by Justine McCabe
Published by The Day
At first glance, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a clever, at times moving indictment of George W. Bush's destructive foreign and domestic policies.
Besides capturing Bush, Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell in acts of misleading their fellow citizens about Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in order to justify a costly and inconclusive preemptive war/occupation, Moore also includes incriminating visuals before 9/11 depicting Bush et al. publicly acknowledging that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the U.S. in terms of WMD.
Moore has so enticed Americans of all stripes to take a look at four years of Bush that who knows what could happen in November? Indeed, whether "9/11" succeeds in its mission to defeat Bush, it may at least inspire enough viewing voters to get us beyond that meager 50 percent of registered voters who turned out for the 2000 election.
Regrettably, however, as the dust of initial fervor for Moore's triumph over an embedded media settles, I find it's what he almost said that lingers.
The prime example is the segment that is the heart of all that follows: the illegitimacy of Bush's presidency. Moore faithfully reminds us that Al Gore won the popular vote and that tens of thousands of Floridians — the majority Democrats, African-American and Hispanic, and presumably mostly Gore supporters — were illegally and deliberately disenfranchised by Florida election officials close to Mr. Bush, including his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush.
Yet, it's the bittersweet conclusion of this segment that leads to viewer letdown: Moore's depressing portrayal of unsuccessful motions by House of Representatives' members of the Congressional Black Caucus to stop the seating of Florida's electors, a last-ditch effort to protest the fraudulent Florida vote. Moore makes no bones about why they failed: Not a single senator was willing to provide the necessary co-signature for a complaint to proceed.
But even being aware of this fact doesn't prepare one for the powerful experience of seeing it: one Congressional Black Caucus member after another — solemnly, plaintively, defiantly — filing to the podium to be rejected, ironically, by the very one who would be president of more than the Senate, Vice President Gore. It was like watching Rosa Parks get hauled off a Montgomery bus by white policemen, or Gandhi's unarmed followers being struck down by Indian police as they quietly approached the Dharasana salt works to protest the British salt tax.
With this, Moore had used film skillfully to evoke justifiable citizen outrage and lead us toward a daunting conclusion.
And then he passed.
Moore could skewer Bush and others, but he left us with the elephant in the living room around which the whole film dances: our undemocratic political system.
Where were those Moore-isms we've come to expect, "Hey Dude, where are all the Democrats when you need 'em?"
Those senators who vie for the black, or Hispanic or labor vote? The same people who scapegoat Nader/the Greens and indignantly reject the "lesser of two evils" mantle?
In fact, where were (then still living) Sen. Paul Wellstone or Sens. Barbara Boxer or Hillary Rodham Clinton or Ted Kennedy? Indeed, where were our own Connecticut senators — Christopher Dodd or the would-be Vice President Joseph Lieberman? Why couldn't just one have stood up to support attempts by these plucky representatives of the disenfranchised to stop Congress from simply rolling over?
With the realization that Moore had failed to place this and other main events of the film in a larger, relevant context, "Fahrenheit 9/11" lost its punch.
Still, for those who were reading between the lines and clips, this dramatic failure also served to illuminate Moore"s passes on other essential facts related to 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq, which, like the failed Black Caucus motion, have been facilitated not just by incompetent/dishonest personalities, but by a system to which Democrats as well as Republicans are handmaidens.
Among the most significant omissions was Moore"s silence on unequivocal U.S. support for a nuclear-powered Israel and its brutal occupation of Palestinian land and lives — probably the single most important source of antipathy toward the U.S. in the Middle East and worldwide. Of course this is not an isolated policy, but part of a comprehensive economic and foreign policy based on war and military hardware since World War II.
So, the "awful truth" is this: the disturbing events of Bush's administration — Constitution-abrogating approval by Congress of broad/unspecified presidential powers to use force in the war on terror, the Patriot Act, the invasion/occupation in Iraq — were all voted on by Democratic leaders who may part company with Republicans on cultural/lifestyle matters, but are joined in captivity to a system of allegiance to corporate lobbies and the unfair election laws that sustain them and what matters: the dominance of moneyed interests over the needs of people.
Instead of colluding with our national denial, Michael Moore could have proclaimed what many Americans know through the grind of their daily lives — the dire need for total electoral reform: publicly-funded elections, Instant Runoff Voting, elimination of the Electoral College, more "third" parties and their inclusion in presidential debates, and proportional representation. This is what democracy would look like.
Alas, he could have used that most powerful American public forum — the movies — to name the real problem.
Justine McCabe, Ph.D, is a former co-chairman for Connecticut's Green Party, and member of the U.S. Green Party's International Committee. A clinical psychologist with research and clinical experience in the Middle East, she lives in New Milford.