Monday, August 2, 2004


My son’s buddy’s mother’s boyfriend, Bob, asked me out the other day. I admit I was flattered. I don’t get asked out very often. In fact, I never really dated that much at all, and I wasn’t very good at it when I did. I tended to hit the wrong note at one point or another---too serious, too happy, too flippant, too sarcastic, too shy, too aggressive---and that would be the end of it. Eventually, though, I hit on a strategy: whenever a woman would laugh at my jokes, I would immediately ask her to marry me. It’s not a method I am recommending to anyone else, but it worked for me, because many of the women agreed.

But that’s not really what I want to tell you about. I want to tell you about my date with Bob.

Bob and I have seen each other at parties for a while now, either at my house or at my son’s buddy’s mother’s house. He’s a big old friendly-looking guy with a ready smile and a sincere expression. He generally has a twinkle in his eye. Now, don’t get me wrong here. For all I know, he could be a serial killer with a brace of bodies buried under his porch, but he seems a decent sort. He’s somebody you would walk up to and talk to at a party, which I have.

Since Bob is my son’s buddy’s mother’s boyfriend, most of our meetings have occurred at my son’s buddy’s mother’s house, where I have certainly been welcomed but where I am something of an outsider. I just don’t know the crowd very well. So I have been a relatively quiet and polite party guest, picking out this person or that and having a subdued conversation or two.

But you don’t have to attend a party at my son’s buddy’s mother’s house for very long before you realize you are in a very politically-minded crowd, specifically a very left-wing politically-minded crowd. Just sitting around having a hotdog or a beer, you will hear references to “The American Friends Service Committee,” and “Matthew Shepherd,” and “Guatemalan peasants” and “Abu Grahib” and “reproductive rights.” And everyone at the party seems to be pretty much in general agreement on these and related topics.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, it’s not my house. So I talk about the Phillies, and movies, and I ask the kids about their plans for the summer, and I avoid the little clots of radicals discussing their plans to blow up embassies or line up empty boots somewhere or whatever the hell it is they’re all so earnest about. I behave myself.

And then one day, Bob sidled up to me at the end of one of these gatherings, and we happened to start chatting about the school my son goes to, and I casually opined that it was a darn good school aside from the fact that the entire 8th-grade curriculum contained no suggestion that white males had ever done anything in America other than kill minorities, oppress women and disabled people, and pollute the environment. And Bob’s eyes lit up like a biologist who had just found a new beetle in the rainforest. I fascinated him. He gave me the impression he had never seen a person like me before.

“Are you a Republican?” he inquired.

“No,” I said. “I’m actually a crank, but I’ll be voting for Bush.”

“You’re voting for BUSH???” he asked in an amazed voice. “Well, let me ask you this---what’s your position on gay marriage?”

I told him.

“And what about abortion? What’s your view on Roe v. Wade?”

And I told him that too.

It went on this way for a half-hour or so, with him asking and me answering, and everything I said elicited from him a look of astonished glee, and another question. He didn’t argue with me about anything, though it was clear he did not agree with a word I said. He simply could not get over his astonishment at having found ME in my son’s buddy’s mother’s backyard. It was as if he had absent-mindedly kicked over a stone and discovered---a wooly mammoth!

It was great fun for me, of course. For one thing, I never get to talk about politics because I live in Philadelphia and almost everyone I know, including the people I’m related to, is a leftist of one sort or another and would fit right in at a party in my son’s buddy’s mother’s backyard. My friends NEVER bring up politics because they know I will say something that will annoy them, and an argument will erupt. And for the same reason, I never bring it up either. So Bob’s grilling was a pleasure. He WANTED me to be a right-winger or a libertarian or a troglodyte or whatever it was he perceived me to be. He WANTED me to think Clinton belongs in jail. He WANTED me to be a member of the NRA. I never had to hold my tongue so as not to offend. He wanted to hear it all. He thought I was cute.

A few weeks later, Bob showed up at my house for a 4th of July party. It was a busy day for me since I had to do a lot of cooking, and I had to go to the emergency room to stop the blood spurting from my back, and I had to attend to a guest who got a shard of glass embedded in his leg, and I also had to play horseshoes, but Bob and I did get a chance to talk a bit as I was rushing here and there. And as luck would have it, he had just been to see “Fahrenheit 911,” and he thought it was great.

