Moore’s rhetoric displayed anger, lacked his typical humor

I am a huge Michael Moore fan and think “Roger and Me” is the best documentary ever made. As a proud member of the American left, I always appreciated having Moore’s humorous voice in a public sphere too often dominated by right-wing zealots and mushy centrists. Moreover, I have always liked how Moore encouraged people to take action. His appearance in St. Paul two years ago motivated me to become an intern on Paul Wellstone’s last senatorial campaign.

For these reasons it was particularly hard for me to watch Moore this past Saturday at the Sports Pavilion. The Moore from “Roger and Me,” the Moore I saw speak two years ago, was gone. Humor had been replaced by demagogic anger, a call to action replaced by apathy and ridicule.

This is sad, considering what a potent weapon humor can be. Moore’s implementation of humor in the defense of the powerless, in the defense of those who feel no hope, is what made his work so powerful. Additionally, Moore’s humor allowed his message to break through to the mainstream audience and call ordinary citizens to action.

On Saturday it was clear Moore has forgotten what made him successful. Some will argue he received many laughs, and this is certainly correct. However, anger, not humor, was clearly the emotion that defined Moore’s evening at the Sports Pavilion – in some cases unchecked, uncontrolled demagoguery.

Granted, I am also thoroughly angered at the state of my nation; but I came to see a humorist, to get away from my anger and my hopelessness and to “laugh at my enemies.” Instead, Moore screamed into the microphone that President George W. Bush had “committed treason,” was a “traitor” and “the devil” who would end up in hell. Rush Limbaugh should be “thrown in jail and force-fed drugs.” How can such vitriol, as opposed to humor, possibly change minds? Granted, Moore might have been preaching to the choir, but surely there were those in that crowd who were not in agreement with him but open to hearing his views. Such rhetoric only turns those people away.

Moore’s turn from humor to anger undermined another important element of his past work – that of calling people to action. The person who inspired me to work for Wellstone did not empower the crowd Saturday night. Some who attended would surely say, “But he did call us to action!” A closer look, however, proves otherwise. After breeding anger and discontent, Moore offered two examples of what we could do to take action.

First, Moore suggested withholding support from the Democratic presidential candidates in hopes of forcing them to move left on key issues. For example, we should call Howard Dean’s campaign and request he move left on the death penalty. This is all well and good, but what do we do until then? Moore offered no answer. Additionally, this is entirely unrealistic, as all the campaigns have surely solidified their messages at this point.

If Wellstone taught us anything, it was that organizing as early as possible is the key. This means you must pick a candidate so you can start working now to get Bush out of office. For those who did suggest working for the Democrats, Moore only had scorn to offer.

In the question-and-answer period, Moore lambasted the president of the University DFL for explaining that he and others were working within the Democratic Party trying to change it for the better. Moore derided this questioner, who agreed with him on the issues, saying the DFL failed Minnesota and you “couldn’t bring the ball over the goal line in the last election.” He continued telling his questioner that if he cannot handle it, he needs to hand the ball off to “greens and independents” who are more in touch with the people anyway. This answer was an affront to those of us who shed blood, sweat and tears for Wellstone and Mondale in the last election.

Second, Moore called those in the crowd to stand up in support of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 workers at the University and to not cross the picket line if a strike ensued. I did stand up and clap and was happy when a large majority of the crowd did as well. But rather than ask those who did not stand up to help the union in other ways (say, walking the picket line), Moore derided them as “conservatives” who were more interested in “me, me, me.”

I hope my allies on the left do not take up Moore’s suggestions and his scorning ways. I urge you to find a Democratic candidate who most matches your views and work hard for him or her. I urge you to help and support AFSCME workers in whatever way you see fit. And finally, I urge you to not deride friends and enemies and instead try to bring them over to your views.

I am not sure what happened to Moore in the past two years. Maybe the Bush administration has been too much for him and nothing seems funny anymore. I hope in the end Moore realizes anger, apathy, and ridicule do not suit him well. Humor is his best weapon, especially in the face of hopelessness and powerlessness.

Jason Stahl is a graduate student in history. He welcomes comments at [email protected]