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August, 2004

Notes on the 2004 Presidential Election Part 2

By Noah Brier

Michael Moore and Errol Morris both have made documentaries about politics. Both have won Oscars and both gave impassioned acceptance speeches. If asked, I assume both would call themselves liberals. This, however, is where the similarities between the two documentary filmmakers end. While Moore and Morris both made films that make people think about the current state of America, they went about it in very different ways. Ironically, Moore took an approach that was almost traditionally conservative, i.e., talking louder than the other guy. When people stopped listening to him, he picked up a megaphone and roamed the streets of Washington in an ice cream truck. Morris, on the other hand, enumerated his points clearly but dispassionately, and started a critical discussion. In my eyes, these films lie at opposite ends of the eloquence spectrum; while both were important and affecting, I personally prefer the voice that Morris chose.

One need look no further than their acceptance speeches to see how different the two men are. During his Oscar acceptance speech for Fog of War, Morris explained, "Forty years ago, this country went down a rabbit hole in Vietnam and millions died. I fear we're going down a rabbit hole once again. And if people can stop and think and reflect on some of the ideas and issues in this movie, perhaps I've done some damn good here." Moore’s Oscar speech for Bowling for Columbine, as many remember, was a bit different. Moore got on stage and screamed, "We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons." In short, Morris takes a proactive position, Moore, a reactive one. These seem to be the two approaches available to Democrats and, if Moore’s celebrity status and box office numbers are any indication, Democrats have chosen the reactive route.

The problem is that while I basically agree with Michael Moore’s view of George Bush, I don’t particularly want him, or his narrative tactics, representing me. I want to be represented by someone with a strong position on clearly articulated policy issues, not just a loud position opposing current policies. I want to be represented by someone who encourages intelligent discourse and dialogue, not someone who just grabs a megaphone and an ice cream truck when people stop listening. Too often, such tactics just lead to more screaming and less listening. Let’s leave that approach to Republicans like Rush Limbaugh. Let’s focus Democratic energies on articulating productive policies that support our beliefs.

In Fog of War, Morris allows his character, former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, to tell his story, empowering his audience to digest the issues raised and draw their own connections. He stands out of camera view and doesn’t allow himself to obscure the point of the film. I left Fog of War moved by a man, McNamara, who was coming to grips with mistakes he had made. I left Fahrenheit 9/11 feeling as though Michael Moore had just yelled at me for two hours, albeit interspersed with a touching story of a mother who lost her son in Iraq and interesting insight into the relationship between the Bushes, the Saudi royal family and the Bin Ladens. At first, I laughed at Moore’s antics. But ultimately, it made me angry. He regularly broke up real insight with cheap potshots meant to appeal to the liberal crowd for laughs. Is this the approach that we, as a party, want to take in the twenty-first century? People who make jokes and scream are often just covering up for the fact that they really don’t have much that’s really productive to say. Now think about it: isn’t that the most common Republican criticism of John Kerry?

The Democratic Party took a step in the productive, pro-active direction at the convention, where it made a move to reclaim the American flag. It was an important place to begin; Republicans had essentially co-opted the flag and used it as their own personal symbol of patriotism. The American flag is a symbol of freedom; Democrats made that point at the convention, and they should reiterate it at every campaign stop. But it's not enough. The next step is for John Kerry to stake his claim with a clearly articulated plan to end the days of a divided America. How is he going to help fix the growing gap between the upper and lower class? How is he going to approach the racial and ethnic schism that exists? How is he going to fix the privacy rights that were invaded by the Bush administration? These are just a few of the questions I want John Kerry to address. I, like so many other Americans, want to hear that he stands for something and how he's going to fix the problems of America.

The reason Americans care about politics is because, under all the disagreement, we all believe in American ideals and democratic rule. We believe in some manifestation of the American dream. While Michael Moore's heart is in the right place. I want to see the injustices of the Bush administration put to an end as much as he does. I just think he goes about making his point in a less than useful way. The real difference between Moore and Errol Morris is that Moore wants to convince people and Morris wants to give people the tools to make an informed decision. If we are really the 'progressive party' that we claim to be, giving people the tools and allowing them to decide for themselves is the best path to take. I believe this is how we can bring this country back to a place we can be proud to call home. Call it youthful optimism, but I believe that we can achieve these goals.

August 18, 2004
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.