Looking like the nation's homeliest eagle scout, John Kerry snapped off a salute and announced to his convention, "Reporting for duty." George W. Bush had already embraced "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier flight deck in his après-combat flight suit. With each of these two nimrods trying to convince me of their warrior stones, I say, "Make mine a double."
The president and his principal challenger conclude their debates here in Tempe, Arizona, on October 13 amidst a new world order of ballot boxes, beheadings and suicide bombers. The afternoon of the debate, Michael Moore also appears here at the Celebrity Theatre to whip up anti-Bush sentiment. Everyone from big arena rockers to local artists is up off their ass and stirring the pot.
But not me.
Every four years I endure a presidential campaign that leaves me estranged, feeling like an illegal, a mojado, in my own country. The choleric isolation is worse this year because of the choices and the consequences. Here stands the morbidly irresolute John Kerry. And over there is George W. Bush in all his bantam banality. In the corner wetting himself is the ascetic conspiratard, Ralph Nader.
These are not my countrymen.
When asked who I will vote for, I shake my head in disgust and reply, "Yo soy Mexicano."
Friends and colleagues expect me to vote for John Kerry. But they misjudge me. Kerry does not deserve to be president. In the weeks leading up to the first debate, he could not protect his own combat medals and Purple Hearts from the pranks of a draft-dodging college cheerleader and his allies on the Swift Boat controversy. How the hell will Kerry protect Americans from the razored tactics of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?
I do not feel that Kerry or Bush is competent to lead us through a religious war waged by terrorists.
With nearly 3,000 Americans dead in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., I wanted Osama bin Laden's blood. With another 1,000 soldiers fallen in Iraq -- and the inevitable pictures of slaughtered innocent civilians -- I also longed for a vigorous, honest examination of how we got here. Instead, the president fought the 9/11 Commission tooth and claw. His opponent is no better. As a jibe, flip-flopping hardly captured the number of stiff-limbed sentiments Kerry expressed on Iraq. Kerry adopted so many positions on the war that when viewed side by side, the sheer number of clumsy policies gave one the same queasy feeling as looking at a photograph of Mia Farrow and her brood of Third World kids.
And in some ways we got the leadership we deserved. There is a willful ignorance amongst voters that is staggering in scope. In mid-September a poll found that 42 percent of Americans still believe, despite all of the contrary evidence, that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11 attacks.
Those too lazy or dull-witted to stay abreast of the news are abetted by a popular culture that feeds prejudices instead of curiosity. And despite Fox news and the handful of conservative tub-thumpers like Ann Coulter, the overwhelming tidal surge of performance is anti-Bush.
The president has motivated more than 100 authors to finish books about him; his father inspired roughly half a dozen. The current work ranges from Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term to the disturbing Checkpoint, in which the popular Nicholson Baker conjures up an unhinged but recognizable leftist bent on assassinating Bush.
Remarkably, there are four anti-Bush movies currently playing: Fahrenheit 9/11, Silver City, The Day After Tomorrow and The Manchurian Candidate. Kerry also has a biopic in play: Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry.
These are not subtle undertakings. When Scott Rudin and Daniel Pyne came on board The Manchurian Candidate as producers, the movie's villains were terrorists. Apparently bigger villains were needed.
"When I got involved, it wasn't about businesses -- Halliburton and Bechtel," said Rudin in an interview. "But Dan and Tina [Sinatra] and I had to face the fact that we had to make a post-9/11 movie."
In other words, get rid of the al-Qaeda terrorists and substitute American businessmen as the bad guys.
While the sheer number of anti-Bush movies playing at the same time is unprecedented, cinema is far from the only cultural response to challenge the president. At times it feels as if America's entire creative community is on the road performing; all, apparently, are solidly anti-Bush.
Cabarets and clubs are featuring anti-Bush comedy tours. Large arenas are booking everything from dinosaur rock to hip-hop devoted to toppling the president. This entertainment Zeitgeist has moved beyond the demonization of Bush and onto the belittling of anyone who is a Republican. The GOP convention in New York provoked an unprecedented outpouring of smug sneering relentlessly directed at the delegates. One writer, Thomas Frank, was so confounded in his animus that he devoted an entire book, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, trying to parse how it was possible that anyone, particularly Midwesterners, could vote for Bush.
