"Undermining my electoral viability since 2001."

Michael Moore

Saw Mr. Moore yesterday at Berkeley with Luke and Kim. I went pretty much to see what the nuance of act was like, how he pulls it off and where he's going with the whole thing. See, I fancy myself a player these days, and keeping up on the scene is job one if you want to be in the game.

The two things I was happiest to hear was his sense of general optimism about the chances of getting rid of the current administration come November '04, and his call to arms for us young people to seriously participate by running for office. That's something I've thought about, and I'm glad someone in a position of power is out there blowing the conch if for no other reason than it makes me feel less egotistical for thinking I might someday hold some elected office.

But Michael Moore deals almost exclusively in rhetoric, so I end up having problems with a lot of what he says. He's Rush for the left, though hopefully without the junk habit, and as such I'm glad he's there. But I'm also chagrined that he falls into so many of the same polemical pitfalls -- hypocracy, hyperbole and other hy-isms I'm sure -- that we lambaste the Bad Guys on the other side for wallowing in. For instance, he trumpets the statistical demise of the angry white man, yet is undeniably one of said species himself. For instance, he says of Howard Dean that people aught to work him on his less-progressive positions (e.g. death penalty) yet trumpets the entry Wes Clark while only quiely and off-handedly admitting that many of his positions are completely unknown.

And he plays a dumb game called "stump the Yank" where he pulls some C-student Canadian and a straight-A's American (actually three of them) on stage and quizzes them in a rigged fashion. This after bringing up the National Geographic study which showed just how little young Americans can locate on a map. The first question to the Canadian player is "what is the name of the current US President?" which he of course answers. The accompanying query to the US student is to name the Prime Minister of Canada, which none of them can do. Everyone's a good sport about it, but I don't think this is particularly edifying or even worthwhile as an exercise. There is a point, that we Americans tend to be self-centered, but there's also the strong counterpoint that the President of the US, whoever it is, has vastly more geopolitical importance than the Canadian PM.

More broadly, I strongly dislike things which suggests that people are stupid. I find that to be a disempowering position to take as an agent for change. My preferred reading is that there are lot of people who lack a lot of knowledge, but this is more because they've been treaded like idiots by their culture and educational system than because they're inherently dumb in any way. The power of suggestion is strong, and if you treat people like they're stupid, they'll often react in a stupid fashion. I firmly believe that if you treat people with respect, communicate well, and assume they have intelligence, they'll more often than not rise to the occasion.

We need more of the latter if we're to turn things around here, and it seems to me that Michael Moore as an author and speaker deals too often in radical oversimplification and passive-aggressive condescention. As a filmmaker I find him far more deep and provocative, but when he puts himself in the focus he seems to inspire more ditto-headed "yup yup, those bastards" knee-jerk criticism of the Right than actual critical thought. We are at war -- politics is war by any other means -- but Moore's brand of attack seems to have relatively little consideration for securing the peace after the battle is won.

But I knew I didn't really like Moore's style as a speaker going into the thing, so it's no shock that I'm less than a cheerleader for his methods. As I said, I'm glad he's out there. He's a warrior, but I can't get behind him with my whole political heart. It certainly made for good dinner conversation with Luke and Kim and Nick.