“You really ought to see it,” he told me.

“Bob, I really don’t want to.”

“Oh, I know you don’t agree with Michael Moore, but I think the movie would surprise you.”

“Honestly, Bob, I’ve read about it. I’ve read lots of articles and reviews. There are websites devoted to it. I just don’t think it’s the sort of movie anybody could take seriously.”

“Look. Let me take you. I’ll pay for your ticket.”

“Really, Bob….”

“I’m buying!”


And that’s how I wound up at the 6:45 show of “Fahrenheit 911” at the Clearview Bala Theater the following Tuesday for my date with Bob. He bought the tickets. I bought the popcorn because---well, I guess I didn’t want him to think I was a golddigger.

* * * *

The movie consists of three interwoven elements, and my guess is that each occupies about a third of the footage.

First, there was the “Bush-is-a-dope” stuff. This is the comic relief and acts as the glue to connect the narrative elements of the film. Bush mangling an aphorism. Bush getting made up for TV. Bush chopping wood. Bush hitting golf balls. Bush, through some cheesy special effects, as Pa on “Bonanza.”

All these scenes elicited a hearty Pavlovian laughter from the audience, which was full of folks who never tire of this brand of humor. At this point, I am so weary of this particular article of leftwing dogma that I want to scream every time I hear it. I mean, when you hear the same joke for fifty years, don’t you stop laughing at it after a while? Don’t you get tired of it, even if you’re a Democrat?

I am fifty-three years old, and I remember hearing this same stuff about Eisenhower! How could this doddering old man get more votes than that smart Mr. Stevenson, I wondered, mirroring the bewilderment of all the good Democrats who populated my five-year-old world at the time. It was only years later I learned he had commanded the allied forces in WW II. Oh, so that’s it, I thought. Well, maybe he did have half a brain after all.

I am assured by all my intelligent friends that there is no such thing as a “liberal media bias.” Some of them even insist there is a bias going the other way. But isn’t it puzzling that every four years, according to the TV networks and all the big-city newspapers, the Democrats nominate a smart guy for president and the Republicans pick an idiot, or a psychopath, or an Alzheimer’s case? What’s the matter with these Republicans anyway? Can’t they find one guy in the whole Republican Party who’s smart enough to be president? Why do they keep doing this?

Eisenhower---your dopey grandpa. Goldwater---a psychopath. Nixon---another psychopath (Spiro Agnew was the moron). Gerry Ford---too much football without a helmet. Reagan---stupid and senile. Bush I---a bumbler (again, his VP was the 68-IQ guy). Dole---senile (remember the Depends jokes?). Bush II---well, it’s hard to say where he ranks. I used to think Reagan was our stupidest president, according to all the people on TV who know about these things, but Bush II is coming up fast, isn’t he? I don’t think there’s much doubt in Michael Moore’s mind about who the dumbest president is, and there was no apparent dissent in the audience on my date with Bob.

On the other side, there’s the Democrats---brainiacs all. Occasionally, they are portrayed as crafty or “slick,” but neither of these adjectives implies the stupidity that was regularly imputed to the guy who won WWII or the fool who brought down the Soviet Union. Al Gore, the VP who flunked out of divinity school, was a genius, but even he wasn’t as smart as Bill Clinton, who tried to throw his presidency away for a 20-year-old with a thong. Don’t forget Jimmy Carter---he was a nuclear engineer! And then there was Lyndon Johnson---well, he was not our favorite, was he? But he was still a “political genius,” right? Even though he slogged through Vietnam without a clue as to what was happening.

The “Bush-is-a-dope” montage was a full third of the movie. I used this time to go to the bathroom, pee, wash up, take deep breaths, and long for the 70’s. It was a decade that holds few fond memories for me, but in the 70’s, there always seemed to be somebody in the bathroom selling drugs, and I realized during “Fahrenheit 911” that this was not an altogether bad thing.

Unfortunately, there are only so many bathroom breaks you can take when you’re on a date.