Sam Shepard rushed his latest play onto the New York stage to première in time to, hopefully, influence the election by performing "a takeoff on Republican fascism."
With the entire cultural machine in lockstep, is it any wonder that the pursuit of truth through art has been replaced by propaganda?
No one rang the bell on that account like Michael Moore, who will speak in Phoenix the afternoon of the presidential debate.
Millions flocked to and cheered the loathsome Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. A propaganda movie as distorted as any of Leni Riefenstahl's odes to Adolf Hitler, the film reinvented the war in Iraq and spared liberals any troubling questions.
Nowhere in Moore's reptilian work does he address the horrific genocide Saddam Hussein inflicted upon his people.
How is it possible to make a "documentary" about Iraq and not mention the hundreds of thousands of "disappeareds" or the nearly 300 mass graves?
I want to ask all those people I witnessed cheering in the several screenings of Fahrenheit 9/11 that I attended, I want to ask all of my acquaintances who assume so smugly that I and they must vote for Kerry: What if the war in Iraq is correct, unintentionally, the same way that WWII was correct, unintentionally, because both put an end to an unconscionable level of genocide?
A perfect storm of biased cultural critique, joined with a refusal to confront the moral implications of Hussein's genocide, festers in the halls of higher education at Arizona State, the university hosting the presidential debate.
Assistant professor John Jota Leaños coached his students at ASU into an overwhelming demonstration against the war in Iraq and against President Bush. As part of the first component of this class in Chicana and Chicano Studies, the teacher assigned a reading list about the war.
"We needed to inform ourselves about Iraq," explained a student.
Once they were thoroughly grounded in their reading, the students were required to make protest posters in the rich tradition of Mexican artists. The students chose overwhelmingly to voice their opposition to Bush and the war.
The artwork hung on building walls in downtown Phoenix as part of the First Friday celebration on October 1, less than two weeks before Kerry and Bush were to conclude the debates in Tempe.
I first learned of this activism from a student who occasionally baby-sits my kids. She claimed professor Leaños steered the class to manufacture anti-war, anti-Bush art, and she felt extremely uncomfortable having a political position forced down her throat.
The studious and demure Leaños (whose card reads, "artist, cultural worker, assistant professor") is contemptuous of the campus, and First Friday, too, because he does not see enough stridency in either setting.
He noted that ASU is often identified as one of America's top party schools by Playboy and other publications. But he said he was astounded when Mother Jones recently labeled the university one of the top 10 activist campuses in the nation, one step in front of Berkeley.
"Maybe they count right-wing activism," joked Leaños, passing along the observation of a friend whose sentiments obviously matched Leaños' that only one sort of political thought counts as thinking.
The professor works diligently to correct these shortcomings. At the end of the day, on September 23, I met with the instructor and three of his students, Joaquin Lopez, 24; Violeta Tamayo, 25; and Moshe Novakoff, 24.
I wanted to see what all of them thought about Hussein's genocide and Bush's preemptive war.
The professor began our conversation, however, by attacking New Times for its coverage of "Democracy in America," the exhibition of art with a political theme timed to coincide with the debate and the election.
In a recent two-part series, New Times staff writer Joe Watson documented the remarkable pressure brought to bear upon this exhibition at ASU's art museum. When it became obvious that the current art was overwhelmingly anti-Bush, school administrators, who were contractually obligated by the debate guidelines to remain neutral on the candidates, turned the screws in favor of a more balanced collection.
Are we supposed to believe that the armed forces of America have toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan, invaded Iraq, run a genocidal dictator into a spider hole and suggested democracy for the Middle East, and yet if a quota for anti-Kerry art is not fulfilled, a presidential debate would be canceled?
It would appear that college administrators have lost sight of where artists fit in the world.
At first, the art museum's director, Marilyn Zeitlin, promised that there would be no censorship. She said that no art already selected, despite its anti-Bush slant, would be removed. Instead, she claimed she would scour the nation for anti-Kerry art.
Having unearthed six months' worth of e-mails and correspondence with the legal leverage of a FOIA demand, New Times' Watson made it clear the sort of pressure Zeitlin faced.
