We need more Michael Moores. Not too many--that would strain my patience--but a dozen or so would suffice. The far right, after all, has a deep bench of pitchmen, a displeasing, if awe inspiring, variety of partisan ranters, relentless blowhards, and unashamedly unreflective ideologues. They have all but cornered the market on absolutist certainty, and absolutist certainty sells in politics, at least on television. Sophomoric ridicule sells in every medium, but it sells politics particularly well on television. Before Michael Moore, the right had all but cornered the market on sophomoric ridicule too.
In 21st-century America, where power shifted from the rule of rule-setting elites to the free-form tyranny of the masses, too much information is the functional equivalent of no information at all, so simplifying ideas to the point of mendacity works. Telling your opponents to go fuck themselves works, and unapologetically saying you felt good about it afterward works even better. Portraying your opponents as drooling morons determined to send your kids off to be slaughtered so some of their weird swarthy friends in funny headdresses can get even richer than they already are? That works good too. Iconoclasm sells. Making a buffoon of yourself in public sells. Confronting people on camera sells. Making fun of people in power at book length sells.
So, we need more Michael Moores. I'd like a couple more Al Frankens as well, perhaps three or four carbon copies of Jon Stewart. If liberals do not learn to reap the idiot wind, they are doomed to go the way of the dodo.
For better or worse, modern politics is a bastard form of marketing. Reagan understood this. It is about convincing the uninformed that your opponents' product is too dangerous to allow into your life, lest your children end up smothered by the exploding airbag of your opponents' unsafe rhetoric. Gingrich understood this.
Yet conventional liberals, the upper-middlebrow baby-boom wussbags, the breathtakingly naive flowers-in-gun-barrels far-left freaks, the cockeyed communitarians pining for the womblike embrace of the nanny state, insist on offering only a high-end luxury product line. Some of it is finely crafted stuff, tasteful and refined, but it is out of reach of the "Supersize it!" masses. Meanwhile, Republicans and their right-wing media salesmen take a Wal-Mart approach to politics. The goods are cheap, often garish, and unlikely to stand up long to repeated use, but they sell.
Guess who's running the fucking country?
I recall, with hyper-clarity, the exact moment I comprehended the genius of Michael Moore. On the first night of the Republican Convention in New York, John McCain labored through a predictable defense of the Iraq invasion. Suddenly, with little warning, he pointedly referred to a "disingenuous filmmaker who would have us believe that Saddam's Iraq was an oasis of peace." The audience, some 5,000 rabid consumers of Bush Republicanism, turned in unison toward Moore, a difficult-to-miss presence in the press section, and poured out a hail of boos on the left's most unrepentantly partisan author and filmmaker. "Four more years," they chanted. Moore smiled, to all outward appearances completely unflustered. He said something inaudible, but I think it was "Two more months." It occurred to me then that no one else on the left gets the right so hot and bothered. Is there any better indicator of power?
Prior to that moment, I would have said three things about Moore. First, that he's a consistently funny guy in print--he is the author of the bestsellers Stupid White Men and Dude, Where's My Country--and, sometimes, in his films, which include the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine and, of course, Palme d'Or winner Fahrenheit 9/11. Second, that he is a shambling, bewhiskered, unkempt potato of a man. This is, of course, a carefully calculated self-presentation, a means to the end of working-class populist appeal. And third, that he not once in his meteoric career constructed a sustained and subtle argument.
In other words, he is no fool, unlike the chattering class liberals that consider it fashionable to critique and deride and disown him. Moore understands politics--and the modern world--far better than the upper-middlebrow liberals ever will. If we had a few more liberals like Moore, we might actually succeed in stopping the long, embarrassing decline of liberalism into a heterodox amalgam of high-minded pieties, fit only for hippies and intellectuals and latte-sippers. And we'd certainly win more elections along the way.