With the opening of controversial filmmaker Michael Moore's documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," conservatives everywhere are feeling their blood pressure rise a few notches. The unabashed liberal activist has President Bush between his crosshairs this time, and his stated goal is to help W on his way out of the White House in November.
According to reviews, the film paints Bush as a lazy, out-of-touch chief executive whose Middle East policies are unduly influenced by his family's shady business connections with wealthy Saudi nationals. While all of these charges may contain some hint of truth, the movie is obviously not an attempt to present the whole truth, and it is being tagged (quite fairly) by its detractors as pure left-wing propaganda.
The theatrical poster for "Fahrenheit 9/11" (which even Moore's critics must admit is pretty darn clever) features a heavily doctored photo of a smiling Moore holding hands with President Bush above a tagline which reads -- "Controversy ... what controversy?" It's funny enough on a superficial level but even funnier in an ironic sense, because the two men actually have more in common than either of them would probably care to admit.
You see, both Moore and Bush are masters of oversimplification. They can take complex situations, trim out all the facts that contradict one particular point of view, and then convincingly present what remains as the one correct way to view the situation.
People are complicated creatures, and understanding their motivations and interactions takes time, thought and patience. All those things are in short supply in the best of times, but when a nation is at war they are as scarce as a copy of "My Two Dads" at a Southern Baptist Convention meeting.
We want shortcuts, easy answers, and quick (if inadequate) solutions to our problems. That's where short-sighted and self-possessed men like Moore and Bush come in.
As a filmmaker, Moore can easily feed our hunger for oversimplification by editing out of his work any piece of evidence that might humanize the objects of his wrath or suggest that an opinion contrary to his own might be worth examining.
For the president, it's a bit tougher to keep "on message," since he occasionally has to face the press and its combative questioning. But he's done a pretty good job of avoiding those situations for the most part, eschewing news conferences for canned speeches in front of mostly friendly audiences.
Unfortunately, the things that make us feel good aren't always good for us. The scourge of terrorism is a multi-faceted problem that will not be resolved by overthrowing a handful of shoddy Third World governments or by replacing a marginally competent chief executive with another marginally competent chief executive.
I wish things were as simple as Moore and Bush are telling us they are, but they just aren't. These pied pipers of the left and right and are both leading people away from the truth, and their act is getting tired.
Bill Ferguson is a columnist for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.