"There is no exhibit at this stage," warned Stacey Shaw, Director of Communication, Herberger College of Fine Arts. She concluded, with a sort of Soviet insouciance, "If the show isn't balanced, 'Democracy in America' will not happen."
Leaños felt New Times should not have exposed the administration's heavy-handed attempts to dictate the contents of an art exhibition. He argued that the story should have been suppressed and the controversy ignored until the show was finally mounted. He felt the story egged on administrators to push even harder for fair and balanced.
Rather than stand up to the censoring instinct of Crow and his cohorts, Zeitlin caved and dictated a list of anti-Bush art that had to be removed from the show.
If Professor Leaños did not approve of New Times as reading material, what did he propose that his students examine as they studied Iraq?
The New York Times and the Washington Post were identified by the instructor as "corporate media," or bad guys.
It mattered little that the Times has been so abrasively anti-Bush that the president mocked it in his acceptance speech at the Republican convention; for Professor Leaños and his students, the Times was part of the problem.
His students, admirably, contended that they simply could not find enough content about Iraq in America's two renowned dailies.
So what did the professor steer them to as an antidote?
The reading list assembled by the professor is a mother lode of leftist resistance literature.
Picking up a book from the professor's list, I saw the word "Genocide" in the title and thought, well, at least the students have been exposed to the horrors of Hussein.
But I was mistaken. The collection of articles in the tome refers to the behavior of the United States. Typical is the piece "Fire and Ice," contributed by the book's editor, Ramsey Clark.
Clark, who served as Lyndon Johnson's attorney general, left the federal government and made the unique career decision to build a law practice representing terrorists. In his essay, which covers the run up to the first Gulf War and its aftermath, Clark maintains that Kuwait, like many a rape victim, was asking for it; that Kuwait, in fact, provoked the invasion by Iraq.
Not that Clark's position on Kuwait should have surprised anyone; after all, this is the same man who dismissed Hussein's earlier genocide against the Kurds in the north of Iraq.
Despite graphic photographs of Kurdish villagers who were gassed by Hussein, countless reports by the United Nations and virtually every human rights group in the world, Clark writes: "A major part of the demonization of Saddam Hussein has been based on the false portrayal of Iraqi government policy toward the Kurd."
In a taped address in the late '80s to Baathist supporters of Hussein, General Ali Hassan al-Majid offered an insight on government policy toward the Kurds.
"I will kill them all with chemical weapons," said the military leader dubbed "Chemical Ali." Although he exterminated thousands of Kurds, the general appeared not at all concerned with world opinion: "Who is going to say anything? The international community? Fuck them. The international community and those who listen to them."
Human rights groups counted more than 100,000 Kurds slaughtered by Hussein.
As a result of his reading in this class, Joaquin Lopez said his eyes were opened.
"Before this class, I wasn't concerned about political views or the war in Iraq. If I don't think about it, maybe it's not there," said Lopez. "But I have discovered the power of art. How would I feel if someone came and bombed my neighborhood? The class made me think critically about war. Why are people dying? Why are we forcing our views? I feel like I'm really against the war."
Moshe Novakoff is outraged by what he has read for the class.
"Everyone in class realizes it's a complete degradation of morality," said Novakoff, who feels that their art represents a shot at having a voice.
Violeta Tamayo does not think of herself as an artist, but does feel well-informed. For her, the class was a revelation.
"This is unlike any other art class I've been exposed to. Art and politics, they should be synonymous," said Tamayo.
The students said that their alternative reading gave them a perspective lacking in the corporate Times and Post. They pointed out that the man identified as a radical Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, led an army not because he was an insurgent but because his newspaper was shut down by the army.
My head was spinning slightly. New Times should muzzle itself when discussing art censorship, yes. Armed insurrection is the logical response to press censorship in Iraq, yes indeed.
The students' heads were spinning, too, with the inherent drama of . . . making pictures.
"It's daring," said Novakoff. "Because of the times, I know you can't speak your mind. The FBI will investigate you if you say something anti-Bush. . . . Not having access to media outlets, not having a loud microphone to speak out. . . . Most art comes out of desperate situations."
Asked about Bush's attempt to introduce democracy into Islamic countries, the students were skeptical.
