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"America's pathetic liberals: the sequel"

A pretty objective review of f911. Moore is not one for the solution that many expect. I think his movie does make points this author suggest he does not make.

Feature article included in full text below:

"America's pathetic liberals: the sequel"
by John Chuckman - YT Columnist (Canada)

Editorial on Michael Moore's new film and America's liberal culture.

Direct link:  http://www.yellowtimes.org/article.php?sid=2011


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"America's pathetic liberals: the sequel"
Printed on Monday, July 19, 2004 @ 19:51:05 CDT

By John Chuckman
YellowTimes.org Columnist (Canada)

(YellowTimes.org) -- The controversy over Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit
9/11' provides sharp insight into contemporary American liberalism. You
might think from all the noise that something radical or revealing or
important was happening.

But you would be wrong. The noise represents another example of what
Robert Hughes called America's 'Culture of Complaint,' an endless
bickering, never deciding anything but enjoyed purely for itself.

The film is at its heart a thoroughly conservative document, a fact
which generally has gone unnoticed except in Robert Jensen's acute review,
'A Stupid White Movie.' Worse, it explains virtually nothing about
events it claims to examine.

Michael Moore's role is to make American liberals feel good about
themselves without having to question the practices of a society which cast
an increasingly long, cold, dark shadow over the planet. The job pays
well, and Moore is becoming a wealthy man, a kind of well-kept court
jester for those with occasional twinges of liberal conscience or human

Moore likes to play the big, innocent kid from the heartland, a kind of
latter-day Spanky McFarland, only much older, happily shuffling along
with a beat-up baseball cap instead of beanie, keeping the faith with
values absorbed in 1950s Flint, Michigan, but asking bright-eyed,
impertinent questions about serious things. He's America's backyard Socrates
in baggy pants and gym shoes.

The image appeals to the confused, clinging-to-childhood quality of
American culture. Yet that very quality is what let the invasion of Iraq
and so many other terrible events happen.

Moore, unlike straight-shooter Spanky, also displays a streak of the
somewhat unpleasant practical joker or prankster. I do not mean the
talent for funny lines that makes his books sell well, but a certain
tendency to sly sniggering tricks, a certain Eddy Haskel or Candid Camera
quality which overlays and sours the honest Spanky image. We see this
clearly in the many stunts he uses, some quite clever, in movies or
television to get filmed reactions from or about those who will not respond to
him in a direct manner. These are the tricks of the process server or

Moore's film revels in exactly the kind of inconsistent thinking, full
of unwarranted assumptions, thick with suggestions of undefined
conspiracy, typical to one degree or another of most media in the United
States. The thinking also is typical of a President who keeps telling us he
decimated Iraq and spent a hundred billion dollars to save American

Moore told the world some months back that he had found his
presidential candidate in former General Wesley Clark. That announcement should
have been a warning, because Clark is indistinguishable in his views from
George Bush, and the general's behavior in the former Yugoslavia was
arrogant, provocative, and dangerous.

Moore simply wants to be rid of Bush, and he was ready to support an
opportunistic and dangerous man like Wesley Clark to do it. Now, in his
movie he has assembled a pastiche of attitudes, assumptions, and
interesting, but largely unenlightening, film clips hoping to elicit enough of
an emotional response to be rid of Bush.

Why does Moore, and I use him to represent all of liberal America, so
want to be rid of Bush that he takes what I regard as the unprincipled
position of supporting someone as bad or worse?

I do not believe it is because Bush represents a danger to American
values, the favorite charge of many fuzzy-thinking American liberals,
because in many ways Bush accurately reflects those values. I think they
are desperate to be rid of Bush because he is an embarrassment. There is
something excruciatingly American about Bush, revealing some painful
truths about the society he represents, much the same as was the case
with President Nixon's brother and his efforts to create a fast-food
empire based on Nixon-burgers or President Carter's whining, beer-swilling
brother, Billy.

Yes, Bush has done a lot of damage in the world, but Presidents can't
act alone. In Nixon's last days of wandering the White House corridors
late at night, a muttering ghost with a tumbler of Bourbon, the armed
forces and others were alerted not to respond to orders that did not pass
through the appropriate chain of command. And it is not just the
cabinet that limits a President's ability to act. It is the Congress and,
more generally, the people of the country. The anti-war protests that
engulfed America, once Vietnam was seen for the ugly fraud that it was, had
no force of law but they very much influenced policy. The murderous
fiasco of Iraq happened with the complicity of Congress, notably including
Senator Kerry, and with the passive acceptance or indifference of most

The truth is that Bush is a fairly typical white, suburban, middle-aged
American. He talks and thinks the way a great many Americans talk and
think. He jogs and plays golf. He has a fondness for school-boy pranks,
although less clever ones, similar to Michael Moore's. He
unquestioningly accepts America's fairy-tale, official version of itself as God's
own chosen place on the planet with liberty and justice for all -
something shared by Michael Moore and most flag-waving American liberals.