* * * *

Another third of “Fahrenheit 911” is the grisly footage. If you ever wanted to see soldiers whose arms have been amputated, children with their insides showing, burned corpses, flag-draped coffins, a beheading and grieving mothers, this is the movie for you. There’s plenty of it. It’s revolting. If you do not at some point close your eyes or look away from the screen, you are a profoundly sick person. If you watch these scenes in their entirety, I would like you to let me know because I will be crossing your name off my Christmas list.

What is the purpose of subjecting a paying audience to these scenes, you may ask. I wondered about this also, and I think there are two reasons.

First of all, they are designed to make you hate George Bush, because he is the only bad guy in the movie. Saddam Hussein is virtually absent from the film. (Osama bin Laden is a guy with a goofy smile and a funny beard.) Iraq itself is depicted as a quaint backwater where women shop and children play along the Tigris. It looks like fun---a simpler place in a simpler time, with kites and smiling families! There is not a hint of the torture chambers where men would have their fingers cut off one by one, or where ten-year-old girls would be brutally and repeatedly raped in order to punish their grandparents, who were forced to watch, or where an infant’s eyes might be gouged out to impress upon his parents the importance of loyalty to the regime. Forget the graves where many were buried alive. Forget the dead, gassed Kurdish towns. Look! What a nice café! I’ll bet that coffee tastes pretty damn good!

The horrific scenes throughout “Fahrenheit 911” are shown without narration, and since Bush is the only villain, the message is that they are all his fault. Moore somehow fails to remind us that the Baathists routinely used civilian Iraqis as shields and cannon fodder during the invasion. Rather, all the grisly images are laid, by implication, at Bush’s feet. That child? Well, that’s an American bullet that did that. That’s Bush’s bullet, right?

Moore never says any of this, of course, because to state it explicitly would be to reveal how one-sided and unfair it is, and invite an argument. All Bush’s fault, we might ask? Well, wait a minute. What about the horrors inflicted upon innocents by Saddam and his Baathists? Is it possible his regime is responsible for some of this? Maybe the bullet in that child wasn’t Bush’s after all.

Well, we can’t have anybody thinking that sort of thing, can we, Mr. Moore? No, that would make for a much more complicated and ambiguous picture, a picture that approaches---what’s the word I’m looking for---oh, yeah---REALITY. “Is it worth it?” is a reasonable question to ask about Iraq. In a democracy, it’s a question that should be asked, and we should argue about it, and I’ll participate in that argument. But unfortunately, this is an argument that the courageous Mr. Moore would not touch with a ten-foot hot poker.

The other element of the horrorshow, the other reason for it, is Moore’s dark core of pacifism, where the very concept of good and evil must be extinguished in pursuit of his notion of “peace.” Moore inhabits that peculiar pacifist moral universe where Winston Churchill cannot be distinguished from, say, Pol Pot. Both were killers. Both were monsters. And Moore’s job is to collect all the dead things and show them to us.

This is the other reason why, when he shows us “the horrors of war,” there can never be a context, an explanation, or a justification, because in his world such a thing is impossible. There is only pain and death and maiming, and there can never be a reason for it.

Well, there are millions of girls going to school now, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does that mean anything? There are families who now know what happened to their disappeared loved ones, who have retrieved the mangled remains from one of the many mass graves, and who have buried them properly. Isn’t that worth something? There are people who will not be taken in the middle of the night, tortured for months, and then returned to their families and shot in the head at the front door. Is it possible there is some nobility in human beings risking their lives to stop the cruelty and sadism that was everyday life in Iraq?

Michael Moore’s answer to all these questions is “No.” But actually, his view is even more extreme. To him, the very question is somehow illegitimate. And so he takes the wounded soldiers and dead children and flag-draped coffins and burned bodies, and he treats them as roadkill.

You know the feeling, I think. You’re driving along and there’s a dead dog on the highway, its guts splayed along the road. You drive on. You’re sad. The image stays with you. Later, you may think about it and feel sad all over again. But ultimately, it’s meaningless, isn’t it? It’s one anonymous dead dog on the highway in a world full of anonymous deaths.

