Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My Uncle, and Michael Moore

My uncle sent me the recent Michael Moore letter to Obama about the Nobel Lifetime Pre-Achievement Prize.
Dear President Obama,

How outstanding that you’ve been recognized today as a man of peace. Your swift, early pronouncements — you will close Guantanamo, you will bring the troops home from Iraq, you want a nuclear weapon-free world, you admitted to the Iranians that we overthrew their democratically-elected president in 1953, you made that great speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, you’ve eliminated that useless term “The War on Terror,” you’ve put an end to torture — these have all made us and the rest of the world feel a bit more safe considering the disaster of the past eight years. In eight months you have done an about face and taken this country in a much more sane direction.,,

Aside from the moronic oversimplifications, creating an entire foreign policy out of two ideas (that peoples need to liberate themselves rather than have others do that for them – tell that to Western Europe, the slaves, and the Jews – and that bloodthirsty enemies of the US would be okay if we hadn’t mistreated them), there are a few interesting things in Moore’s logic that bear noticing.

In the first laudatory paragraph, telling Obama how much good he’s done, notice that all the accomplishments are mere words. They are things Obama has said, not done. Yet Moore seems pretty satisfied with those. His evidence is that “the world” feels safer. What is the basis for that statement? I know of no grand consensus of the nations that each of them feels safer. No one’s done that survey. There’s no data. If I had to guess, however, I suspect eastern Europe feels less safe, and that Hondurans, Israelis, Iranian and Chinese dissidents, and African Christians feel less safe. Just for openers.

There is also the upbraiding of Bush for the words “War on Terror,” and the attribution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to him. See Charles Krauthammerfor a review of the actual history. Yet even given the usual overidentification of any president with a war fought during his term of office, I find Moore’s insistence on this rather strident. He is trying to score rhetorical points rather than illuminate history.

Who, then, does feel safer? Current rulers, tyrannical or no, and the friends and sympathetic journalists around them. Western Europeans in general, but predominantly their elites and talking heads. American liberals. I guess to Moore, that’s “the world.” I would instead call it “his tribe.” If you bung that concept into the first paragraph, the whole letter makes perfect sense. As this is a tribe that by and large does not join the military, they were pretty safe already (okay, not the tyrants). Whether Iraq and Afghanistan made us, the actual us that is the whole country, safer is a question for another day, and I doubt it has a simple yes/no answer. What matters in this context is that to Moore, the answer an unmodified “no.” No pluses and minuses, just complete assurance that we would be safer if we just pulled out of Bush’s wars. Moore was physically safe anyway; UN diplomats were safe anyway; Norwegian committeemen were safe anyway. Why then would he feel specifically safer?

Because the only thing that is under threat for him is is worldview, and the personal stake he has in people like him having the whip hand culturally. It is humiliating for Moore and his supporters to have to live in a country where other tribes have any say. They spent eight years trying to distance themselves from that America. To not be the acknowledged Lords of Governance and Culture is what we call in the psych biz a narcissistic injury. His feeling of improved safety refers not to his physical safety, but his relief at the world heading the way it’s supposed to now.

I am sure they tell themselves it is physical safety, not only for themselves but for others, that they are concerned with. All, perhaps, have at least some real concern for this. Yet I still conclude such concern is secondary (at best), because of the frequency of Moore’s arguments in progressive discourse, however disguised and varied the form. It appeals to linear and simplistic moralities of what should occur according to theory rather than any cost/benefit analysis; it coincides very neatly with what would be good for them personally and politically; once it has identified a bad motive in its enemies it looks no further no matter how small a fraction it is, putting all explanation into that basket; it is focusesd on words, impressions, and symbolism rather than action. It is not how things are that matters, but how they can be made to look.

Real events and conditions abroad seem almost not to matter, except as chess pieces in the American culture wars. What percentage of progressives fit this unflattering description I can’t say. All are more affected by this blindness than they realise, certainly. Hopefully, the number of thoroughgoing tribalists, for whom the actual safety of America is only a minor consideration, is small.

It is a great irony that Moore’s closest rhetorical equivalents are the creators of bathetic patriotic productions, manipulating symbols, stock phrases, and the swell of music to evoke an emotional response which bypasses the intellect. That his politics are precisely opposite theirs is immaterial. They use flags, martial drums, and stock heroes, he uses stock villains and one-dimensional faces of oppression; they ignore America’s faults, he ignores her virtues; both have rhetorical styles reminiscent of William Jennings Bryan.


Ben Wyman said...

Well, isn't this the man who just made a movie that denounced the bailouts, and managed to blame both Bush and Congress without ever pointing a finger towards Obama? I mean, at that point, you're working to avoid pointing the finger at him.

Tom Grey said...

AVI, very well said about the propaganda in favor of America that the Left has hated ... and replaced with propaganda against American capitalism, Christianity, & historical achievements and other successes.

So often the Left worries that America, in fighting evil, will become evil itself. While the Left, in fighting positive simplistic messages, has become negatively simplistic itself.