Right Hook

Fox pundit: Michael Moore is a Jabba-sized oaf. Coulter: Bill Clinton is a white O.J. Simpson.

Published July 1, 2004 12:05AM (EDT)

Apart from any debate over the factual and artistic merits of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," the film has already made a huge splash with American moviegoers. It grossed nearly $24 million in its first three days of release -- the most ever for a documentary film -- and held the top weekend slot, beating out such Hollywood favorites as "Dodgeball" and "White Chicks."

Whether the film influences how Americans vote in November is another matter altogether. Conservatives seem worried it will -- escalating a wave of venomous attacks against Moore, and even slinging their ire at sympathetic moviegoers. The right-wing campaign to discredit Moore began in earnest weeks ago; since the film's much-hyped opening, the temperature has risen even higher.

In a column dripping with sarcasm in Saturday's New York Times, pundit David Brooks yoked together provocative statements that Moore has made to the foreign press, tarring him as anti-American to the core. Brooks even implied that Democratic leaders who went to see the film were blowing off their official duties for the day. "The liberal grandees Arthur Schlesinger, Ted Sorenson, Tom Harkin and Barbara Boxer flock to his openings. In Washington, a Senate vote was delayed because so many Democrats wanted to see his movie."

Brooks may have torn into Moore for "explicating the general vapidity and crassness of his countrymen," but radio host and Fox News Channel regular Hugh Hewitt tore into his countrymen as well -- those who may admire Moore's film.

"I will note the one undeniable benefit of the movie's success. It provides a handy reference to the intelligence of the person who sees it. If you encounter anyone speaking in tones even remotely approaching respect for the movie, you have proof positive that the speaker is a fool, not to be trusted on any point, for he or she has given testimony as to their ignorance of basic facts and of an inability to detect even elephant-sized inconsistencies in argument and story line."

Hewitt also predicted the movie will sink John Kerry, not George W. Bush.

"The movie gives propagandists a bad name. At least it could have been well-made anti-American tripe. Instead it is a crudely made and insufferably dull march through the fever swamps of the unhinged left. It is pulling in big bucks, which is a testament to the disposable income of the swamp residents, but put me down as one in favor of even broader distribution and bigger box offices for the picture. It is an anchor around John Kerry's neck as ordinary Americans not filled with self-loathing will despise Moore for his transparent lies and not trust a political party that does not reject them ...

"Michael Moore is the latest in a long line of entrepreneurs who have proven P.T. Barnum to have been on the money when it came to the number of suckers abroad in our land. Sure he's a Jabba-sized oaf, but give him his due. He knew how to play the left's paranoia like a fiddle, and he did."

Days before the film opened nationwide, war hawk and Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens launched a lengthy analysis of the film's relative merits by likening Moore's work to Nazi propaganda and "excrement."

"One of the many problems with the American left, and indeed of the American left, has been its image and self-image as something rather too solemn, mirthless, herbivorous, dull, monochrome, righteous, and boring ...

"With Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, however, an entirely new note has been struck. Here we glimpse a possible fusion between the turgid routines of MoveOn.org and the filmic standards, if not exactly the filmic skills, of Sergei Eisenstein or Leni Riefenstahl.

"To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of 'dissenting' bravery."

Even so, Hitchens scoffed at attempts by right-wing groups to pressure local theaters to boycott the film.

"How dumb or thuggish do you have to be in order to counter one form of stupidity and cowardice with another? By all means go and see this terrible film, and take your friends, and if the fools in the audience strike up one cry, in favor of surrender or defeat, feel free to join in the conversation."

Hitchens threw down the gauntlet to Moore, calling for a verbal duel. "Any time ... Any show. Any place. Any platform."

On Tuesday blogger Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit noted the degree to which "Fahrenheit 9/11" also appears to be lighting a fire under conservative consumers. "David Hardy and Jason Clarke's new book about Michael Moore ["Michael Moore Is A Big Fat Stupid White Man"] went on sale today, and it's already at #20 on Amazon ... Just for the record, though, I don't think that Moore is stupid."

Clinton's legacy: Hitler or ho-hum?
Other pundits reserved their rancor for Bill Clinton in the wake of the former president's new book tour and media blitz. Though earlier this year many right-wingers condemned the use of Nazi imagery in the national political debate, it appears to be a favored trope for radio host Michael Savage. On a recent radio show he likened Clinton's book to Hitler's own autobiography:

"Have you gone out and bought Clinton's new book, 'Mein Kampf'? ... the English translation is 'My Life', but I suppose in German it's gonna be translated into Mein Kampf. It should be a big seller over there ...

"So there it is -- you wanna read 'Mein Kampf', go read it -- I mean 'My Life', excuse me, I keep mixing up the two titles -- of Bill Clinton's and the other fella who ran Germany for awhile."

Appearing on the NBC talk show "Scarborough Country" last week, syndicated columnist Ann Coulter thought O.J. Simpson offered a better dead ringer for Clinton.

SCARBOROUGH: Isn't lying before a grand jury and in a deposition a crime, Ann Coulter?

COULTER: Yes, of course, but interestingly enough, criminals rarely like the people who prosecute them. At least O.J. had the dignity to shut up about it and isn't out writing books denouncing [prosecutor] Marcia Clark.

Scarborough sort of wondered if Coulter saw any redeeming "presidential" qualities at all in Clinton.

SCARBOROUGH: Let's have you say something nice about Bill Clinton. This will be a little exercise, Ann, because I have been trying it over the past several months, and I have actually picked up a pretty good line ... Bill Clinton, unlike Al Gore, unlike a lot of other Democrats, has actually seemed presidential about this war in Iraq. You know he disagrees with a lot of things that George W. Bush has done in Iraq and across the world, but he has bit his tongue about it. Doesn't this effort to remain -- to seem more presidential has been hurt by him coming back out, going on this book tour, making a lot of the same excuses?

COULTER: And reminding us of the only thing anyone will remember from his administration. Yes, it's interesting that he alone among -- he and Hillary actually have been very supportive of the war. They are good poll readers. But that was true when he was president. Contrary to what the Clinton apologists kept saying, conservatives didn't particularly object to Clinton on policy. He was probably about the same as Bob Dole would have been. Everything Newt Gingrich sent up to him, he signed after the '94 election. The problem wasn't policy. It was that he was a pathological liar, a sociopath, and felon.

In the end, though, Coulter decided that Clinton's two terms in the White House were nothing but a ho-hum affair.

SCARBOROUGH: Ann, have you heard anything from Bill Clinton this week that has surprised you or caught you off guard or made you think, hey, you know what, maybe this guy has learned from his mistakes?

COULTER: I think that's what's known as a rhetorical question. No, there is nothing of any interest in this book. There was nothing to be learned about Bill Clinton ... We don't need to read the book. There's nothing of historical interest because there was nothing of historical interest in his entire presidency, other than for late-night comedians and perhaps legal history ... And he is a liar. So his take on the impeachment isn't particularly interesting either. I don't know why liberals won't move on.

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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2004 Elections Bill Clinton Michael Moore