October 17, 2004
Filmmaker Michael Moore is a controversial figure. The left loves him for having the courage to shine the light of truth on the abuses of power and privilege that have defined the past 3 years of American history.
For exactly the same reason, the right hates him. And most of America's elite media have a hard time figuring out what to do with him - they cannot dismiss the most successful documentary filmmaker in American history, yet they do not feel comfortable giving the man and his ideas the attention that is usually afforded so successful and broadly recognized a commentator on the Zeitgeist.
When Moore appears in Madison tonight, for an 8 p.m. get-out-the-vote rally at the Memorial Union Terrace, all of the passions and conundrums associated with the man who made the film "Fahrenheit 9/11" will be on display. There will be fans, there will be protesters, and there will be folks trying to make sense of the phenomenon. And, as is the case everywhere that Moore goes, there will be passionate debate about not just the issues of this election but the direction of this country.
Michael Moore tries hard to keep things light - and there is certainly a great deal of humor to be found in his films, books and public pronouncements. But he is not a joke. Indeed, the stir he has created nationally, and internationally, is worthy of note. In much of the world, Michael Moore is the best-known critic of the Bush administration's reign of error. And, frankly, we couldn't think of a better representative of American opposition to military adventurism, crony capitalism and democratic decay.
Yes, of course, there are even some of the left who would prefer that Moore be a little more cautious in his comments, a little more mainstream in his critique. There are a lot of liberals who get scared when their tribunes start talking too much about issues of race, class and empire building.
To our view, however, it is when Moore is blunt that he sounds most American.
This country was not founded by polite people. The American revolution did not follow Robert's Rules of Order. The America experiment was launched in revolt against the existing order, against corrupt kings and their equally corrupt business partners. Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and their kind rejected the divine right of kings; they did not believe that power should pass from one King George to another. And the best of their number, Tom Paine, preached the healing power of revolution - not just for America but for the world.
Fifty years after the minutemen of Lexington and Concord fired the shots heard 'round the world, Daniel Webster would look back at that event and suggest, "The great wheel of political revolution began to move in America."
Reading the writings of the founders and their true descendants is a lot like watching a Michael Moore film. Often, Moore seems to channel the founders. When Moore speaks against military misadventures like the U.S. occupation of oil-rich lands such as Iraq, he echoes the stern warning of Thomas Jefferson that "if there be one principle more deeply written than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest."
And how similar are Moore's incitements against presidential war making to the observation of James Madison: "War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. ... The strongest passions, and the most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."
Nothing would horrify Moore's critics more than the suggestion that he might well be the best upholder of the revolutionary spirit in the current day - and thus the greatest patriot. But, then, Moore's critics tend to confuse patriotism with blind obedience. And if Jefferson and Madison teach us anything, it is that the true patriot must always stand against King George.