Reviews, outside the rabid conservative press, of Michael Moore's film, Fahrenheit 9/11, have been largely positive. They do, however follow one of two templates: The first, the four-out-of-five-stars template, follows something along the lines of "Moore may be a little loose with the facts, but this is a film every American needs to see." The second, the three-out-of-five-stars template, goes something like, "This may be a film every American needs to see, but Moore is a little loose with the facts." Neither version ever actually mentions which facts he gets wrong; it's just assumed, following the dictum that a lie, repeated often enough as the truth, will be taken as such. There is however, as has been pointed out elsewhere, one particular problem that progressives may have with the film. In large part the film is a disclosure, like Craig Unger's book, House of Bush, House of Saud —upon which much of the film is based, of the ties between the US government and Saudi Arabia. If Moore is to point out the various ways in which the United States has propped up vicious regimes in the Middle East, to not point out the apogee of such foreign policy barbarism—America's support for Israel—one can only conclude that he either is a hypocrite, or had deliberately not 'gone there' to avoid turning the film into a focal point of Zionist smears that it was anti-semitic. This is perhaps a little cowardly—the great unenlightened inhabitants of red states (somewhat counterintuitive, I know, but, in the States, the Republicans are 'red' and the Democrats are 'blue' [when, if they were honest, they would paint themselves navy blue and baby blue, respectively]. Of course, these are far from the oddest colours political parties have been assigned: Austrian conservatives are black, while the fascist Freedom Party of Jorg Haider is blue and then Canada's social democrats, the NDP, go into electoral battle in orange [No, really. Orange ties on the men, and the women can sometimes be seen in orange editions of those tweed-polyester power suit things political women are obligated to wear] in the middle of the country are in as much need of being told of US-Israeli atrocity as they are of US-Saudi collusion.
Nonetheless, however spineless the decision to excise any mention of Israel in Fahrenheit, it is almost remotely understandable insofar as one must choose one's battles. This year was not the year that America was going to take an honest look at its crimes in the Levant, but it might just have been and indeed, in genuine thanks to Moore, was the year that she took a hard look at issues of American wickedness in the broader Middle East. Moore has doubtless done a tremendous service to the US left, which is largely restricted to the two coasts, in parachuting in a heretofore unknown politic to the Mississippi multiplexes.
What is more troublesome than what is missing from his film is his gallop to the Democratic centre.
At a rally on the fringe of this week's Democratic National Convention, Michael Moore spoke to a crowd of a reported 2000, with another 700 being turned away by fire marshals. On the same platform was failed Democratic presidential candidate and self-described fiscal conservative Howard Dean, as well as the candidate many forgivably deluded progressives supported for the nomination, Dennis Kucinich. Moore, of course, during the Democratic primaries supported neither of these two darlings of the 'Democratic wing of the Democratic party', supporting instead the Bomber of Belgrade, General Wesley Clark. The purpose of the rally was, once again, to solidify progressives into supporting Kerry and to attack peace candidate Ralph Nader.
"Mr. Nader, Mr. Moore said yesterday [as reported in the Globe and Mail], is a "great American." But, he continued, "I appeal to Nader voters because we have to win back the White House. It's so misguided, so wrong, so uncool for him to be doing this."
Apart from Moore being profoundly uncool to use the word 'uncool' in any context, his repeated attacks on Nader are a sad betrayal of the man he so vociferously supported, along with thousands of other progressives, four years ago. Now, I would not go so far as to be hyper-critical of those Nader supporters who for this election who have made the difficult choice to support Anybody But Bush. Bush is so extreme, so radical that I don't think I can bring myself to condemn anyone who has decided they will be casting their vote for Kerry come November. I think they are wrong, but I can't condemn them. Furthermore, there are simply so many tremendous activists of good heart and commitment, who have been in the centre of organising against this atrocious war who, as socialist historian Howard Zinn put it when describing why he would be reluctantly voting Democrat this fall, just want a ledge from which to fight back, that I would actually say that those socialists, anarchists and other progressives who correctly have decided to vote Nader may even need to be wary of the forthrightness (I'm thinking here of the stridency of Alexander Cockburn in the pages of Counterpunch) in their arguments, remembering that these Kerry-voters will be still be on the front lines of the anti-war struggle in a few month's time when, if Kerry is elected, the new Democratic president continues and expands the war, and a sectarianism displayed today will only reap unnecessary divisions amongst those in the marches to come. Remember that genuine change will only come, as it ever has, through the movement of the streets and factories and not through the ballot box, and enemies made over what is ultimately a diversion from the real struggle will remain enemies on the picket lines.
But for someone who, rightfully, four years ago insisted that there was no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans to attack his former friend so - and he has said worse - it is a disappointment. Don't get me wrong—there should be no illusions in Moore, who is no socialist. But then neither is Nader.
To argue for a vote for Kerry is, however wrong, forgivable, but to attack Nader in such a way is to do damage to the building of the genuine progressive alternative to the Democrats that four years ago Moore said was so vital. Most of those progressives who have said that this year they are supporting the Democrats underscore that they do just mean this year. As soon as Kerry is elected, it's back to the streets, and back to the project of building a third party—which is vital. Lest anyone forget, where every other western country has had for almost a hundred years—give or take, depending on the jurisdiction—a social democratic party that once elected rapes the working class up the ass without lube, the United States does not have even that. The building of a progressive electoral alternative in the US is compulsory. Or has Moore seen the error of his ways of four years ago and now that project has been abandoned too?
Perhaps I am too soft on the Progressives For Kerry Brigade - which includes, by the way, Noam Chomksy, Michael Albert, Barbara Ehrenreich, Howard Zinn, Norman Solomon, Robert McChesney, Medea Benjamin, Rabbi Michael Lerner and others of long-standing red (in the usual sense) and pink disposition. I was mortified when I read that Chomsky has endorsed what essentially is the same strategy as the US Green party of voting Nader/Cobb in safe states and Kerry in swing states.
Progressives are sadly largely sitting this one out, with the exception of a few hundred noble souls who have braved the designated, fenced in protest zones in Boston. But four years ago, thousands of what we then called anti-globalisation activists filled the streets of Los Angeles to protest the DNC, just as they would the streets of Philadelphia a few months later against the RNC. Have these Kerry-voting radicals forgotten how they were all tear-gassed and brutalised by the LAPD while Gore and company watched on in approval in 2000? For shame.