"You can't hide that hospitals and schools were bombed," said Novakoff before adding, "Is it really about democracy? How many countries are democratic? . . . Once you understand our safety is not threatened, now it's a matter of supposed good faith."
"Why didn't the U.S. help Tibet against China?" asked Tamayo, to underscore the selectivity of Bush's democratic impulse.
"I don't know," she concluded. "If they liked Saddam, it's none of our business."
It is a curious exercise in reading and learning that leaves a student under the impression that Saddam Hussein was a popular figure.
The students raised the genocide in the Sudan as something the American government ought to address.
It seemed like a good moment to discuss the genocide in Iraq. But it turned out that this topic was not covered in their alternative reading list. If it was discussed at all in class, these particular students missed it.
In any case, Tamayo dismissed the killing.
"That's a wasp way of thinking," said Tamayo. "If this happened in Canada, we wouldn't intervene. [The Iraqis] are not like us."
She maintained that we felt we knew better than the Iraqis what was best for them because they are not white and therefore need our help.
As an example of how he proposed to confront the evil of genocide, Professor Leaños suggested that if one left things alone, things would work out. As an example, he offered Spain's Franco, who, once his dictatorship was over, was replaced by enlightenment.
It is not surprising that Saddam Hussein's killing fields are not on the radar screens of the anti-war activists at ASU. The genocide in Iraq has been nearly invisible on the campaign trail and in the press.
One study found that in a 10-week period earlier this year, the New York Times mentioned weapons of mass destruction 191 times and mass graves just six.
"By conservative estimates, at least 290,000 people are missing in Iraq, and the answer to their whereabouts likely lies in these graves," according to Peter Boukaert, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.
The difference between a repugnant dictatorship like Franco's and a genocidal regime like Hussein's begs the question of intervention.
Can you simply wait out genocide as Professor Leaños suggests?
Can you negotiate with genocidal regimes?
A man who grapples with these issues instead of ignoring them was pessimistic about good intentions and benign neglect.
"Diplomatic intervention is not particularly successful," observed Joe Stork, HRW's Washington director for the Middle East. "I'm having a hard time thinking of a single place where diplomatic intervention was successful. You always need troops."
Stork admits that the figure of 290,000 victims is a conservative, prewar estimate that has not been updated by HRW.
"It's possible that the actual number is closer to 400,000, yes," said Stork.
In fact, the United States Agency for International Development identified 270 mass graves. Working with forensic teams form Denmark, Finland, Germany and Sweden, USAID also suggested 400,000 casualties. No one knows precisely.
What is known is that whatever the number is, the genocide in Iraq was one of the worst in the 20th century, with a death count far surpassing anything seen in the Sudan or Bosnia.
Stork explained the difficulty of raising the Iraqi genocide as a topic at the United Nations and as a point of international concern.
"We have been absolutely frustrated," said Stork. "Iraq in the '80s was a beautiful case, a case where diplomatic intervention should have occurred. There wasn't a peep from the international community. In the '90s, Richard Butler, the weapons inspector, was repeatedly invited to speak at the U.N. For years, we and Amnesty International argued for human rights inspectors on the ground in Iraq."
Stork's efforts were ignored by the U.N. He was informed that Iraq did not welcome human rights inspectors, as if weapons inspectors were embraced by Hussein.
"The member states, and particularly the Security Council, are reluctant to confront genocide," observed Stork.
Stork's list is too short. Who in the world chooses to confront the killing?
Neither party made an issue out of genocide at its convention.
And those critical of Bush refuse to acknowledge that the overthrow of Hussein stopped the genocide.
There is something so insistently out of place with Democrats, moderates, liberals -- bleeding hearts all -- and their refusal to confront Hussein's genocide that I cannot help but wonder if Islamic bloodshed, like Rwandan, is simply too foreign to elicit sympathy.
Hollywood, which pumps out a steady stream of product on the Jewish Holocaust, is oblivious to the genocide in Iraq.
