Fahrenheit 9/11 a conservative film?

I saw Michael Moore’s movie the other day in the theater. While it was well put together, I did have some problems with it. I hadn’t taken the time to work out exactly what the problems were, but then I read this critique of the film over at Common Dreams, written by Robert Jensen. In it, he claims that Fahrenheit 9/11 is a conservative film. How can this be so, when so many “right-wingers” are raging against it, and “left-wingers” are bowing down to it in record numbers?

The critique raises many excellent points (all boldface in all the following quotes were added by me):

Is the administration of George W. Bush full of ideological fanatics? Yes. Have its actions since 9/11 been reckless and put the world at risk? Yes. In the course of pursuing those policies, has it enriched fat-cat friends? Yes.

But it is a serious mistake to believe that these wars can be explained by focusing so exclusively on the Bush administration and ignoring clear trends in U.S. foreign and military policy. In short, these wars are not a sharp departure from the past but instead should be seen as an intensification of longstanding policies, affected by the confluence of this particular administration’s ideology and the opportunities created by the events of 9/11.

This is a very important point, and it is closely connected to what I have been thinking about lately regarding John Kerry. It seems to me that the vast majority of his support comes from the “anyone but Bush” crowd. But this argument of “anyone but Bush” is fatally flawed. Jensen continues:

I agree that Bush should be kicked out of the White House, and if I lived in a swing state I would consider voting Democratic. But I don’t believe that will be meaningful unless there emerges in the United States a significant anti-empire movement. In other words, if we beat Bush and go back to “normal,” we’re all in trouble. Normal is empire building. Normal is U.S. domination, economic and military, and the suffering that vulnerable people around the world experience as a result. This doesn’t mean voters can’t judge one particular empire-building politician more dangerous than another. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t sometimes make strategic choices to vote for one over the other. It simply means we should make such choices with eyes open and no illusions. This seems particularly important when the likely Democratic presidential candidate tries to out-hawk Bush on support for Israel, pledges to continue the occupation of Iraq, and says nothing about reversing the basic trends in foreign policy.

So what is the danger of Moore’s film? How can it possibly be labelled “conservative”? Here is Jensen’s conclusion:

It is obvious that “Fahrenheit 9/11” taps into many Americans’ fear and/or hatred of Bush and his gang of thugs. Such feelings are understandable, and I share them. But feelings are not analysis, and the film’s analysis, unfortunately, doesn’t go much beyond the feeling: It’s all Bush’s fault. That may be appealing to people, but it’s wrong. And it is hard to imagine how a successful anti-empire movement can be built on this film’s analysis unless it is challenged.

The statement I highlighted above says it all. As evil as the Bushites are, the problems in America were around long before they established a chokehold on power.

You have to be careful with blanket statements like “anyone but Bush.” This is magic 101: be careful what you ask for. There is no reason for me to believe that John Kerry will make a noticeable difference. The sooner mainstream America realizes this, the sooner we can begin to undo the damage of our nation’s long and potent history of empire-building.

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