And that, for Michael Moore, is what those flag-draped coffins contain---roadkill. Sad, yes, but random, anonymous, and meaningless. And I thought: how dare he? How dare he belittle the sacrifice of these soldiers and their families?

If Michael Moore had his way, half the population of Afghanistan (the female half) would still be imprisoned in their own homes---poor, uneducated, unemployable, abused, and unprotected by law. Kuwait would still be a province of Iraq, with thousands of Kuwaitis still held in horrendous conditions. In Iraq, the rape-rooms would still be open for business and the mass-grave industry would be thriving. If Michael Moore had his way, Uday would still be feeding his “ex-girlfriends” to his pet lions.

Is all this worth nothing?

In the name of ending this madness, good men and women and children have died, and each of their deaths is a tragedy. But what the hell has Michael Moore ever done to give him the right to tell us nothing has been gained, that the deaths of our soldiers were pointless, and that their sacrifice was in vain? And that those of us who are grateful to the fallen, those of us who feel a debt which can never be repaid, are fools?

* * * *

The rest of the movie, the other third, is the explication of his conspiracy theories. It’s all about oil, you see, and Halliburton, and Cheney, and the Bush family’s secret alliance with the Saudis. And as I watched this confusing pastiche unfold, I was reminded of my late uncle.

My uncle was a friendly, funny, garrulous old guy who grew up in a large family of Italian immigrants in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania before it was even called Jim Thorpe. It was a rough world he was born into, a world of quarries and coal mines and hard work and no money. I don’t know whether he had any schooling at all, but if he did, it didn’t last long.

He had a life, though, and plenty of stories---of bar fights and nightclubs and New Orleans in the old days, and World War II, where he was awarded a Purple Heart. And horses. Always the horses. My uncle was a lifelong horseplayer, and though I was never as obsessed as he was, I’m a horseplayer too, and this brought us together.

I loved the guy, and we spent a fair amount of time together over the years. I would pick him up, we’d drive to the track, spend the day there, and I would drive him home. And always there were stories, and some of them were even true, though I was never sure which ones they were.

And he was also a racist, an utterly unrepentant and unreconstructed racist. Everyone in the family knew this, and if you ever got to know my uncle, you would eventually hear one of his rants. I don’t mean to imply I heard them every day or every month or even every year. Over the fifty years I knew him, I remember a half dozen or so. We’d be rolling along the Roosevelt Boulevard, for example, and an African-American gentleman in another car would commit an act of questionable driving etiquette, and a switch would flip on in my uncle’s head, and he would give me two minutes on the goddam niggers and how they behave and how they’re ruining the country.

Now, if you’ve ever been in my position, and had a friend or relative who was a virulent racist, I think you know what I was facing. There’s literally nothing you can do. I tried to argue with him once, but that effort was worse than pointless. Instead of a brief monologue, I got twenty minutes of him muttering and cursing, and our day was ruined. You can never persuade a racist to abandon his racism because there’s no rational element to it that you can ever reach. The truth is irrelevant to such people. I mean, I could have talked to my uncle for ten years about it and would not have moved him an inch. Anthropology, genetics, biology, SAT scores, jokes---none of it would have penetrated. As a result, on the rare occasions he would sing his song, I would just listen quietly, throw in an “un-huh” here and there, and wait for it to end.

But there is a problem with that strategy as well. Holding one’s tongue carries a psychic price, a small one perhaps, but a price nonetheless. Nodding and listening, it’s hard to avoid the feeling you are a willing participant in the conversation, that you are voluntarily visiting the little corner of hatred in the other person’s brain, and making no effort to leave. After a very short while, your silence makes you feel a bit dirty.

The argument portions of “Fahrenheit 911,” the “factual” bits about the Bush-Saudi-Talliban-oil conspiracy, brought this all back to me. For me, it was like sitting next to my uncle thirty years ago on our way to Garden State Park, listening to his views on Martin Luther Coon. Because the truth doesn’t matter to Michael Moore any more than it did to my uncle. There’s a spooky, irrational corner of his brain where only hatred lives and where reality can get no purchase. And sitting there in the theater, I was transported back behind the wheel of my old red Chevette, crossing the Tacony Bridge into Jersey, with a nagging sense that anyone with a shred of decency would stand up and object, or run away, or do SOMETHING, but instead waiting quietly for it all to end.

