When "Fahrenheit 9/11" became a smash hit, I ventured an educated guess that Michael Moore was mostly preaching to the converted.

Turns out I was right, at least according to the National Annenberg Election Survey.

This is not to minimize the reach of the film, which, despite criticism of its claims and conspiracy theories, is the most successful documentary of all time. That's why Moore, a perennial outsider, was swarmed by the press as he made the rounds at the Boston convention last week.

In fact, Annenberg says "Fahrenheit" has attracted about as many people as listen to Rush Limbaugh (8 percent in the survey say they've seen the Bush-bashing movie, while 7 percent say they listened to Rush in the previous week).

In the poll, 41 percent of "Fahrenheit" fans say it made them think less of the president -- but three out of five of them were Democrats to begin with. A third of independents say it lowered their opinion of Bush, but they were more liberal and three times as likely to have backed Gore over Bush in 2000. And, no surprise, only a handful of Republicans saw the flick.

All told, 13 percent of the movie-watchers approved of Bush's performance in office, while 86 percent disapproved. Eighty-three percent said the war had not been worth it. They also like Kerry, 70-17.

Among Limbaugh listeners, 88 percent approve of Bush's performance and 12 percent disapprove. Eighty-two percent say the war was worth it. They view Kerry unfavorably by a 78-15 margin.

As the ton of Bush-is-a-liar and Liberals-are-bigger-liars books makes clear, media marketing these days is all about capitalizing on polarization. Or, as Annenberg chief Kathleen Hall Jamieson put it: "What Limbaugh and Moore have done is find the hard-core partisan audience."

Since I mentioned Rush, | http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/home/daily/site_080204/content/limbaugh_institute_2.guest.html let's let him comment on the orange alert:

"Politically, the question then, therefore, is, 'How does Bush benefit from America being at greater risk?' How in the world -- as a stand alone concept, stick with me on this -- as a stand-alone concept, how does it figure that an elevated terror threat, America at greater risk, helps George W. Bush? We're fighting the war on terror, we have these elevated threats, and this, according to Howard Dean and the kook fringe of the Democratic Party, is worried that the elevated terror threat helps Bush.

"There is only one way that that works, my friends. And the only way it works is not because Bush is genuinely benefited by the elevated terror threat. It is that the elevated terror threat exposes of weakness of Democrats. And when they make this ridiculous claim that this is all politics, what they are doing is telling us what they are afraid of. They are afraid the American people are going to realize Bush is the guy to deal with it, if for no other reason because they aren't, because they haven't made the case."

As I noted yesterday, terrorism has just about swallowed this campaign for the moment, and while Howard Dean was derided for questioning whether the alert was politically motivated, that seems to be the media question du jour.

"In an election that could well turn on questions of war and peace, danger and safety, all politics sometimes seem to be security these days," says the New York Times. | http://www.nytimes.com/2004/08/04/politics/campaign/04assess.html "And all security has an unmistakable overtone of politics, whatever the reality or immediacy of any announced threat.

"'We don't do politics in the Department of Homeland Security,' Secretary Tom Ridge said on Tuesday in dismissing any suggestion that his latest threat warning had a political motive. But on Sunday, Mr. Ridge, a former Republican congressman and governor of Pennsylvania, did do some politics all the same, when he declared that the intelligence behind his alert was 'the result of the president's leadership in the war against terror.'

"John Kerry may not share that view, of course, but it is hard for him to say so, and the biggest thing the Democrats may have to fear in this campaign is the power of fear itself.

"Polls show that Mr. Bush's handling of terrorism remains his only clear advantage over Mr. Kerry in a razor-close race, and the president would not be either human or the canny politician he has proved himself to be in the past if he did not do all he could to remind the public of that strong suit - and to reinforce it.

"That is why Mr. Bush chose to hold the Republican National Convention this month in Madison Square Garden, a short subway ride from ground zero, and why he released a new campaign advertisement on Tuesday with images of the firefighters and the flag, proclaiming, 'The last few years have tested America in many ways, but together, we're rising to the challenge: standing up against terrorism and working to grow our economy.'"

USA Today | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2004-08-03-terror-analysis_x.htm looks back at the many-hued era:

"Ever since Tom Ridge developed the color-coded terrorist threat advisory system and first put the nation at orange alert on Sept. 10, 2002, he has faced questions and criticism about the warnings he's issued.