Bush's personal redemption story is shared in tens of millions of
American homes. When Americans aren't experiencing redemption first-hand,
they are consuming it from check-out-line magazines and talk shows. It's
a national obsession with its promise of being able to start life over
representing another kind of clinging to childhood.

Bush has always enjoyed a comfortable life without any evidence of
earning or meriting it, but that is what so many Americans dream of doing
as they throw away money on state lotteries and at casinos. Americans
love watching television families similar to Ozzie and Harriet in the
1950s where nothing real ever happened, just nice people floating in a
timeless space. Many modern shows, like Seinfeld, are just hipper versions
of the same thing.

Bush's total lack of interest in serious books -- there is no evidence
he's ever read one -- genuine art, and new ideas is quite typical. The
last President of the United States who took some interest in the arts
or thinkers was Kennedy. Bush's lack of interest in anything outside
the United States -- only altered as required in his role as President --
and his Blondie Bumsted behavior, right down to choking on a pretzel
while watching football from a couch, put him at the very middle of
middle America.

You may ask, we know Bush is a brutal, rather psychopathic man, so how
can he be like so much of middle America? You see, middle America is
not the harmless, gentle place it seems in Hollywood's confections. It is
the place where thirty-year old couples assume they are entitled to a
five-bedroom home on a sprawling lot in the suburbs with at least two
lumbering vehicles in the driveway. It is the place which ignores the
ugly parts of its own society, the ghettos, the broken-down schools, the
lack of healthcare. It is the place where the relentless demand for
still more endangers the planet's future. And it is the place that drives
America to global empire.

Bush is not, as so many American liberals claim, out of step with
American history. Childish slogans about taking back America or, even worse,
'Dude, Where's My Country?' are just that, childish. Bush is an
awkward, unpleasant exemplar of enduring American behavior and values. Did the
invasion of Iraq represent different values or attitudes than the
'Remember the Maine' invasion of Cuba? How about the invasion of Mexico, or
the seizure of Hawaii, or the holocaust in Vietnam and Cambodia? Does
the Patriot Act represent anything different than the Alien and Sedition
laws of John Adam's day or the dark excesses of the FBI under Hoover?

Americans are always attracted, like Marlon Brando's wonderful
character in 'On the Waterfront,' to what used to be called 'class.' The movies
of Hollywood's golden era, from those with John Garfield to Humphrey
Bogart, are filled with that word used in that way. Because the entire
throbbing core of America is about making as much money as possible as
quickly as possible in almost any way possible, afterwards, you are
supposed to settle in for some show of class.

While the flavor of American culture has changed, especially in its
complete abandonment of post-depression era sympathy for struggling little
people, the desire to display something that is the equivalent of
'class' in 1950 remains palpable. It's there in everything from the names
bestowed on car models and real-estate subdivisions to the look of
popular American designers like Ralph Lauren or figures like Martha Stewart.
Part of the problem with Bush, no matter how quintessentially American
he is, is that he has no class. It's unnerving to have an empire whose
Caesar is laughed at by much of the world, all those funny-talking
people out there in the world sniggering at the leader of God's own chosen

I have a problem with all the liberal whining in America over
professional soldiers being killed in Iraq, actually still a small number
compared to the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis killed both in the war
and in the decade-long run-up of brutally harsh American-imposed
restrictions, and it is no different for Moore's scene of a mother's tears.
No, I'm not talking about the poor mother herself whose loss is real, but
about the calculation of Moore's film in using the scene and about the
very predictable result on American audiences. Pictures of a small
number of flag-draped coffins appear to be almost the only thing fueling
America's limp antiwar movement.

When I see pleas about dead American soldiers I can't help but think of
all the tears shed at the Vietnam memorial for the relatively few who
died helping in the work of bringing overwhelming destruction to another
land, but there is never a tear shed for the millions of souls
extinguished by America.