There are many articles and websites devoted to the outright lies and distortions of “Fahrenheit 911,” and I’m not going to recount them all here. I’m not an expert on recent history or foreign affairs anyway; I’m just a guy who reads the newspaper and is interested in politics. But I want to mention a few of them that were so absurd, so bald-faced, that they cannot be passed off as “spin” or “commentary” or even “mistakes.” They’re lies.

First, there’s the matter of the Taliban visit to Texas in 1997 to meet with officials of a company named Unocal about building a pipeline in northern Afghanistan. This event, and the machinations about the pipeline, are presented as the reason Bush decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001. I know. I don’t get it either, but maybe where there’s smoke, there’s fire, or something like that.

But here’s the problem. Though the piece is an attempt to link Bush and the Taliban and the pipeline and the invasion, Moore forgets to mention that Bush had nothing to do with the Taliban coming to Texas. Since he was not president in 1997, he had no authority to grant visas to representatives of an unrecognized government like the Taliban. It was the Clinton State Department that permitted this to happen, and George Bush could have had no official role in it. As for an unofficial role, Moore also forgets to mention that neither George nor any other Bush attended the meeting or had any business relationship with Unocal. In fact, the only relationship George Bush had with this deal was that he also was present in the state of Texas on the day the Taliban met with Unocal to discuss it. My cousin Joe was in Texas that day too. Why isn’t he in the movie?

The pipeline negotiations broke down in 1998, by the way. I don’t remember Moore mentioning that part either. But I suppose the fact THERE IS NO FREAKING PIPELINE would have undercut his assertion that it was the reason for the invasion that occurred three years after the pipeline deal fell apart.

Another piece of the Bush-Saudi-oil conspiracy is equally bogus. This concerns the Carlyle Group, which is apparently even more evil than Halliburton because nobody knows about it. Moore correctly informs us that the Carlyle Group did $1.4 billion worth of business with the Saudis in the 1990’s. He also notes that both the elder George Bush and the current president were on the board of Carlyle. This is the centerpiece of Moore’s conspiracy story. “See!! It’s all about oil; it’s all about the Bushes and the Saudis! The war in Iraq is a scam! It’s just a way for these guys in turbans and cowboy hats to line their pockets!”

Now, as many commentators have pointed out, this idea, which is the core of “Fahrenheit 911,” is absurd. If the Saudis and the Bushes are such good buddies, why didn’t they help us? Why weren’t they part of the coalition? I mean, if your pal goes to war, don’t you at least give him a few bucks and a pat on the butt? The Saudis, however, bitterly opposed the invasion of Iraq. No money, no soldiers, no airspace, no landing fields---nothing. Is this really how one chum treats another?

But that’s not all. For Moore, it’s not enough that the theory is laughable, he has to conceal the facts too. Remember the $1.4 billion? Almost all of it came in one deal, with a Carlyle subsidiary named BDM, to provide training and some equipment to the Saudi armed forces. BDM was sold by the Carlyle Group months before the elder George Bush joined the board of directors. The current president had served on the board in the 1980’s, and had resigned long before the deal was signed. So yes, there was a huge business deal between the Saudi government and the Carlyle Group, but no, neither Bush had anything to do with it.

At one point, Moore is standing on a street corner in Washington doing an interview, with the Saudi Embassy across the street as a backdrop, when a Secret Service agent walks over to ask what he’s doing. I imagine that since 9-11, this sort of thing happens quite a bit in D.C. They’re all a bit jumpy down there. Personally, I don’t blame them.

But you don’t do something like that to Michael Moore! This meaningless little vignette occupies two minutes of the movie, with a Moore voice-over at the end of it informing us that the Bush Administration actually provides security to Saudi diplomats and the Saudi Embassy! The gentle people at the Clearview Bala Theater lapped this up, of course, and snickered in all the right places.

But it’s hard to believe, isn’t it, that Moore is not aware (and never bothered to find out) that the Secret Service routinely provides security to all manner of foreign diplomats? A long time ago, it was decided this was preferable to having hundreds of foreign troops standing in front of embassies with machine guns.