"Some have called them too vague; others have said they require too many expensive security upgrades in too many places unlikely to be targets of an attack."

This week, "Ridge once again found himself on the defensive amid questions about whether he had needlessly panicked the public, using a terrorism alert based on outdated intelligence to shift attention back to President Bush after the Democratic National Convention.

"To those who would impugn his timing or motives, Ridge said: 'I wish I could give them all Top Secret clearances and let them review the information that some of us have the responsibility to review.'"

Which comes down to "trust me."

The Wall Street Journal notes the edge to Bush in reporting that "the debate was whipsawed back to national security with the headline-grabbing alert from the Bush administration Sunday.

"That is the ground, polls have shown, where the incumbent commander in chief is strongest. While Mr. Bush has increasingly been on the defensive about his policies toward Iraq, he had continued to lead Sen. Kerry of Massachusetts on the broader question of handling the global war on terrorism. Not surprisingly, the Kerry camp was bristling yesterday -- privately, mostly -- about whether Mr. Bush is playing politics with the issue.

"Certainly the news grabbed national media attention away from last week's convention and Mr. Kerry's cross-country campaign trip. Yet while initial polls indicated he got little of the expected political bounce from the convention, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll suggested that his image-makers' emphasis on Mr. Kerry's Vietnam combat service has had some effect in burnishing the Democrat's national-security credentials."

But don't get the idea that terrorism is Bush's only issue. This Los Angeles Times | http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/2004/la-na-bush4aug04,1,7747094.story?coll=la-bottom-elect2004 x piece makes that clear:

"President Bush was warmly embraced Tuesday by a prominent Roman Catholic fraternal group as he promised to continue fighting to limit abortion, ban same-sex marriage and preserve the reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"Bush's remarks to the Knights of Columbus came three weeks after social conservatives suffered a setback when the Senate thwarted a proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage -- a vote that prompted some on the political right to complain that the White House had not been vocal enough."

Noah Scheiber | http://www.tnr.com/etc.mhtml games the impact of future terrorism:

"This Washington Post | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35372-2004Aug2.html article suggests a terrorist attack in the United States between now and the election would be an unambiguous plus for the president's reelection campaign:

'Peter D. Feaver, a political scientist at Duke University who studies national security and public opinion, said he believes Bush probably remains "in the driver's seat" on terrorism. If there is a terrorism incident before the election, he said, there would probably be a "rally around the flag" impact that would favor any incumbent, so long as the administration was not seen as politicizing the incident, as occurred in Spain after a pre-election terrorist attack in the spring. A Kerry adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the campaign has discussed at length what would happen in the event of an attack and reached a conclusion similar to Feaver's, with any effect being strongest the closer to Election Day. . . . '

"But wouldn't the political effect of a terrorist attack depend on public opinion toward George W. Bush at the time of the attack? If voters are generally sympathetic to Bush, then, I agree, an attack will probably benefit him. When people are high on Bush, they tend to view him as a strong, decisive leader. And that's the kind of president you want after a terrorist attack.

"But if public opinion is trending against Bush, couldn't another terrorist attack reinforce that as well? Under this scenario, the terrorist attack might play the role that the budget deficit played in 1992, when people saw it as a symbol of a government that wasn't functioning properly. This time around, another attack might be seen as a symbol of the administration's screwed up priorities (too much focus on Iraq, tax cuts; not enough focus on the war on terror, homeland security), in which case it would clearly hurt Bush and benefit Kerry."

If I can add my two cents: Little else would get covered for days or weeks, making it harder for Kerry to break through while Bush gets to preside as president.

National Review's Rich Lowry | http://nationalreview.com/lowry/lowry200408030838.asp has some strong views on patriotism and lack thereof:

"Before telling a reporter to 'shove it' last week, Teresa Heinz Kerry complained that there were 'creeping, un-Pennsylvanian and sometimes un-American traits' to the presidential campaign. Few people outside of Wilkes-Barre care much about the epithet 'un-Pennsylvanian,' but in dropping the 'un-American' bomb she highlighted an important truth about today's politics: It is the Democrats who routinely question the GOP's patriotism, not the other way around.

"This makes for a fascinating stew of cognitive dissonance, transference, and probably odd psychological maladies yet to be identified and labeled. It's not easy to question the patriotism of people you are denouncing for questioning people's patriotism -- but Democrats manage it.

