Four years ago, he was a figure of inspiration and division: Joe the Plumber and Bill Ayers in one large package. In the presidential campaign of 2004, one party saw Mike the Documentary Filmmaker as a spokesman for working-class rebelliousness, and the other as a symbol of left-wing extremism: Michael Moore, domestic alarmist.
The reason for the cheers and fatwas: Fahrenheit 9/11, Moore's impassioned indictment of the Iraq invasion, which he made and starred in. It earned an astounding $119 million at the North American box office, nearly five times as much as the previous top-grossing nonfiction film his own Bowling for Columbine. That fall Moore, never a shy guy, used his newfound political bulk to get out the youth vote for the Democratic presidential ticket, touring 62 venues, most of them college campuses, in the 45 days before the election. He was such a big target that his enemies and enviers made feature-length documentaries against him, like Michael Moore Hates America.
So what's the left's top docu-comic agitator been up to this election season? He's not as intense a focus of inspiration and rage as he was four years ago, but he's still busy. He's published a pocket-size paperback, Mike's Election Guide 2008, which details how the Democrats can win the election (and how they could blow it). He released a movie record of his 2004 tour, Slacker Uprising, free on the Internet, becoming the first major filmmaker to do so. He's got a website, MichaelMoore.com, a cross between the Huffington Post and a community-organizing bulletin board; last month the site pulled in 1.4 million visits. Moore's also on TV a lot, including appearances on Keith Olbermann's and Bill Maher's shows last Friday. And it wouldn't be a year divisible by four if there weren't a movie out that attacks Moore. This time it's an intended comedy: An American Carol, from funny-silly (and this time funny-silly-angry) director David Zucker.
Mike's Election Guide 2008
This smart, funny, borderline-practical handbook, which went to No. 3 on the New York Times best-seller list and No. 1 on Amazon, is brimming with ideas. In it, Moore suggests a busy agenda for a Democratic President's first 10 days, including drafting rich kids to fight our wars, defeating al-Qaeda by digging water wells around the world, banning high-fructose corn syrup and making HBO free for everyone. He proposes six ways to fix elections I mean, make the process work. (Oddly, these don't include putting elections for the presidency, the Senate and the House under federal aegis.) He argues that Bush and Cheney should be not impeached but arrested make them do a perp walk. He picks 12 Senate seats and 30 House seats the Democrats can take on Tuesday. (Check back on Wednesday to see how the Moore sports book did.)
Even for centrists, conservatives and members of the Alaskan Independence Party, the Election Guide has high entertainment value because Moore is such a fun guy to argue with. Like Rush Limbaugh in his early years, he keeps you alert by mixing humor-tinged facts with deadpan fancy. (Why is Moore not on talk radio?) For example, he posits that the citizens of Iowa and New Hampshire, the first people to decide who the President will be, are actually extraterrestrial replicants of locals kidnapped in 1957. Anti-immigrationists should know that our leaders are being chosen by aliens.
Unlike Limbaugh and other Republican chatterers, Moore is quick to criticize his own party for perceived failures; he's less a Democrat than a populist-leftie. Many Democrats, like Cubs fans, are understandably exasperated by the Blue team's string of losses and lame campaigns. Even when things are looking positive, Moore always seems to expect a Steve Bartman moment. On the book's cover, he raises the question "How many Democrats does it take to lose the most winnable election in American history?" And in the book's "Ask Mike!" section, he addresses this poser: "Is it true Democrats drink from a sippy cup and sleep with the lights on?"
His advice to Obama: "We need you to be a candidate who will fight back every time they attack you. Actually, don't even wait 'til you have to fight back ... Let's finally have a Democrat who's got the balls to fire first." In other words, Barack should be more like Mike. Yet the Democratic candidate has remained cool, seemingly impervious to rough charges from his opponents. It's John McCain who's been firing early and often. Tuesday's results will show which tactic won.