Movie instills a good anger - maybe too good

July 04, 2004|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON - Fahrenheit 9/11 made me angrier than any movie I've ever seen.

It was a good anger, hard, clean and righteous, and I enjoyed it so much that I went back three days later to experience it again. Took two of my sons and two of their friends so they could become angry, too.

It's not that I was unaware the movie is less documentary than propaganda, one-sided and proud of it. It's not that I buy its conspiracy theories tying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to Bush cronies and their thirst for oil.

It is, rather, that the movie brings us face to face with things we have largely failed to appreciate these last months, things essential and disturbing about the president, his people and his war.

Things such as human cost, as in Lila Lipscomb, an erstwhile proud military mother who is literally bent double by grief after losing her son to a war whose righteousness she had not thought to question.

Things such as human greed, as in a gathering of military contractors who are barely able to contain their glee as they calculate the profit from this war.

Things such as human hubris, as in George W. Bush himself. He brags in an old interview about people wanting to do business with him because he can provide access to his father the president, and you are appalled by his frat-boy arrogance.

He makes vague allusion to "things" he and his aides will be working on, and you sense he hasn't a clue what they are.

He squints and smirks and stumbles back and forth over his own tongue, and you have this fantasy that if you could peer into his brain, you'd find a hamster running hard on a squeaky wheel.

Then there's the footage from that morning in a Florida classroom when an aide whispers to him that the nation has come under attack. For seven agonizing minutes he just sits there, his expression clearly that of a man who has not a clue. You want him to stand up, demand information, give an order, be the "president." Instead, he sits.

The White House has said Bush was seeking to project an air of calm. What he projects instead is an air of utter incompetence.

Some people will call that "Bush bashing." They will cluck piously about the need to respect the president. These would be the same people who kept accusing the previous president of drug dealing and murder.

It strikes me that their anger toward him probably felt hard, clean and righteous, too. The realization is sobering. It's the thing that finally stops me in my tracks.

After all, if smugness was one of liberalism's most glaring flaws from the 1960s to the doorstep of the Reagan revolution, one of the least-attractive characteristics of conservatism from that era forward has been its perpetual anger. Meaning its capacity to feel put upon, to work itself into a froth of righteous indignation, demonizing the opposition such that "liberal" becomes not a competing political philosophy but a curse word.

Nowadays, that kind of anger seems to be working its way from right to left. Witness the recent spate of harshly anti-conservative books, radio programs and now Michael Moore's movie. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. After all, there's something seductive about anger, something attractive in its minimalist simplicity. No thought, no reasoning, just a strident declaration: "I'm right, and you're evil."

The political left once prided itself on being better than that, on reading between the lines, comprehending nuance and illuminating areas of gray.

But now I find myself wondering if we will not all become self-righteous and extreme, pulling away from a center that no longer holds. And if so, who will be left to seek common ground for the common good?

Fahrenheit 9/11 made me angry. It scares me how easily that happened. And how good it feels.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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