"Wes Clark personifies the art form. He gets so angry at Republicans allegedly questioning his patriotism, his head nearly explodes. 'This flag is ours! And nobody will take it away from us,' he shouted at the Democratic Convention. . . .

"This fits a pattern. Back in May, Teresa Heinz Kerry called Dick Cheney 'unpatriotic.' Sen. Bob Graham has said that Bush's Iraq policy was 'anti-patriotic at the core.' New York Rep. Nita Lowey has called Republicans 'unpatriotic' for cutting taxes. Howard Dean, again, has said that Attorney General John Ashcroft 'is not a patriot.' John Kerry himself has said that it was 'unpatriotic' for Bush's 'friends' in the corporate world to outsource jobs overseas. For good measure, Kerry has called those corporate leaders 'Benedict Arnold CEOs.'

"Given the nature of their incendiary charges against Bush, Democrats are almost forced into questioning his patriotism. If Bush really lied the country into a war of choice to boost his own political fortunes, he is a treasonous scoundrel. If the Bush administration creates terror alerts to provide itself political cover, as Dean thinks, it is an unpatriotic monstrosity. If Bush is a 'fascist' -- as Dean and prominent environmental activist Robert Kennedy Jr. suggested last week -- he is un-American.

"Republican elected officials and the Bush White House don't similarly impugn the Democrats' patriotism."

I can think of some Democrats who would take vigorous issue with that. What about in the fall of 2002, when Bush said the Senate (then controlled by Democrats and fighting the president over union rules for the Homeland Security department) "is more interested in special interests in Washington" than protecting national security?

American Prospect's Robert Kuttner | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=8285 isn't popping champagne corks over the Boston bash:

"Despite the Democrats' unity and jubilation last week, Kerry must still be rated the underdog. Here are several reasons why:

"Making the Sale. After all that buildup, Kerry's own speech needed to be a home run. His words certainly struck just the right tone of strength, optimism, and regret about Bush's failures. But the written text was so long that Kerry had to race through dozens of applause lines in order to finish by 11 p.m., when he knew the networks would tune out. So a potentially great speech came across as merely a very good one.

"Kerry had four months to prepare for this moment, but as late as mid-afternoon Wednesday, he and his aides were still tinkering with his text. If this process is the metaphor for the campaign -- too many hands on the tiller -- Lieutenant Kerry needs to seize the wheel and fast, or Bush's superior discipline will trump Kerry's superior intellect and case. . . .

"The Press. Democrats who actually attended the Boston event felt great. But the networks gave it only three hours of prime-time coverage over four nights.

"To this viewer, the coverage was not only more abbreviated than usual but even more fatuous, hectoring speakers over whether they had stayed 'on-message,' blathering on and on about Teresa, and badgering Kerry for a position on the Iraq war that is entirely consistent and defensible. (He supported a war resolution based on dishonest information from the White House and has relentlessly criticized the administration's conduct in Iraq ever since.)"

The New York Sun | http://daily.nysun.com/Repository/getmailfiles.asp?Style=OliveXLib:ArticleToMail&Type=text/html&Path=NYS/2004/07/29&ID=Ar00500 profiles a Boston reporter on an UHF station who's been a thorn in JFK's side:

"Bespectacled and graying, Jonathan Keller hardly looks like a man who could drive a seasoned politician to anger. Yet, with Mr.Kerry, it's happened more than once 'He's got the thinnest skin of any politician I've ever covered. He carries a grudge,' Mr. Keller said in an interview.

"In South Carolina last year, a voter asked Mr. Kerry about an article Mr. Keller wrote that described the senator as a flip-flopper. Mr. Kerry denied the charge. Then, according to an account in the New Republic, the senator said the author of the piece couldn't be trusted. 'His name is Jon Keller, and he and I have had a feud for years,' Mr. Kerry said. Mr. Keller said he remains baffled by the remark. 'I know of no such feud,' he said. 'It's not hard to get on his enemies list.'. . . .

"Mr. Keller said there's little reason to think Mr. Kerry would perform better as president than he has as a senator. 'He wants to be chief executive? He's a crappy executive, temperamentally and professionally,' Mr. Keller said. 'He can't keep good people. They come attracted by the idea of him and flee in horror at the reality of him. Some have remained political supporters. All will privately admit they think he's a jerk,' Mr. Keller said."

Feud? What feud?