Sceptical libertarianism and opera

Location: France

July 06, 2004

There's something about Michael

What is it about Michael Moore? Why is it that a film that around 99% of the US population will not see has aroused such passions?

I deeply distrust Moore’s style of politics – his crude populism and posturing. I therefore looked forward to reading the counterblasts to his film from the luminaries of the pro-war left. What I found has left me disappointed and unsettled.

Let’s take Christopher Hitchens, much admired on the pro-war blogsites, as an example. He has written an oft-cited article entitled Unfairenheit 9/11. But instead of providing us with a consistent critique of the film, Hitchens embarks on what, for the most part, I can only describe as a very Moore-ish rant.

Much of the article is merely an attack on Moore’s personality or personal history – very entertaining, but dubious as a debating position. Hitchens also attacks Moore for not providing an alternative to Bush’s policy. But Moore is making a film, however execrable it might be. Is he under any obligation to provide an alternative? Hichens tells us repeatedly that the film is completely dreadful. Fine, why worry then? Nobody will want to see it, and nobody that does see it will be persuaded. No? And why waste your time writing such a long article about it? The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

Hitchens also spends much energy creating straw men. Take this as an example:

Either the Saudis run U.S. policy (through family ties or overwhelming economic interest), or they do not.

This is no kind of argument, however. The pertinent question is not whether the Saudis are in charge; rather, it is whether the influence they wield is too great. To present it as an all-or-nothing position is simply dishonest. Bernie Ecclestone undoubtedly had too much influence on one part of the Labour government at one point. No-one suggests that he was running the country. The baneful influence of money in politics was once the bread and butter of left-wing journalism. Hitchens’ response to the issue here is deeply dispiriting. If this is the best rebuttal on offer, then it makes me very concerned about the Saudi link.

Hitchens makes the same mistake when discussing the ‘My Pet Goat’ incident – the non-reaction of the president to the news that the US was under attack. He says that the choice was between Bush continuing to read, or declaring immediate war. Again, this is simply not the case. There were many sensible and mature ways in which he could have reacted. Bush’s behaviour in the school does cast doubt on his judgement and leadership skills. My question to those in the UK who support the war would be: could they imagine Blair behaving in this way in the same circumstances? Why is it beyond the pale to raise the issue of Bush’s reaction?

My favourite line of the article has to be:

At no point does Michael Moore make the smallest effort to be objective.

On first reading this, it crossed my mind that it might be a spoof. I guess, though, that it isn’t. But in that case, what will Hitchens’ next article be about: ‘Smithfield market makes no attempt to appeal to vegetarians’? Or ‘The shameful lack of skiing facilities in the Maldives’? Does anyone go to a Moore movie expecting objectivity?

I hold no truck with Moore’s politics. But the near hysterical response that his film has produced, and the personal attacks on Moore, are curious (so curious in fact, that I’m sure there’s a conspiracy theory out there suggesting that Hitchens et al are in fact in league with Moore to boost the film’s ratings).

To me, what Fahrenheit 9/11 shows is that there is a vacuum in the public sphere for a critique of the Bush regime from the liberal left. A vacuum that should have been filled by the likes of Christopher Hitchens.

How is it that the pro-war left finds it beyond the pale to criticise Bush-Saudi links? Isn’t it shameful that such links, which should be the grist to the mill of journalists such as Hitchens, are now left to Moore and his ilk to investigate? Why should supporters of the war be so hypersensitive to any criticism of Bush’s conduct?

The film, however risible it may be, has rushed in to fill the vacuum that others have created.


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