September 11 either made me love this country or it made me realize how much I already did. I think it’s the latter. Seeing "Fahrenheit 9/11" made me think deeply about love of country—how it molds us, drives and emboldens us and how it can sometimes make us so angry we want to shout out to the world: "No, this is wrong." Many things have been said about the movie, and of course about its director, Michael Moore. But I don’t think I’ve heard anyone comment on Moore’s love for America. It seemed evident to me that the film was born from that love.
To anyone who would respond that, no, the film was motivated by rage at the Bush administration, might I point out that when you feel betrayed, when you believe that something or someone you love has been wounded and cheated and lied to, the fury that floods the heart is unstoppable.
In the '60s, most of my generation (including me) was angry at America for the distant jungle war that had also become a war at home. Fury was a rite of passage. The country was divided between hawks and doves. And we were angry doves. The Vietnam War was taking our classmates, our peers, our friends; it was taking brothers and boyfriends and young husbands. It was a war we couldn’t understand. Vietnam had done nothing to us. I remember having to find the country on a globe in the classroom just to figure out where it was. We spelled America with a k: Amerika. Remember? Anything to insult and denigrate our homeland, which in our eyes was responsible for a shameful invasion across the oceans. If anyone had suggested to me then that my rage was really born from love—that I felt betrayed by my government and therefore angry—I would have soundly rejected the notion.
Perhaps Michael Moore traveled along the same emotional route that I did. Perhaps he too looks back at those years and thinks, “I wanted more from my country. I wanted us to behave honorably, truthfully. I was ashamed of the country I loved. And it made me furious.”
A friend of mine said she didn’t want to see "Fahrenheit 9/11" because she doesn’t like Michael Moore. “Because he’s bombastic and strident?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“Exactly,” she replied.
I conceded that point—he can be both those things. But I tried to point out that he’s just the messenger in the film. And the message is an important one even if you don’t like the guy who is bringing it to you. Besides, he probably learned stridency decades ago and never un-learned it. What’s important is, when he stood in the kitchen with a mother from Flint, Mich., whose son had just been sent to Iraq and he agreed with her that America is a great country, I believed him. I think a lot of people did. I think my friend would too, if she ever sees the movie. That’s what I mean about his love for America—it comes through even if you don’t like his style.
President Bush, on the other hand, says that he loves this country and, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I assume he does love his conceptualized idea of America. But I don’t think he loves us—the people who make up this land. The huddled masses. The millions of citizens who just want a peaceful, safe life. Those who want to put their kids through school and see them grow up; who want to take vacations to other countries without fearing for their lives because so much of the world hates us.
I don’t think you lie to people you love. I don’t think you send them off into dangerous situations on the basis of murky, cobbled-together information that isn’t really information at all. I don’t think you keep them scared all the time. I don’t think you respond to horrors like public beheadings with cowboy slogans that sound like they came from old John Wayne movies. And I think if someone masterminds an attack on people you love and murders thousands of them, you go after that person until you find him. Osama bin Laden is six feet, eight inches tall, he wears white robes and he reportedly suffers from kidney failure, requiring him to be on dialysis. I haven’t researched this, but I assume there aren’t many dialysis machines in Afghanistan. So wouldn’t it make sense to stake out the ones that are there? He could have a portable one, which would require a generator. That should make him easy to spot, too.
But, alas, no one seems to be looking for Osama. According to Tim Russert, the Bush White House has done such a good job of diverting our attention to Iraq, there are actually people who now think Iraqis flew the planes into the World Trade Center towers. I believe Tim Russert. He has direct, honest eyes. He seems to love this country deeply. Perhaps he should run for office.
It seems to me that the most important question we can ask when choosing a president is, Does he love us? I think Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry should address this question—not in a sappy, touchy-feely way, but just matter-of-factly. We are going to be married to one of these men for the next four years, so it seems a crucial point. The sad fact is that someone who doesn’t love us is not going to take very good care of us.
Patti Davis is the daugher of the late President Ronald Reagan.
© 2004 MSNBC.