Tuesday, June 29, 2004

The Essential Polemic

Kevin Drum makes the valid point that much of the polemic in Fahrenheit 9/11 is similar in nature to the polemic the pro-war side has used both in the ramp-up to war and in the post-fall-of-Saddam phase.

Take the first half hour of the film, in which Moore exposes the close relationship between the Bush family and the House of Saud. Sure, it relies mostly on innuendo and imagery, but then again, he never really makes the case anyway. He never flat out says that the Bush family is on the Saudi payroll. Rather, he simply includes "9/11," "Bush," and "Saudi Arabia" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that George Bush is a bought and paid for subsidiary of the Saudi royal family.

Which is all remarkably similar to the tactic Bush himself used to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11. He never flat out blamed Saddam, but rather made sure to include the words "9/11," "Saddam Hussein," and "al-Qaeda" in as many sentences as possible, thus leaving the distinct impression that Saddam had something to do with it.

I pretty much agree with Kevin's point. Though I think we should consider what end results as well. The end result of Moore's polemic would be the removal of the Bushies from power. On the other hand, the end result of Bush's polemic is the destruction of the Iraqi infrastructure, the death of over 800 U.S. soldiers and many more Iraqis and the conversion of Iraq into a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.

As results go, I know which one I consider preferable.

Moore, like the right-wing, is leading the horse to water but isn't so much forcing it to drink the water as he is leaving little option to do otherwise. He puts forward the evidence, but doesn't assert the obvious conclusion. Instead, he leaves it up to the audience to do so. That way, when they come to the hoped-for-conclusion, it will be cemented in their consciousness to a greater degree than it would be if he just assert it flat out.

Is it unfair? To a certain extent. Especially when there is no comparable means for the other side to refute and/or offer counter-assertions (as was the case for liberals throughout much of the 90s). This kind of polemic has been and will continue to be a part of politics. Railing against it is as useless as shaking your fist at the rain. But it need not be destructive to the overall political dialog if it is allowed to exists within its own sandbox. 

It is when the polemic of one side becomes the dominant form of dialog that it becomes destructive.

This kind of polemic serves another purpose: it puts into the public dialog facts which otherwise "objective" journalism might avoid (because "objective" journalism tries to avoid this kind of proof-by-insinuation). Some of those facts should ultimately be dismissed as irrelevant. But some of them may be to important not to discuss (such as the undue influence Saudi money may have on U.S. foreign policy). In other words, just because it is a dirty low-down smear doesn't mean that it isn't true.

Which, I guess, is another way of saying that the smears against Clinton in the 90s were not, in and of themselves, a bad thing. It's just that they were given more weight than smears of a comparable nature against the right.

I've argued for some time that, far from destroying meaningful political dialog, operations like Air America and Michael Moore can provide a leveling effect on the nasty side of the debate. As Moore and Limbaugh fight it out in the mud pits, the more "reasonable" combatants can reach the consensus that will move us forward as a society. It's not the existence of people like Limbaugh, Moore and Franken that have made things worse. It's the fact that, for to long, one side unilaterally surrendered the field of combat out of some idealistic notion that it would bring us all down.

Politics needs its bruisers. The Democrats are finally catching on to this basic fact of life. Let's hope its not to late to make a difference.


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