When genocide in Iraq is mentioned in liberal circles, it is an accusation directed at the American government over the notorious Oil for Food embargo. Ramsey Clark and a long list of muddled thinkers were positively apoplectic at the embargo, which, frankly, was a diplomatic effort to confront Hussein, who, at that point, had not only engaged in genocide but had cost nearly a million lives in his ruinous war with Iran and hundreds of thousands more with his invasion of Kuwait. While Oil for Food was permeated with corruption, and Hussein siphoned off billions of dollars to construct palaces, critics reserved their scorn for the very idea of the embargo. With both a diplomatic embargo and force of arms drawing vehement criticism, one was left with the burning of holy candles as the only risk-free way of confronting evil.
Peewees like Dennis Kucinich, who occupied center stage at the Democratic convention, had nothing to say about the extermination of the Iraqi people. In fact, with nearly 3,000 Americans murdered by terrorists, the selection of a pacifist Smurf like Kucinich to address the convention is simply staggering.
Last year, in a little-remarked-upon speech, Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and concentration-camp survivor, defended the invasion of Iraq and specifically the removal of Hussein. He chided European leadership, noting that if it had spent as much time going after Hussein as it did attacking President Bush, the world would have been a safer place.
"Saddam Hussein had to be disarmed, and there was no other means," said Wiesel. "You can accuse me of being naive, but I think, in all conscience, that this was necessary."
Wiesel's final words should be distributed with the popcorn at all screenings of Moore's dishonest Fahrenheit 9/11: "I am not against paradoxes. I take them on, as someone who opposes war, who has seen war and who hates war."
I'll tell you why I am no longer surprised that Democrats, who instinctively cede themselves the high moral ground, do not feel compelled to consider the humanity of Iraq's victims.
Just look at how Democrats talk about Republicans. There is a smugness, a dismissiveness borne of the conviction that Republicans are a lower, less moral human species.
The media and American conversation were filled with this condescension during the Republican convention.
Consider the New Yorker magazine and cult cartoonist Art Spiegelman. Between 1980 and 1991, Spiegelman published the inspired comic strip "Maus" in Raw magazine. He examined the Nazis before, during and after the Holocaust, portraying the Germans as cats, the Jews as mice and the Poles as pigs.
The Holocaust Spiegelman gets; it's the GOP that baffles him. In fact, he can't stand these people. He doesn't know them; hell, he can't even talk to them. But he knows what he hates.
In two full-color pages in the September 20 edition of the New Yorker, he savages them.
The opening panel shows Spiegelman, naturally, and he is speaking: "As a denizen of lower Manhattan's dark blue zone, I don't actually know any Republicans . . . so I figured I oughta meet and greet some when they invaded my city for their convention."
After several panels, the conventioneers develop green skin.
"At first the Republicans actually looked human . . . sorta," notes the cartoonist. "But they quickly morphed into cold-blooded reptiles."
By the end of the cartoon, all of the Republicans are drawn as T-rexes. Befuddled, yet still angry, Spiegelman writes: "I know this is crazy -- I was there as a journalist -- but I couldn't bear talking to most of the delegates."
At the end of last week, Fahrenheit 9/11 had ticket sales of more than $118 million. At roughly $7 per ticket, approximately 17 million people have watched the movie.
Unlike Jon Stewart's spoof of the news, The Daily Show, Moore's film is taken as documentary proof of wrongdoing by President Bush.
I gave up counting long ago the number of journalists, lawyers, doctors and Indian chiefs who've told me the proof of Bush's guilt unfolded in this movie.
Here is what you need to know before you watch Fahrenheit 9/11. Michael Moore repeatedly claims -- though, clearly, not in the movie -- that there is no terrorist threat. He has also suggested in writing that members of the Saudi Arabian air force, not terrorists, actually piloted the planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that patch of dirt in Pennsylvania.
"Who attacked the United States on September 11 -- a guy on dialysis from a cave in Afghanistan, or your friends, Saudi Arabia?" Moore asks Bush in Dude, Where's My Country? "You do not get this skilled at learning how to fly jumbo jets by being taught on a video game machine at some dip-shit flight training school in Arizona. You learn to do this in the air force. Someone's air force. The Saudi air force? What if these weren't wacko terrorists, but military pilots who signed on to a suicide mission? What if they were doing this at the behest of either the Saudi government or certain disgruntled members of the Saudi royal family?"
In contrast to the 17 million folks bamboozled by Moore's informative documentary, a mere 780,000 people bought copies of the 9/11 Commission report at a bookstore or online.
