"[T]here are, at bottom, basically two ways to order social affairs, Coercively, through the mechanisms of the state -- what we can call political society. And voluntarily, through the private interaction of individuals and associations -- what we can call civil society. ... In a civil society, you make the decision. In a political society, someone else does. ... Civil society is based on reason, eloquence, and persuasion, which is to say voluntarism. Political society, on the other hand, is based on force." ~ Ed Crane
The Libertarian Lesson of "Fahrenheit 9/11"
To the untrained eye, it would appear Michael Moore's latest documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," is the cinematic equivalent of an ad for John Kerry. Indeed, as the film unfolds, Moore makes connections between the Bush and Bin Laden families, Big Oil, the Saudis, etc., explaining who stood to profit from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, while stopping just short of calling it a conspiracy. And it would seem, then, that the only thing missing here is a shot of the Massachusetts senator saying, "I'm John Kerry, and I approved this message," as the credits roll.
But that's to the untrained eye. And the truth is that Moore -- knowingly, or not -- has put together an ad for Michael Badnarik.
"Michael Badwhatnow?" you say.
Michael Badnarik -- the Libertarian Party's presidential candidate. Hold that thought, though. I'll get to him in a moment.
Now, let's get back to Moore. First and foremost, let me just say that, yes, "Fahrenheit 9/11" hardly resembles a documentary in the traditional sense. Documentaries document, after all, but this one infuses opinion. If anything, it's sort of like reality TV.
Moore uses incredible footage, though. That's the movie's best feature. When you see "Fahrenheit 9/11," you see people crying on the streets of Manhattan as World Trade Center workers jump to their deaths. You see soldiers without arms and legs bitching about medical benefits. You see dead Iraqi children tossed atop corpses in the back of a truck. And you see the charred bodies of American contractors hanging in the street while people beat them with sticks like pi'atas -- as if it's a game, a celebration, in good fun till someone loses an eye.
Some people are willing to dismiss this on the grounds that Moore is a partisan hack. These people are called Republicans. Other people acknowledge Moore's liberal bias, but they applaud it, and they applaud him for showing this footage in his film. These people are called Democrats. There's little doubt Moore's on the Democrats' side. The honest truth, though? It's hard to take that stuff seriously when you're watching real scenes from real wars. These scenes would be awful even if Moore had never been born. His political leanings don't affect their impact in the least.
And that's just the thing: If he makes a mistake in this movie, it's not that he's careless with the facts, as some allege. It's that he suggests Bush is the cause of our problems, when, in fact, Bush is just the result.
Let me put it to you this way, since we're on the topic of movies: Ever notice how movie commercials nowadays always use the phrase, "Now, one man...," followed by an explanation of what one man "must" do in order to save the day, win the girl, and have a happy ending? Well, in much the same way, we like believing our president's the "one man" who can beat up the bad guys and/or beat back the tides of Mad Cow. We like believing he's a step down from God -- something no president is, was, or ever will be.
If Moore knows this, it doesn't come off that way in the film.
For example, in light of pre-9/11 intelligence, he takes a "Bush should've done more" attitude, bashing the president for vacationing in the weeks before the attacks. But as J.H. Huebert puts it, "How can that be a bad thing? Time spent on vacation is time not spent bombing the rest of the world." Indeed, and while it may be, in this instance, that the government could've "done more," let's remember one thing: The terrorists didn't go to war with a government that did too little; they went to war with a government that did too much.
We're stationed in 130 countries now. Our enemies in the Middle East insist they hate us just for being there. We believe they want to kill us, but we stick our fingers in our ears whenever they tell us why. We'd rather "stay the course," or "finish the job," or whatever the latest feel-good catchphrase. If Moore thinks this'll change under Kerry, he's out of his documentary-making mind.
As Mark Hand points out: "Kerry and his comrades in the progressive internationalist movement are as gung-ho about U.S. military action as their counterparts in the White House. The only noteworthy difference' [is] the progressive internationalists prefer to keep their imperial agenda hidden behind the cloak of multilateralism."
And at home, it's more of the same. For instance, Moore makes a big fuss about the Patriot Act. The criticism is well deserved. Yet Kerry thinks the only problem with the Patriot Act is John Ashcroft. How is this an improvement? Moore fails to say.
I, for one, don't believe the Patriot Act protects Americans at all. If you ask me, the best way to protect Americans is to keep America out of wars. That means keeping America out of other countries. Bush won't change that. Kerry won't change that. Either way, we're stuck with the status quo.
Which brings us back to libertarianism.
Now, I don't want to turn this into an endorsement for the Libertarian Party proper, or even the aforementioned Michael Badnarik, but it's hard to imagine our having the problems we have if libertarians were in charge. Why? Because, by definition, libertarians don't believe in taking charge to begin with. They believe in letting people take charge of themselves, and that's both at home and abroad.
Someone once said, "That government is best which governs least." From prohibition to the war on drugs, to the war in Iraq and beyond, meddling politicians make matters worse -- as a rule. No "one man" will ever be able solve the world's problems. As we stumble into another World War, we should let the world know that we know this. Rest assured, though, that the current establishment will do no such thing.
So here's the bottom line: With its focus on Bush, and its implied endorsement of Kerry, "Fahrenheit 9/11" misses its chance to pinpoint political power as the root cause for war. To its credit, however, it gives us an example. And so it ought to be seen.