Some big lies, some small ones. Again, I’m not trying to dissect the picture frame by frame. This exercise is purely idiosyncratic---I’m just noting a few of the points anybody who reads a newspaper would find offensive, and an insult to one’s intelligence. This is only the stuff that reminded me of my uncle.

Then there is Moore’s take on the Florida election in 2000. I will attempt to describe what I saw, though it’s not easy because this was one of the more incoherent segments. But it didn't have to make any sense. For Moore, who put this at the beginning of the movie, it was a sort of secret handshake with his audience, and a wink and a nod to the true believers of this particular item of faith. Bush stole the election, he's telling us. We all know that, right? So let’s get that out of the way and then I’ll tell you all the other evil things he’s done.

Some relative of George Bush, a cousin or a nephew or something, worked at Fox News, and this relative made Fox News award Florida to Bush at 2:30 in the morning on election night. And that, according to Michael Moore, was how Bush got elected president. Honestly, as Dave Barry likes to say, I’m not making this up. That’s Moore’s conclusion---Fox News said Bush won, so he did.

There are a few other tidbits, of course, because one of Moore’s techniques is to slap up half a dozen unrelated items in rapid-fire fashion and encourage his audience to fill in the conspiratorial blanks. Gore got more votes than Bush in Florida, he tells us. And he would have gotten a lot more votes than Bush if African-American voters had not been systematically kept from the polls. And, of course, all those Gore votes would have been counted if the US Supreme Court had not stopped the counting.

Let me tell you how naïve I am. I assumed that two years ago, when two separate teams of newspapers (including the New York Times, the Miami Herald, the Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, USA Today and others) completed their ballot-by-ballot recounts of the Florida election, and both groups concluded Bush had gotten more votes, that would be the end of it. I was wrong about that. Though there is no scenario, based on the facts, by which Gore could have won, this piece of left-wing mythology will not die. Much like the “all-Republicans-are-dopes” credo, the only thing that matters anymore about the Florida election is the hatred, which must be repeatedly nurtured and caressed, but never examined.

Moore’s statement that Fox News did not “call” the Florida election until 2:30 AM is a lie. Like all the other networks, Fox put Florida in the Gore column about 8:00 PM. (Unlike the others, they waited until the polls closed.) About six hours later, when the vote totals swung the other way, Fox admitted its error and proclaimed Bush the winner. All the other networks immediately followed suit.

What all this has to do with the actual outcome of the election is---well, you’ll have to ask Michael Moore about that. I can’t imagine. But again, it’s not enough for him that the theory makes no sense---he has to lie about the facts too.

Then there is the famous Supreme Court decision, which Moore races through in the hope we will not remember what really happened. Now, one can argue that the decision to stop the Florida recount was not the Supreme Court’s brightest moment, but what would have happened if that decision had not been issued? Well, the leaders of the Florida Legislature had indicated they would have stopped the recount themselves, and voted Florida’s electors for Bush. Under the Constitution, that was their right and duty. That is how it is supposed to work. There was simply no way, under our laws, for Gore to be awarded Florida. And considering that the recounts by America’s largest newspapers indicated Bush had gotten more votes, what is Moore’s problem with that?

Oh, yeah. I almost forgot the disenfranchisement of Florida’s African-American voters. As you may recall, though Moore would never remind you, The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (Clintonites all) held six months of hearings on these claims and concluded there was nothing to them. Sure, there were spoiled ballots that didn’t get counted. There always are. Every presidential election, 2% to 3% of ballots are improperly cast and have to be pitched. It happens everywhere, and there was nothing unusual in 2000 in Florida.

* * * * *

One further point about the “disenfranchisement” needs to be made. Moore’s frequently-asserted concern for his darker brothers and sisters wears exceedingly thin once you begin to understand that his own worldview contains a healthy dose of racism. For me, this realization occurred in that part of the film where Moore revisits Flint, Michigan to interview young black men about their plans to join the military.