The exhaustively researched and scrupulously footnoted commission report is no dull tome. It reads like a noir thriller. And yet people have attended, and believed, Moore's paranoid fantasy at a rate of 20 to 1 compared to the book.
With a worldwide threat to our security that has already claimed thousands of American lives and facing a presidential vote, we prefer the ravings of fat fanatic to reality.
Bartender, another round for the house.
I met Michael Moore in 1980 when he stopped at the alternative press convention en route to his new job as editor of Mother Jones. He had yet to make a movie. But he was the same sleazy, self-absorbed liar that he is today.
He attacked the editors and publishers present for daring to publish Best Of guides to their cities. Moore considered Best Of issues a sellout. This is, of course, typical leftist dogma that goes something like this: Best Of issues are a wet kiss to businesses and advertisers when what you should be doing is showing how THE MAN is keeping poor people down.
The fact is that Best Of guides, when executed with integrity, act as a practical guide to a bewildering urban landscape. Yes, you identify your favorite Mexican food joint, and the owner of that establishment feels kindly toward the newspaper. Certainly. But the other 200 restaurants that sell burritos and that didn't get selected bear a grudge. And no matter what advertisers might think, it is the single most popular issue of the year with readers and represents less a sellout than a break from the other 51 issues of doom and gloom.
But Moore's simple-minded, clenched-fist rhetoric isn't what bothered me.
This clown had just folded his newspaper in Flint, Michigan. All of his writers, editors, salespeople, circulation staff and business support were left to fend for themselves without so much as a severance package to see them through while he dashed off to the job at Mother Jones in San Francisco (Mother Jones would show him the door before his cup of coffee had a chance to cool). Perhaps if he'd paid attention to the needs of his staff, took care of business and published the occasional Best Of, his paper would still be alive.
Instead, he begged money off liberals. He had musicians like Harry Chapin do fund-raising concerts. The problem was, his rag was never good enough journalistically to sustain the charity.
When he wore out his welcome in publishing, he turned to movies and proved himself a natural.
Every single fact that I state in Fahrenheit 9/11 is the absolute and irrefutable truth," claims Moore. "Do not let anyone say this or that isn't true. If they say that, they are lying."
In fact, Moore's movie begins with a forgery that would shame even Dan Rather. The film is so filled with lies, distortions and half-truths that sorting out the truth is a cottage industry on the Web.
At the start of the movie, Moore trots out the conspiracy theory that Bush stole the election in Florida. Never mind that a six-month-long probe by a consortium of media that included the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN contradict Moore.
As the film opens, a newspaper from Bloomington, Illinois, the Pantagraph, is flashed on the screen. Dated December 19, 2000, the headline over the story reads: "Latest Florida Recount Shows Gore Won Election."
But there was no such story in the Pantagraph on December 19. There was no such story ever in the Pantagraph.
On December 5, there was a letter from a reader alleging that Gore won, and that letter had a headline, "Latest Florida Recount Shows Gore Won Election."
So Moore cut and pasted a headline on a letter to the editor. He blew up the letter's headline, then ran that headline under the newspaper's logo to make it appear as if it were the headline on a news story.
At least Dan Rather was duped by forged documents; he didn't create forged documents.
Moore's distortions are more clever than his lies.
Bush is infamously captured at a dinner of elegant swells telling the obviously idle rich, "I call you the haves and the have-mores. Some call you the elite; I call you my base."
One cannot help but think of Bush, what a smug puissant.
But this is just Moore's class warfare meant to seduce an audience whose members suspect that they have not been invited to the country club.
The film footage is, in fact, from a charity dinner with a tradition of having speakers mock themselves and the audience. Rather than breaking bread with robber barons, Bush was helping to raise more than a million dollars for the medically indigent. Al Gore attended the same dinner on October 19, 2000, and he also lampooned himself: "The Al Smith Dinner represents a hallowed and important tradition, which I actually did invent."
Instead of actually looking at the president's foolish tax policies, which purport to create jobs by giving refunds to the rich, Moore prefers to fuel the fantasies of the bobbleheads who thrill to his documentaries.
I think playing to the prejudices of boobs coarsens the discussion.
