An introductory apology: In this essay, I refer to the people in the middle and lower classes of America as the “little guy”. Please be aware that I know of many “little gals”. It’s just that the expression is “little guy” Don’t blame me, blame the gender biased English language.
Michael Moore, whose Catholic beliefs led him to his liberal, populist views (although he disagrees with the church on abortion), had his name of a lot of left-wing publication mastheads, including the world-famous Mother Jones in San Francisco, up until the late 80's. He was also, at 18, the youngest president of a school board in US political history; unless the voting age is lowered, Mike will own this record for all eternity.
In 1989, Mike finished production of a comic documentary about how Roger Smith, the then head of General Motors (where many members of his immediate family worked) closed all of its plants in Flint, Michigan (Mike was born and raised in a suburb of Flint) and basically left the town to wither on the vine. If you want to know more, please see this movie (which I highly recommend), it is available at many places where DVDs are sold. Look for Roger & Me.
Mike was quite surprised that the big capitalist movie studio, Warner Bros., wanted to buy his movie and distribute it world-wide. Thus began what was been about a decade and a half of Mike’s run in the public eye, including several books, all of which we will cover, several other movies, which we will not cover (aside from Fahrenheit 9/11 and Bowling for Columbine), and Mike’s wonderfully quirky and short-lived NBC/FOX TV show, TV Nation. We will now talk about his books in further detail.
Michael Moore’s books were everything Mike was: funny, populist, and independent of the Democrats. From his first book, Downsize This!, in which Mike established a comic format he continued (after a long hiatus from books to work on other projects) in the book which propelled him to into the stratosphere, despite (and because of) the objections of the publisher, Stupid White Men, after which Mike rolled onward with the self-professed follow up to SWM (Mike had threatened to retire if SWM failed), Dude, Where’s My Country? (Which was named after the stoner classic, Dude, Where’s My Car?) Mike (with Kathleen Glynn) also wrote Adventures in a TV Nation (with Kathleen Glynn), a silly side trip into the aforementioned TV Nation.
Despite this incredible track record of success, Mike’s latest books are much more serious. The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader contains the script of the aforementioned mildly comical but mostly activist F. 9/11, along with various supplementary material praising the film, and other material backing up Mike’s claims in it. Will They Ever Trust Us Again? is a collection of letters Mike receives from a select group of troops in Iraq, who, like Michael, support... themselves, but not the Republican sector of the leadership, especially now that they are in Iraq.
We now turn back to 2002. In the controversial Stupid White Men, Mike became active in politics because of his concern for the little guy, endorsing Gore in states where a Nader vote would tip the scales in Bush's favor, but becoming a full-on Naderite at the end.
Things really changed after that. George W. Bush became, in Mike's (and my) eyes, a miserable president. Also, between the two time periods, Mike did the activist but very funny (in a black comedy sense) Columbine, for which he won an infamous Oscar. In Columbine Mike, as a liberal little guy, looked at conservative “little guys” opinion on gun control and finds it lacking. This is Mike challenging but still supporting the little guy, as Mike finds many “little guys” who have been affected by gun violence and come out on the other side (Mike, however, is not explictly anti-gun: he is just distured by the high rate of American fatalities as compared to other countries. Mike investigates some of what he considers the causes of this rate [gun culture, media sensationalism, bowling, etc.] and comes out agnostic as to any solutions). This is important because Mike does a similar thing later on.
In Dude, Where's My Country? he drafted tv talk-show host Oprah Winfrey (because of her fame and liberalism) for president. This can be seen as something of a continuation of Mike’s comic form (Mike once ran a ficus plant for congress in 24 districts in 2000). If it can be taken seriously, it can be seen as a sign that his Naderism is gone, though he is slightly hesitant to endorse the Dems.
Then he endorsed former NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark (on his web site and at Clark rallies; he had no media projects during the Democratic primary season) in the Democratic primary for his military liberalism, a sign that he thinks the situation justifies supporting mainstream Dems, but he still wants a say about which Dem during the time in which Democrats are allowed to dissent. Mike could've endorsed lefty gadfly Rep. Dennis Kucinich or black leader Rev. Al Sharpton if he just wanted to be involved in the progressive outside of the party.
Clark, however, was part of the outsider elite of the Dems, where Mike now feels the most comfortable. Clark had mostly outsider support but he was no progressive. Also, Mike supported Clark because of his militarism, something the entire spectrum of little guys get; though Mike explicitly supports the troops who serve for their country without supporting Republican spectrum of their leadership, a stance which conservatives noisily disagree with
And then Mike made Fahrenheit 9/11 for Bob and Harvey Weinstein, of Miramax fame. Disney, which owned Miramax, would controversially (Disney claims because of F. 9/11’s political bias, Mike claims Disney is bed with the Saudis) refuse F. 9/11 access to Disney’s distribution network (the Weinsteins would find different distributors) and the Miramax name. The Weinsteins and Disney would later part ways.
Although hostile toward Democratic leadership at several points, (including the Congressional Black Caucus' failed attempt to challenge the 2000 Presidential results to due to inaccurate felon purges and a disagreement with the Supreme Court’s involvement, which Vice President Gore, in his role as President of the Senate, had to deny due to the lack of Senatorial support) the film plays in a fashion befitting a Kerry commercial, though it is much more explicit about Bush’s failures on 9/11 and ties to the Saudis than Kerry would have ever done. F. 9/11 had time to make a few comic potshots at the administration. But, overall, the film was much more serious.
