Q&A with Michael Moore

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Michael Moore, whose Fahrenheit 9/11 was the all-time top-grossing documentary and a sticking point of the 2004 presidential campaign, is the author of the New York Times best-selling Mike's Election Guide 2008 and star of the feature documentary Slacker Uprising, available for free download at www.slackeruprising.com. He also runs the website www.michaelmoore.com. TIME's film critic Richard Corliss caught up with Moore via e-mail on Sunday.

Richard Corliss: In 2004 you traveled to 62 campuses in 45 days in support of the Democratic presidential ticket. What did you do this weekend?

Michael Moore: Sat back and watched the fruits of all my work over these eight long years possibly come true this Tuesday. Also, spent time making calls to help remove three Republican incumbent Congressmen from Michigan: Knollenberg, Wahlberg and Rogers. I am very hopeful about that. Went to a double bill at my art house here in northern Michigan: To Kill a Mockingbird and Bulworth. And I was on Keith Olbermann and Bill Maher on Friday. This fall I have spent the bulk of my time helping bring Michigan from a swing state to solid for Obama.

You campaigned for Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, and John Kerry, as the anti-Bush, in 2004. This time you're backing Obama, and you did it early, in April of this year. Does it feel weird to support someone who might actually win?

It's a relief, but I'm not stopping till 8 p.m. Tuesday night. I've offered to drive people to the polls here locally. I've also got two vans stocked with food and hot chocolate and some entertainment to help people in the long lines pass the time.

Personally, the opportunity to vote for someone like Barack Obama will be one of the greatest things I will have done in my life. The Republicans aren't kidding when they say he's the "most liberal" Senator in the Senate. When have we ever had the chance to vote for the "most liberal" of anything?

When I was a child, my parents took us on vacation in the South and I saw the signs over rest rooms that said "Coloreds" and "Whites." I saw the pain in my mother's face that she even had to explain something like that to me in the United States of America. My mother didn't live to see this moment, but I have, and it will be a bit emotional when and if he is declared the winner. I know I will cry a tear or two when I think of all who suffered at the hands of a racist nation. Redemption is always a wonderful thing.

Obama's been pretty sharp at seeming liberal to liberals and moderate to most other people. Where on the political spectrum do you think an Obama presidency would land?

I believe his presidency will be guided by honesty and justice. His heart will be on the side of the people. People will be inspired to think of new directions to take this country. He is our best possible chance to step back from the edge of the cliff.

As for the things Obama has said that I don't agree with — like expanding the war in Afghanistan and creating a health care system that is not single-payer — well, on these points I'm hoping he's a politician. Politicians never keep all their promises. So those are two I'm hoping he'll break!

Even at the early-voting sites, there are eight-hour lines and endless foul-ups in voting lists and machines. What can the U.S. do to have an electoral system that works better than, say, Zimbabwe's?

Paper and pencil. That's how nearly every other Western democracy does it. It's easy, simple. You put whatever mark you want in the box next to your candidate's name, fold it over and put it in the ballot box. When the polls close, the box is opened, the ballots dumped out on a table for everyone to see, with poll watchers from each party present. And federal elections should be run by the Federal Government. That's how they do it in Canada. Elections Canada is the name of the federal agency. They use all local people, but they go through an intense training. I went up there to witness it a few weeks ago, and it was amazing.

As a member of a group that's been in the headlines lately, would you care to speak up for vote-fraud perpetrators — sorry, I meant community organizers?

For all the demeaning things the Republicans said about Obama being a community organizer, he has had the last laugh. It's community organizing that has turned out in record numbers to the early-voting polls. McCain could've used a few community organizers in the last few weeks.

If Obama becomes President, do you want him to take vengeance on the Bushies? In Mike's Election Guide 2008 you wrote that impeachment was too good for Bush and Cheney; they had to be arrested — made to do a perp walk.

I do not believe in any form of vengeance. But to allow the war crimes that were committed in our name, to invade a sovereign nation that did not and was not going to attack us, to have that war line the pockets of the companies that funded your campaign — this is the most egregious thing that has happened during my lifetime, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice. If we fail to do that, it will be the green light to a future Administration to do it all over again.

You pioneered the art of docu-comedy, with clips and stats anchored to an outsize personality, all aiming to energize the public and move it leftward. In a way, that's what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been doing this past election cycle. Do you think their shows have been a real factor in encouraging young people to vote, mirroring your effort in 2004?

Well, I'm honored you would say that. And yes, Stewart and Colbert have been brilliant and devastating. And Letterman and Olbermann and Maher. Even Wolf Blitzer has been funny lately. Comedy is a great slayer of rogues in power.

I view the coming years as great ones to make movies, especially ones that have a social conscience. It will be like a big bright ray of sunlight and hope. Filmmakers and artists always thrive during more liberal times. The F.D.R. era gave us Frank Capra and Preston Sturges. Will Rogers — humor, politics, populism — was the No. 1 box-office star two or three years in a row. Not to mention The Grapes of Wrath and Woody Guthrie. We'll need that kind of art during the very difficult economic times ahead of us. I am truly looking forward to an age of enlightenment.

You once kidded that you could hold a film festival of all the anti–Michael Moore movies. There's a new one, a comedy by David Zucker called An American Carol, whose main character, a documentary filmmaker named Michael Malone, bears a superficial resemblance to you.


If you haven't seen the movie, I'll tell you it has some funny parts. One is that the Malone character isn't a real movie person because he makes documentaries. And nobody goes to those. Yet Fahrenheit 9/11 earned more at the domestic box office than any movie Zucker has directed.

Now that's comedy!

The Zucker movie's argument is one we've heard a lot of over the past seven years: that people on the left who criticize government policies like foreign invasions and botched health care hate America. Is that the best case the right wing can make against the left?

Their "case" is full of so much hate and dishonesty. The American people are about to render their verdict on the right's case. From this point forward, I believe that anyone who works for peace or decent health care will be thanked, not spat upon. Tuesday can't come soon enough.