Arizona author David Hardy is a Tucson attorney who spent a decade with the Department of the Interior, all the time longing to leave Washington, D.C., and return to desert sunsets. His work Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man challenges the lies and distortions of Moore's movies and books.
Hardy's book was published before Fahrenheit 9/11, but the author believes he recognizes Moore's core audience.
"Moore is maybe the most brilliant propagandist ever," said Hardy. "But the movie [only] energizes those tending to vote Democratic. I think everybody likes to hear confirmed what they believe."
Hardy was on both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal best-seller lists. At one point, he was getting 40 e-mails and letters a day.
"Moore's fans are vitriolic," said the soft-spoken attorney.
"I managed to find one of your books at a local bookstore and I destroyed it, tore pages out, stuck gum between the pages. . . . I will stop by other local bookstores and destroy those books, as well," one Moore backer wrote to Hardy.
A self-described white, middle-class lawyer from England who moved to New Zealand went on at great length: "Ever wonder why more people hate Americans [more] than any other race on earth? . . . I would never raise a child in America. I would never marry an American. . . . I am so glad I wasn't born an American."
A running theme that occupies the conspiracy-minded devotees of Moore involves energy and corporation.
"Do you really think that you and the rest of your corporate media, Chickenhawk friends can ignore the will of the people?" asked one Moore believer.
In Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore feeds those obsessed with energy and corporations by lying not only about the bin Laden family's evacuation from America but also about a fictitious energy pipeline in Afghanistan.
The movie points out that 142 residents of oil-rich Saudi Arabia, including 24 members of the bin Laden clan, fled America after the terrorist attack out of fear that they would be scapegoated because of the perception that Arabs look alike.
Frankly, it was not an unreasonable fear. Here in the Valley of the Sun, a turbaned Sikh with no Arab blood was murdered because he looked like he was from the Middle East.
Moore gives viewers the impression that the Saudis were given permission by the White House to fly when all planes were grounded and that because of Bush's connections to the House of Saud, the bin Ladens fled without being interrogated by the FBI.
Wrong. The 9/11 Commission examined these allegations in detail. It found no evidence that the Saudis took off while other planes were grounded and no evidence of political intervention. The FBI picked out those it wanted to interview, and that included virtually every single relative of bin Laden's. They found no one with any connection to the attack and no one with any recent connection to Osama.
Moore, who opposed American intervention in Bosnia to stop the genocide perpetrated against Muslims, also attacked Bush's invasion of Afghanistan in Fahrenheit 9/11 as motivated by corporate energy concerns.
Where and when would Moore sanction the use of American troops? Like the Virgin birth, it is a mystery.
In the movie, he notes that Taliban representatives visited Texas in 1997 while Bush was governor. Get it? The Taliban sought to complete a natural-gas pipeline project with Unocal.
But Bush never met with the Taliban. The Unocal pipeline was pushed by President Bill Clinton. Within one year, the Taliban government had gone off the deep end, and, by 1998, Unocal had dropped its proposal -- three years before America led the overthrow of the Taliban.
Well, when you first begin to get the drift of what a pathological liar Moore is, you begin to respect his devious genius for manipulation. There are now Web sites, such as the precisely documented work of David Kopel -- who lists nearly 60 examples of deceit in Fahrenheit 9/11 -- as well as books that deconstruct the entire Moore oeuvre.
But in the end, once you accept the fact that Moore's a fat, lying Pinocchio, what's the point? The takeaway realization is that, for approximately 17 million moviegoers, this is precisely the brain vomit that defines their America.
Although no weapons of mass destruction were found after the invasion of Iraq, it is naive to think that Hussein would not have resumed those programs once the Untied Nations relaxed controls.
And even without the WMDs, Iraq presented plenty of reasons to remove Hussein. His relationship with terrorists and his hatred of America, while not as complex as Afghanistan's under the Taliban, was clearly a matter of enormous concern.
Under his direction, the country became a safe haven for terrorists like: Abu Abbas, the leader of the hijackers who took over the cruise ship Achille Lauro and killed the elderly American Leon Klinghoffer; Abu Nidal; the 1993 World Trade Center bomb-maker, Rahmin Yasin; and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian who is leading the insurgents in Iraq today.