Michael Moore entered politics because of his concern of the little guy; as a Naderist because of Ralph’s concern for concern for the little guy, and in his attempt to keep up with the Bush Administration ends up supporting a “big guy” party, the Democrats. But Mike remembers where he came from. In F. 9/11, Mike befriends Lila Lipscomb, a Flinter whose son went to Iraq. Before Lila was a conservative Democrat and a supporter of the Iraq war. Because her son was killed in Iraq, Mike implies, she does not support the war anymore (Although being a Democrat, she never wholly supported GW). Mike is debating, but supporting, the little guy. Mike is a liberal little guy, so he supports liberal foreign policy, but he knows most the conservative "little guys" support Bush's foreign policy, and he wants to debate that.
Mike defends his choices in politics as support for the little guy, butis decision to go dark was an artistic decision on his part, which he made during Columbine due to his emotional response to the subject of gun violence. Jack that up by about 10,000 volts and switch the issue to foreign policy, and you have F. 9/11. As Mike saw the nation, the main problem is that the little guy is getting screwed (Author’s Note: forgive me as I could find no other word more polite, and at least one word less polite) by both parties and their corporate allies, and the little guy must respond. First the little guy should vote for fellow liberal little guy Ralph Nader, but not in swing states where corporate Democrat Al Gore could win, then they should give national support whoever the Greens were to run next. Then Dubya comes along, and he screws the little guy even more, according to Mike. To stop him, the little guy, Mike thinks, must support Oprah (if she ever wanted to run), then Clark, then Kerry. Mike is supporting corporate candidates to support the little guy. It makes sense to him.
It gets worse. As Mike evolved from, to paraphrase the popular description of former Canadian Prime Minister John Chretien, who was born in a small town in Quebec, “la petit gars du Flint” (French for “the little guy from Flint”,) to where he is now, he has become played to the liberal wing of the corporate elite that conservative “little guys” love to hate. This was most apparent when Mike appeared as a suicide bomber along with "Hollywood liberals" Sean Penn and Tim Robbins in the Team America: World Police, made by the creators of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone (Note that Trey and Mike have a personal feud with Mike; Columbine featured a cartoon that was similar to South Park, but not involving Stone or Parker; Stone felt people confused the cartoon with his work). Mike’s critics throw his support for Democrats and his fame and fortune (although, as Mike points out, many little guys want to be rich and famous) in his face and many little guys lap it up like a sponge. Mike, as a supporter of the little guys, has become, in many camps, an enemy of the little guy, because of his liberalism.
Mike is oblivious to this, having become a superstar (and a rival) in the liberal camp as aa whole, elite and little guys alike. However, it is a problem, and here is my flawed solution (I have to suggest something): what Michael Moore should is do read Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas? (If he hasn’t already), the inspiration for the title of this essay. Heck, he should produce, write, and direct the movie version. What he should take from the book is to use his position with the liberal camp and start fighting corporate America and its policies again, in some ways like the good old days, but in some ways different, with a devotion to a much broader economic agenda than anything Moore use to do. (Though he could keep the serious tone if he wants, honey, i.e. humor, attracts more flies than vinegar, i.e. drama.)
Mike should become a “socialist” (Socialism is a curse word in U.S. politics, which is a fact his ever perceptive conservative critics realize and thus call Mike a socialist. Mike shouldn’t bill himself as a Socialist per se) in the vein of Canada's New Democratic Party under its leader Jack Layton, (I refer to Canada for two reasons, one is that Mike is involved in the political debate in Canada, which his conservative crtics will not do, seconly I use Canada as an example for the road I am suggesting Mike take) who just saved the Liberal Party (the center-left governing party of Canada) Prime Minister Paul Martin in a confidence vote, and to a lesser extent, Gary “Today’s NDP” Doer, Premier of Manitoba.
However, Doer had to sell his soul to the center in Manitoba ("Today’s NDP” is the same as the “Third Way”, the “New Democrats”, and “New Labour”), and Jack Layton just voted to save the conservative leaning Paul Martin, who welcomed to his cabinet, with open arms, 2 former Conservative Party (the opposition in Canada) MPs, albeit moderate ones. However Jack Layton got millions of federal money towards NDP priorities, and delayed, possibly even killed, a corporate tax cut (though Layton may have to let the tax cut pass to save the government). The NDP has came a long way since a previous party, the CCF, allied with the trade unions and the farmers union (not Cesar Chavez's union, but progressive family farmers) to form it in 1967, and all of it has pointed toward compromise, but the party may be able to survive as a liberal force in the end, and it is something which Michael Moore would do well to consider in the United States.
If Mike tried to do the things I am talking about, the corporate elite would kill him in 5 minutes, most likely, though there is some chance of Mike beating then. Also, Mike may like to have the support of the entire liberal big tent. However, Mike’s imperative (a very fair imperative) is beating George Bush’s successor in 2008. That may have to happen before we can have any wild dreams. Based on that imperative, Mike is planning to go back to the American movie-going public in 2006 (just in time for the mid-term congressional races; Mike, as always, plans his projects alongside U.S. elections) with Fahrenheit 9/11 ½, which promises to be more of the same.
In the 15 or so years of Michael Moore’s career, his work has a changed a great deal. When Mike started, he was more concerned about supporting the little guy against corporate greed (and its allies in both parties), and having lots of laughs along the way. Mike was not political, but he would agitate for Ralph Nader if he was. Now Michael Moore is mostly concerned about protecting the little guy (which hasn’t changed, although he now can have debates with the little guy on some issues) against Republican tyranny, and its outcome, American empire, mostly through drama, but being able to have a few laughs.
© 2005 Corwin Haught The Author grants all right to reuse this essay, as long I’m credited (Conservatives can even distort this essay, if they want to.) I may sell this piece to the Grand Forks Herald; fair use law may apply then. Check with your lawyer, or a good legal site, like Findlaw.com at http://www.findlaw.com.