Cutting to footage of abandoned houses in Flint, then back to the 18-year-olds, then back to the abandoned houses, Moore argues the Bush Administration has (intentionally) impoverished these boys so their only option in life is enlistment. (A question I wondered about during the movie: if every house in Flint is abandoned, where do people live?)

Now, I always figured there were as many different reasons for joining the armed forces as there are soldiers. Am I wrong about that? I mean, isn’t the decision always a complicated mixture of wanting to leave home, wanting to serve your country, wanting to start a career, wanting to be independent, wanting to make some money, wanting to test oneself against the rigors of military life, and fifty other considerations, all of which get filtered through an inexperienced 18-year-old mind? Isn’t that the way it is, and how it’s always been? After all, Bush didn’t invent the process. Napoleon didn’t invent it. Even Julius Caesar didn’t invent it.

But I guess that’s only how it works for white kids. The black ones in Flint, according to Moore, have none of these motivations or nuances of feeling. They’re just mindless dupes and victims of the Bush war machine.

And he’s not just talking about those kids from Flint, of course. The larger message is that no African-American would ever voluntarily serve the racist gulag that the United States has always been. He even trots out a black soldier (in uniform) who states that he won’t go to Iraq “to kill poor people.” Of the tens of thousands of black soldiers risking their lives and serving their country with honor, Moore finds this guy, and presents him as a spokesman for his race.

For me, this was the most offensive part of the movie. Michael Moore defames every African-American who ever served his country in the armed forces. Patriotism? Ha! The Colored Brigades who fought for the Union in the Civil War---fools! The black GI’s who gave their lives at Normandy---dopes! In Korea, in Vietnam, in Lebanon, in Iraq---suckers! They’re just a bunch of dumb niggers, don’t you see, and easily manipulated. Even an idiot like Bush (or is he now an evil genius?) can make them all sign up and get killed. And how kind it is of Mr. Moore to look out for them.

Moore will use anybody and anything in the service of his goofy theories---wounded soldiers, grieving mothers, dying babies. That much is clear. Using the young black guys in Flint for his blood libel upon their race, however, struck me as the act of a man without decency. I was disgusted by these scenes and the point he was making. This was where I first began to feel dirty for remaining in the theater.

It must drive Moore crazy that our military today is composed entirely of volunteers, of every color and ethnic background, many of whom signed up for the noblest of motives---to defend their country from the horrors of terrorism that 9-11 brought home to all of us. In his view, this CANNOT be, since it disproves his central thesis that we are all being marched along blindly to further Bush’s secret agenda of domestic fascism and oil profits. So he converts the black teens in his beloved Flint to drones. They don’t really have a choice, you see. No matter what they may think their motivations are, it’s all part of Bush’s Machiavellian scheme.

(This same twisted racism is behind the recent campaign by some Democrats in Congress to reinstate the draft, an oppressive system that has been anathema to the left as long as I can remember. They don’t want young men and women volunteering to serve their country, and they especially don’t want African-Americans to do it. They would rather have young people dragooned into service so they can later say, “Aha! Look at this poor bastard, scooped up by Bush against his will and sent to die in a foreign land! He never even knew what hit him, but Bush doesn’t care.”)

* * * *

And then finally, mercifully, with an out-of-context Condoleezza Rice quote and a last “Bush-is-dumb” clip to send us all home laughing, it ended. The lights went up. Bob and I stood and headed for the exit. He was juiced. I was---subdued.

“So what did you think?” he asked, as we reached the lobby. “I want to know! C’mon, there must have been some parts you thought were on target!”

I didn’t really know where to start. “Let’s go to that place down the street,” I suggested. “I’ll buy you a beer.”

Five minutes later, we had parked ourselves at the long oval bar in the Bala Inn, a nasty little place with a dirty linoleum floor, a pool table in the corner, tattooed patrons and a bartender without the full complement of teeth. The Phillies were on TV, and I had a firm grip on an ice-cold bottle of beer. It was heavenly. I felt like I had just been whisked from Graterford Prison to a four-course dinner at The Four Seasons.

“OK,” said Bob. “Now tell me. What did you think?”

“Well, Bob,” I said, “let me tell you about my uncle.”

Copyright 2004 Michael Kubacki