Furthermore, Laurie Mylroie, Bill Clinton's '92 campaign adviser on Iraq, maintained in her book The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks: A Study of Revenge that the mastermind of the first bombing, Ramzi Yousef, was working for Iraqi intelligence.
In the same year that terrorists first bombed the World Trade Center, 1993, Hussein ordered his police to murder the first President Bush during a visit to Kuwait City.
In 1997, the official paper of the Hussein regime, under the direction of his son Uday, wrote: "American and British interests, embassies and naval ships in the Arab region should be the targets of military operations and commando attacks by Arab political forces."
On November 25, 2000, Hussein broadcast a speech warning, "The Arab people have not so far fulfilled their duties. They are called upon to target U.S. and Zionist interests everywhere and target those who protect these interests."
Under these circumstances, it is foolish to believe that Hussein would not have worked with al-Qaeda given half a chance. In fact, there is reason to believe that in some instances this was already under way.
In conservative Stephen F. Hayes' book The Connection: How al-Qaeda's Collaboration With Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America, the author presents alarming data. In the last chapter he writes, "Iraqi intelligence documents from 1992 list Osama bin Laden as an Iraqi intelligence asset. . . . An Iraqi working closely with the Iraqi embassy in Kuala Lumpur was photographed with September 11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar en route to a planning meeting for the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and the September 11 attacks in 2000. Satellite photographs showed al-Qaeda members in 2001 traveling en masse to a compound in northern Iraq financed, in part, by the Iraqi regime."
And while the 9/11 Commission did not establish a concrete working relationship between al-Qaeda and Iraq, the record is far from innocent. The commission cites a 1998 indictment of bin Laden by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. That indictment said al-Qaeda "reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al-Qaeda would not work against the government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al-Qaeda would work cooperatively with the government of Iraq."
There were numerous reasons to remove the ongoing threat that Saddam Hussein posed.
But President Bush turned victory into disaster, lied to the American people, refused to change tactics, and expects us to ignore what we watch nightly on the news.
The reconstruction of Iraq never occurred. Even with a no-bid contract, Halliburton got nowhere. The chaos is so overwhelming, the breakdown in services so severe, that fellow Republicans on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel and John McCain -- have attacked the folly.
We are not witnessing "hard work," we are witnessing hardheadedness, and it has led to failure.
No one knows or cares that the genocide is over because this administration ignored that issue and failed to articulate a humanitarian vision.
This week, a personal e-mail from a Wall Street Journal correspondent stationed in Baghdad underscored how badly President Bush performed while introducing democracy to Islamic countries.
In a two-and-a-half-page e-mail, Farnaz Fassihi described in stark personal terms the reign of violence that has overtaken Iraq. Her note fueled online discussions, sparked a story in the Los Angeles Times and was cited by former 60 Minutes producer Don Hewitt.
"For those of us on the ground," she wrote, "it's hard to imagine what if anything could salvage [Iraq] from its violent downward spiral."
She described the fighting as a "raging barbaric guerrilla war."
While none of Fassihi's insights are particularly new, the Hartford Courant interviewed other journalists who not only corroborated her accounts but said the situation in Iraq had deteriorated markedly in recent months.
"When I got back here in September, it was crazy," said Chicago Tribune reporter Colin McMahon. "We are severely limiting our trips, even inside the city. As far as I know, very few people are leaving the city, and if they do, they do so under great protection."
Not content with eliminating the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, President Bush's hubris led him to try to introduce democracy in places that view our politics and our culture as an insult to God.
He has failed utterly. There is little indication that Iraqis want democracy and less that they are willing to fight for it.
Before the invasion, Iraq fielded one of the largest standing armies in the world. But today, no one can find security forces.
In September, American forces handed out bonus checks to Iraqi troops who fought with them in the town of Tal Afar. Our soldiers handed out money to 83 Iraqis. But more than 500 members of the Iraqi security detail defected and joined the insurgents.
As long as the only ones willing to fight for Iraqi democracy are American soldiers and Marines, President Bush's policies will remain a cruel hoax.
His opponent John Kerry is no better, just less experienced. This is what his wife said of her husband, whom she compared to a fine wine: "You know, it takes time to mature, and then it gets really good and you can sip it."
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That should inspire our troops at about the same level as it inspires me.
Can I vote for either of these two clowns?
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