Shame on You, Mr. Moore! Shame on You!

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It may not be the most popular thing to say today, but Michael Moore had not only every right but every legitimate qualification to make an antiwar speech — "Shame on you, Mr. Bush! Shame on you!" — at the 2003 Oscars. The standard reason to discount political speeches from Hollywood celebs, after all, is that we don't give a crap about their political thoughts: their job is to stand up, look pretty, collect their $25 million and give US and People something to write about.

One can hardly say that about Michael Moore. In fact, there is not much reason that anyone cares about Michael Moore except for his political opinions. From "Roger and Me" through his Oscar-winning "Bowling for Columbine", his movie are less documentaries in the usual sense than artfully constructed and often hilariously funny editorials. Agree with him or not, he is, unlike Susan Sarandon, nothing if he is not a professional commentator; and thus it was not inherently stupid for him to make his speech.

No. His speech was stupid for entirely different reasons.

The first is that — and this is a characteristic flaw of Moore's movies — it was a shrill harangue that would make a person ashamed even for agreeing with it. By starting off his screed by attacking the legitimacy of George W. Bush's election, he committed the same mistake as too many leaders of the antiwar movement, such as the leaders of ANSWER: he couldn't resist the temptation to lump his antiwar stance in with the rest of his portfolio of grievances. As a result, he made a speech guaranteed to alienate even many people who are also against the war.

If Moore really wants to end the war  — and not just boost the spirits of his Upper West Side neighbors — then mightn't he also want to win over people who oppose the war and yet don't believe that Bush is an illegimate president swept into office by skullduggery? Is he so insulated that he doesn't realize people like that exist? Or are people like that simply not simon-pure enough for him to want them in his antiwar movement?

That's the really annoying thing about Moore's speech. Moore often casts himself as a populist, and sometimes he's even convincing. He often makes a strong case against other progressives who out of touch with the hoi polloi — who can't lower themselves to listen to talk radio, can't identify a NASCAR driver or country singer, can't in any sense understand how the mass of America lives and thinks. This kind of liberal attitude, he has rightly argued, has kept the Left from building broad-based movements. But Moore's own clubby, we-all-know-Bush-is-a-liar attitude suggests that he's not interested in a broad-based antiwar movement.

I'm going to get a lot of e-mail from people who believe Bush stole the election in Florida, but before you press "send," at least consider this. A lot of smart people agree with you. But if someone disagrees with you, are they not worth allying with against the war? Would you rather have a war in Iraq than pass up a chance to bring up Florida again?

The remainder of the speech was no improvement. There was the general hectoring and finger-wagging — and I don't mean finger-wagging figuratively; the man literally thrust his finger at the camera. A man with Moore's sense of history has no excuse not to realize that makes him look like a crackpot dictator shouting a harangue from the balcony. And while his last line about Bush being in trouble because the Pope and the Dixie Chicks are against him was funny, it was funny because most people don't take the opinions of music groups seriously. Kind of like the opinions of Oscar winners.

There's been a lot of piling on against celebrities who speak out against the war. Frankly, I sympathize with the celebs. We spend our entire lives paying inordinate attention to the pronouncements of celebrities on everything from art to family to fashion. Suddenly we're offended because they also care about politics?

But there's a special reason to resent a political speech at the Oscars — and it's not just bias against Hollywood liberals. (Everyone considers Arnold Schwarzenegger a nitwit for holding forth politically too, and he's conservative.) Call it the Panhandler Syndrome. A speaker like Moore is like a beggar in a New York City subway car. Even people who give to charity and the homeless resent this kind of panhandling, because it takes advantage of a captive audience. It's not like you can just jump out onto the tracks if you don't want to be bothered.

Likewise, a proselytizing celeb like Moore is essentially hijacking our attention, saying that if you want to find out who won Best Director, you're damn well going to sit there and hear me out on world affairs. All the more reason for him to be, if not apolitical, reasonable and respectful of people who disagree with him, or agree with him only, say, 60%.

When I e-mailed an esteemed colleague my thoughts about Moore earlier today, he wrote back with a reasonable defense: Why should a progressive like Moore have to be all gentle and NPR-nuanced when there are so many Limbaughs and O'Reillys out there? The reason: More people in America identify as conservative than liberal, like it or not. So lefties who want to accomplish anything outside Santa Monica and Manhattan need moderate support even more than their righty analogues do.

That's assuming, of course, that Michael Moore actually wants to expand the antiwar movement. Maybe he simply wants to excite his amen corner — that is, people who might rush out and see, buy or rent his movies. That may be good enough for him. It will certainly be good enough for his career. It should not be good enough for anyone who wants to create an antiwar movement that could actually stop a war.