Intellectualism, Populism, and Fahrenheit 9/11
Over the weekend, I saw Fahrenheit 9/11
. I do recommend the film, regardless of your politics. If you already think that George W. Bush is an evil person, you'll probably find more reasons to think so. If your view is more balanced, or if you like Bush, you ought to know what the rank-and-file Bush-haters are thinking, and watching F9/11 is a lot less tedious than listening to John Kerry in any case. (See my disclaimer below.)
One of the primary criticisms of the film is that it plays fast and loose with the facts. I don't think this is a justifiable complaint. What it does
do is play fast and loose with the implications. I haven't heard anyone suggest that Michael Moore fabricated the photographs of children flying kites in the streets of Baghdad
, but obviously the notion that there was nothing at all wrong in Iraq is ludicrous.
So why does Moore do this? Not because he's stupid. And while it's true that he has nothing but open contempt for Bush and his administration, I don't think it's as simple as wanting to make him look as bad as possible (though certainly Moore will cry no tears over that result). In the particular case of the children with kites, the point is that life in Iraq before the war, for your average Iraqi on your average day, was not unceasing misery and oppression. It wasn't a nationwide concentration camp. It wasn't even North Korea
. Shots of weddings and happy kids (and puppies and kittens, too, if he could have gotten them) make this point very effectively.
So Michael Moore airs misleading footage to make his point. I think that anyone with a conscience, whether they agree with Moore's politics
or not, ought to be at least troubled by this. I certainly am. But I think that I would be more disturbed if the point weren't even being made -- if there was no one out there who was showing us Bush's inaugural limousine being egged, or angry returning veterans, or incidents of happiness in Baghdad before the war. Moore criticizes the American media in F9/11 for falling down on the job, and this criticism is a fully justified one.
I wish we lived in a better world with a higher standard of discourse. But the American left would be fools to not engage the public using the same means that the right, via Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, et al have been using for over a decade. When you're in an arms race, you have three choices. You can keep up, you can engage in diplomacy to reduce the mutual threat, or you can refuse to play the game, in which case you become a footnote to history, albeit a principled one.
Most people are not political. They may get out and vote, but they don't breathlessly follow the minutiae of issues, and often they don't have a well-defined political philosophy. In particular, they're inevitably not going to have the same fascination with intellectual policy statements as the wonks who created them. The approach that's by and large going to be more effective with most of the electorate is, instead, a populist one, one that speaks directly and without subtlety to the concerns of ordinary people. I don't, incidentally, mean just "the proletariat"
; there are a lot of apolitical doctors and engineers and teachers out there too, and arguments that are populist in their method will be more effective with them as well.
The question, of course, is whether the end of engaging the American people justifes the means of demagoguery. I think that it does not, but unless everyone can sit down and agree to be civilized again, we'll have to learn to live with it.
Disclaimer: I don't know anyone personally who actually likes Bush. Andrew Sullivan
calls Bush Republicanism "the social policy of the religious right... the fiscal policy of the Keynesian left... and the foreign policy of liberal moralism." Given that, it doesn't surprise me I don't know anyone personally who doesn't like him -- I don't know anyone at all who thinks that all three of those are good things.
Here's an interesting thought -- is the potential for public shame and embarrassment enough to make me actually stick to a diet?
Well, clearly, there's only one way to answer this.
As of this morning, I weighed X pounds. For the benefit of those who don't know me personally, I'm fat. You don't need to know how fat.
In three months, on the morning of October 1, I will weigh no more than X - 15 pounds.
This is modest, of course, but if I tried something grand and failed, it would be, well, embarrassing. Barring a major life catastrophe, 15 pounds in three months is eminently achievable.
I'm not going to talk about this much between now and then; don't worry about anything awful like daily or even weekly updates. But know, every time you check in, that I'm probably kind of hungry. :-)