The other night I got the thrill of hearing Michael Moore live. Portland was the 25th city in a 39 city tour to promote his new book "Dude, Where's My Country?" I, along with 10,000 other folks cheered this unlikely hero onto the stage. He was hard hitting and insightful, he was funny, and he was motivating. That's the short review. I'll share just a few of the themes he talked about, but first let me quash a report being put out by the local media and by Lars Larson (an ultra conservative talk show host here in Portland Oregon).
What is being reported is that Michael Moore gave Lars Larson's cell phone number to the audience and that Lars has been being harassed and receiving "death threats" from anonymous callers. The reality is that Mr. Moore did not give out Larson's cell phone number (at least not all of it), and that somone in the audience actually gave the cell phone number to Moore. To the best of my memory having witnessed the whole thing, Michael Moore stated the area code, the prefix and (inadvertantly I believe) the last digit of the phone number. If people are calling and threatening Larson, it is NOT because Michael Moore gave them the number.
OK on to some highlights.
Mr. Moore argued that we are living in an environment of enforced ignorance in the US. That there is a deliberate lack of information and lack of knowledge about the world and our place in it. He shared a poll that had been done recently where people were asked to identify nations on a map. He said that 85% couldn't find Iraq, 60% couldn't find Britain, and 11% couldn't find the US. Regarding Iraq, he argued "Shouldn't there be a rule that if you can't find it on the map you can't bomb it?" He stated that enforced ignorance leads to fear, leads to hate, leads to violence. And further, that it is very easy to lie to an ignorant population.
To demonstrate this point he had nine self-identified "A" students from the US, and one self-identified below average Canadian student join him on the stage to participate in a "game show." The US contestants ranged from a middle school student to a PH.D. candidate in physiscs. Moore asked a series of reciprocal questions. For example, he asked the Canadian what the capital of the US is, and asked the US "A" students what the capital of Canada is. Anyway, though humorous, the Canadian (as predicted) did win hands down. The point? The "dumbest" Canadian in the crowd knew more about the world than the "smartest Americans" in the crowd.
He talked at some length about the US being the only nation in a long list of nations that "pisses" on their poor. He said that other nations could understand our actions in the world, manipulating and attacking other nations, but they couldn't understand why we treated our own poor so cruely. He argued that one of the fundamental differences between the US and Canada is that Canadians have drilled into their bones that all Canadians are Canadian - they are in the same boat. What happens to one of them is perceived as happening to all of them. Therefore it is unthinkable to let people "fall through the cracks." This is far different that the individualistic , "me me me" of the US.
Michael Moore made a passionate and cogent argument about the 2004 elections. He said that we had to take back the White House and the Congress. He argued that now is the time to push the various candidates to embrace the direction that we want to go - that it was our responsibility to make them better candidates. He argued that the Democratic party keeps edging to the right because that is where they seem to think that the public is; however, that the public is actually very liberal on social issues (from aid for the poor, to a woman's right to choose, to concerns about the environment). We are tired of being given the choice of "fake" republicans running against real republicans. In this regard, he gave a different spin to the recent events in California - Schwartzenegger had to voice a "liberal" social agenda and be married to a Kennedy, in order to win. Likewise, in the last Governor's election in California the voters elected a Democrat they despised for over a right wing Republican.
He argued that "the right" is aware of this shift in the masses and that is why they are so angry. They control the White House, the Congress, most of the state governments and the corporate media - yet they are still angry. He argued that the angry roar from the right was the roar of a "dying dinosaur." It is in this context that Lars Larson received a phone message from the 10,000 assembled to hear Moore.
Moore stated he would be putting up a web site this coming summer with those districts where there was a swing vote possibility to unseat the Republican incumbent, and extracted a promise from those attending to descend on those districts from all over the country to help in the campaigns.
Overall, Michael Moore pushed the crowd to engage in our democratic process and to reclaim the country. He feels that it is critical that we do so, and that we need to act now - not wait until after the Democrats have chosen which "horse" they will run. He argued that if it is left in the hands of the party, that they will likely choose yet another "fake Republican" to try to appeal to a supposedly broader voter base. While several times the crowd indicated that it wanted Moore to get into politics, he made clear that was not where he wanted to go. He did say that all of us should be running for office from precinct captains up.
It was good to laugh, there is far too little of that these days. It was great to see the passion of Michael Moore and of those in attendance. The evening was much more than a book tour presentation by a popular author. It was a call to arms.