There is a scene in a much more moving documentary from the Vietnam War
called 'Hearts and Minds' in which a poor Vietnamese man bawls and
screams over the limp limbs of his dead young child, one of countless
innocents snuffed out by Americans flying too high ever to glimpse the
horror they delivered. The film then cut to an interview with General
Westmoreland sitting comfortably, pontificating about the way Asians didn't
regard life the same way Americans do. Propaganda, yes, but still
shatteringly true and unforgettable.

Well, it was a fine film of its type, but it wasn't destined to make
its director a wealthy man. Americans just are not much interested in the
suffering of others, especially it seems when they cause it. Although,
in mitigation, it is fair to point out how little of the suffering they
ever are permitted to see, the lack of imagination over what must
happen when you drop thousands of tons of high explosives and flesh-ripping
shrapnel is still appalling.

But even if you do not feel the same way I do, and you were moved by
the mother's tears in the last part of the movie, be very careful how you
vote to get rid of Bush. Kerry has never so much as condemned the war.
He has never condemned Bush, except by repeating official-report
findings all thinking people on the planet understood a year before the
official report. Kerry's view of the Middle East, frantic pandering to
Israel's darkest interests, promises no end to future troubles. He is an
unrepentant, unimaginative supporter of global empire.

That brings us to the real tragedy of America and the real cause of
9/11 and so many other horrors: America's swaggering readiness to play the
game of global empire with all the brutality and incivility that it
implies. You tell me how a confused film like Moore's, even if it
contributes to toppling a confused President like Bush, adds anything to
resolving America's great dilemma of insatiable greed and willingness to do
terrible deeds while mouthing high-sounding ideals.

[John Chuckman is former chief economist for a large Canadian oil
company. He has many interests and is a lifelong student of history. He
writes with a passionate desire for honesty, the rule of reason, and
concern for human decency. He is a member of no political party and takes
exception to what has been called America's 'culture of complaint' with
its habit of reducing every important issue to an unproductive argument
between two simplistically defined groups. John left the United States
as a poor young man from the South Side of Chicago when the government
embarked on the murder of millions of Vietnamese in their own land
because they happened to embrace the wrong economic loyalties. He lives in
Canada, which he is fond of calling 'the peaceable kingdom.']

John Chuckman encourages your comments:  chuckman@YellowTimes.org

YellowTimes.org is an international news and opinion publication.
YellowTimes.org encourages its material to be reproduced, reprinted, or
broadcast provided that any such reproduction identifies the original
source,  http://www.YellowTimes.org. Internet web links to
 http://www.YellowTimes.org are appreciated.

I sent this out with my own comment "amen" 22.Jul.2004 08:11


I sent this out to everyone on my email list with my own subject heading "amen." Some of the responses I got back from some politically moderate types was interesting (one referring to it simply as "bullshit" and "drivel" and pointing out that Chuckman is a former oil company exec., and another mentioning not just his former career, but that he "fled" to Canada {meaning no offense to me, who just escaped as well} and was thus "washing his hands" of the problems he's writing about). My basic response was that Chuckman's message is what matters. Similarly, one of my brothers constantly points out that I used to be really conservative (I was actually more a "libertarian," whatever the hell that means). And I always respond by asking him why that should matter all these years later? It's a fact from the past that has very little bearing on the present, except as part of my personal path to finally WAKING THE FUCK UP.

Amen (in the secular sense).

very important 22.Jul.2004 11:59


One reason I cried watching the film is the despair at living in a country where the opposition (i.e. 'liberals') think that all we have to do is vote for another albeit classier and more intelligent warmonger and everything will be O.K. Nobody wants to go to the root of the problem, which seems typical of our society. We are all part of the US plutocracy/war machine and need to bring it to a stop. I call for a general strike. Money is the only thing that has clout in this country. Stop making it for 24, 48, 72 hours and see what happens. We need to slam on the brakes and start to worry about the extreme poverty and violence in our own country, and how all of us, by putting our money in US banks and paying taxes, owning stock and even buying health foods from the companies in which companies that manufacture bombs own stock help support the system.

We need to go back to the streets and the neighborhoods. Turn off our computers and go out and talk to people. People want connection - it's a human need. One reason there is so much depression in this country is that people feel so isolated. If things get bad enough, I truly believe that people will rise up.

F/911 is an important movie and very well done, but too many people naively think we can change things by voting. And they act as if we were still in the 'trustworthy' paper ballot days and as if having a representative democracy is the same thing as a real democracy.

so then Gerry, 22.Jul.2004 19:48

Fellow Traveler

So what does "escaping", for your part, mean? Can you fight against the institution and its institutional problems more effectively from Canada? Or have you tried to wash your hands too and decided to stop fighting?

