Hyperbole, Conspiracy, and the Best Target a Liberal Could Wish For

Like Bowling for Columbine and even more than Roger and Me, Michael Moore’s latest film is skillfully crafted piece of rhetoric. Facts, speculations, opinions and conspiracy theories are combined to provide what is supposed to be a K.O. indictment of the Bush administration. From the misguided war in Iraq, to the Patriot Act, to incompetence of our current commander and chief, the Bush administration supplies Moore with plenty of ammunition. An effective critique of the president should not require either hyperbole or conspiracy. That Moore relies on such strategies, as he does in his previous films, is therefore a disappointment. The time Fahrenheit 911 spends exposing dubious ties between the Bush and Bin Laden dynasties could have been used to more thoroughly dissect the Patriot Act or examine the administrations stonewalling of the press. The effect of Moore’s overkill is that in searching for a sinister plot he overlooks many of the most relevant and important, though perhaps more banal, transgressions of the administration.

That being said, there was much I liked in the film and I didn’t expect anything else from this filmmaker. Moore is to the left what Rush Limbaugh is to the right: a polemicist entertainer for whom provoking a reaction is of greater importance than giving a coherent, or completely truthful, argument and in this role he’s damn good. A scene in which Bush reads Peter and the Wolf to a group of elementary school kids for several minutes after being told that America is under attack (the truth of this is confirmed by the 9/11 Commission’s report) visually exemplifies the Commander and Chief’s utter incompetence. As he sits there he looks confused and nervous, like a man who is way, way over his head and that is exactly what he is.

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