then seen Moore as one of “us,” that is, themselves, are now told that “us” and “them” are actually the same. In other words, he egregiously conflates two United States, those of the ruling rich and those of the working class. Such sleight of hand profoundly misrepresents reality.

Moore’s “leftist” shortcomings aren’t unique. His Bush-Saudi thesis, for example, is just as dangerous as another conspiratorial claim about the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that Moore, fortunately, doesn’t espouse – at least, in his film. Bandied about in left as well as right circles, the insinuation is that the White House fell under the spell of a mainly Jewish “neoconservative cabal.”

Other than Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, respectively deputy secretary and undersecretary for defense, there are no other key Bush administration foreign policy makers who are Jewish. Unless I’m mistaken, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and yes, George W. Bush – contrary to all the inanities about

him being simply a mouthpiece for others – claim no membership in the world Jewry and are not recognized as such.

This charge, with its anti-Semitic tinge, confuses, as is all too often the case, Jewry and Zionism. Because Moore’s film, by the way, is a diatribe against the Bush administration, Washington’s support for Israel and its consequences are ignored, exactly because of the thoroughly bipartisan character of that backing.

Flag-waving and conspiracy-mongering, whatever the plot in vogue, are deadly for working-class politics. They are an obstacle to seeing why the foreign as well as domestic policy of Washington, and not just the Bush administration, will never be in the interest of the majority of humanity as long as a tiny layer of society, the rich, and not the working people, monopolizes political power.

As long as that’s true, it’s not “our country” but “their country,” and, thus, the answer to the title question of Moore’s best-seller, “Dude, Where’s My Country?” Clarity on this crucial issue, which isn’t served by Moore’s patriotic unctuousness, is the beginning of wisdom for working people in the United States having indeed for the first time “their country.”

August H Nimtz, Jr. is a University political science professor. Please send comments to [email protected]