Depends 22.Jul.2004 22:50


Depends on what you mean by "institution" and "institutional problems." If you mean global capitalism then yes, I think my efforts are better served here. Plus, I wanted to get my family out of the belly of the beast. I felt like a stranger in a strange land for many reasons. In short, I couldn't countenance living in a country with so much wealth and yet so little concern for fellow human beings.

But if by institution you mean America, then I admit I've personally given up on that. Yes, I admit it. There never was any great society to begin with. Pretty much everything we've been traditionally taught is myth and lies. The society was based on rape, pillage and dividing human beings from each other and their natural needs and nothing's changed. Not that there isn't any hope, because where there's life there is hope. But in my opinion you're about to go into free fall and I want no part of it. I'm sick of banging my head against the proverbial brick wall. Maybe some sort of collapse will convince the rest of the world to turn away from the corporate capitalist model that is strangling the life from the planet.

Here's a better pic: 23.Jul.2004 01:25

clamydia clamydia@mail.com

Macromedia flash is so great! You can export your flash movies as quicktime, gif, etc... If you get a certain freeware program, you can even turn your flash movies into mpegs! Too bad it's not open source...

I'm curious Gerry 23.Jul.2004 20:35

Fellow Traveler

Ok, so those are some good reasons. I've got a few problems with some of them though. Isn't Canada founded on similar myhts? Weren't their natives "first nation" as they're called up there I think, treated just as badly? Don't most nation-states look to fond myths of their birth?

And also, you said "my fight against global capitalism"... I thought that people who see themselves as fighting against global capitalism believe that social democracy is only one step up from Americas lack of social programs. DOesn't social democracy just mask the same problems, or trick people into thinking they have it good cause at least they have affordable health care? It's still globalized capitalism, isn't it?

And finally, I am intruiged by you stating that you can fight better up north. I'm wondering why?

correct...however... 23.Jul.2004 22:03


Yes, you are correct in what you say about Canada. But, at this point in my life, with wife and kids, this is the best we can manage in leaving the U.S. Social democracy as practiced here and in other places is yet another sinew of the global capitalist paradigm. It's absolutely part of the same problem. Yet I'd rather be here than below the border. The society as a whole isn't as barbaric, idiotic and as egregious an example of the worst of the "industrialized world."

As for fighting the better fight here, I really mean I can come closer to living the way I want to live, and as sappy as it sounds, that's how I'm fighting these days. By connecting with others in various ways, trying to live as lightly as possible, and contributing to a society that at least has some bit of social capital to draw on when things collapse. I'm done writing. I'm sick of marching in circles to streets empty of possible sympathizers but bursting with fascist cops and their devices of "crowd control." I'm just doing what feels right to me, rather than analyzing everything, as I did in the past. The time may come again for a new kind of fight. But I sense that things are about to spiral into chaos. Hopefully we'll be living self-sufficiently up on Vancouver Island; I'll be done with massage school and able to support a family and help others; and in that way myself and the people around me will be contributing to a more humane way of living. It's about the only hope we have(along with sharing resources on a global level). I'm sure you'll be doing the same in your own way.

If you're still reading this thread, Gerry 24.Jul.2004 10:27

Fellow Traveler

What you're saying sounds fine to me. The reason why I'm curious has to do with some conclusions I've made in the last year. For the last couple of years, especially since the war, I've been what people in the mainstreams news call a political junkie. I read tons of websites, including a few indymedia websites, and try to stay informed on "what's going on". I spent the last year living outside the country, which upon my return made me want to "do" more to try to make the world a better place: opposed Bush and the imperial agenda, war, cronyism, et al.

The frustrating part for me is that I don't know what to do. I don't really know how to best fight for what's right. Unfortunately this summer my financial situation forces me to work over 40 hours a week and I don't have too much time for activism. But this fall I'm lucky enough to be headed back to uc berkeley, which has tons of opportunities to get involved. And I plan on contributing significant time to some cause, jsut can't figure out which one and in which way.

So I guess what I'm asking is, do you have any advice? I'm not asking you to tell me how to think, I'm just wondering if theres anything that you've learned over the years that would help me to figure out where to dedicate my time?

only a cliche 24.Jul.2004 14:17


I'm 43 and have a good deal of various life experiences. The only advice I can give, and I know it comes of as cliche'd and New Agey, is to let your heart and guts decide for you. Shut off the discursive voice and intellect and do what feels right. Hey, it took me a long time to really learn that.