In the United States this month, two of America’s
modern liberal icons will throw their hats into the ring
in separate attempts to convince voters of their current
president’s awfulness. Bill Clinton accompanies the
publication of My Life with a publicity blitz that will no
doubt draw all political heads towards his as he espouses
a message designed to create maximum Democratic nostalgia
for those golden days of a booming economy and peaceful foreign
policy. His pronouncements this month are unlikely to include
direct support for would-be successor, John Kerry, he’s
too much of a self-publicist for that and, besides which,
a Kerry presidency would certainly stymie any 2008 Hillary
nomination. But it would be almost impossible for some of
the Clinton shine not to rub off on the Democrats this summer.
White House aides must wish that the subtle politicisation
that characterises the Clinton approach were adopted by their
other publicity nightmare, the ‘blue collar’ steamroller
that is Michael Moore. On the contrary, Moore has adopted
the same bullish tactics as his nemesis has with the War
on Terror (or TWAT, to give it its proper acronym).
Ostensibly, there appears to be little in common between
the Ivy League-educated philandering ex-president and the
documentary-maker for whom the words ‘fat’ and ‘slobbish’ unfortunately
seem to be the first to spring to mind.
Yet the pair have both spent the last two years making money
from extensive speaking tours, making witty speeches to groups
of left-thinking Europeans and Americans and publishing books
to be bought by the same people. Both also have been involved
in personal showdowns with the Bush family. Clinton’s
battleground was the 1992 election where, after a campaign
characterised by scandal and dirty tricks, he denied former
CIA chief George Bush Sr the dignity of a two-term presidency.
Moore has had numerous anecdotal encounters with Bush family
members, admitting in Stupid White Men that whenever he has, “for
some reason they always seem to get the upper hand.” This
year, though, he clearly intends to set that right. The message
of his new film Fahrenheit 9/11 is very clear indeed: he
intends nothing less than to topple the president.
Of course, the 2004 Oval Office showdown has already distinguished
itself as one of the most talked-about in living memory.
It follows a year of plummeting domestic support, when any
Bush appearance outside the US has been punctuated by rioting
and protests from across almost every sector of society,
and barely a day passes without fresh evidence of Bush administration
profiteering, misinformation and illiberal behaviour being
reported even in the American press. The culmination of all
this is the sadly undemocratic display of the G8 summit on
a heavily fortified Sea Island, Georgia- as much to protect
them from their own electorates as the terrorists they purport
to be defeating. Feelings seem to run so high on this one
across the Western hemisphere that it almost seems acceptable
to use the old cliché, this time, it’s personal.
Personal is certainly what Moore gets in his two hours polemic.
One of his best digs is an already notorious clip of Bush
reading ‘My Pet Goat’ to a class of children
on the morning of 9/11. As he is informed that ‘America
is under attack,’ a stopwatch appears in the corner
as audiences wait for a reaction - it takes a full seven
minutes before he stops staring incoherently into space and
begins to marshal a response.
In Europe, home of the ‘non’ vote, he has already
been lauded as though his work is done - having sold millions
of his books on the continent, last month he was awarded
the Palme D’Or at Cannes to serve as a kind of official
seal on his anti-Bush campaign. Although Quentin Tarantino,
the jury’s president, insisted the award was for artistic,
and not political, reasons, it would be impossible (even
irrational) not to have a political response to this film.
A Republican, no matter how much he covets montages, will
be less enthused about its merits than a Democrat.
It is surely this audience that Moore must worry about most-
the American voter. Selling anti-Americanism to the European
art community is like telling UKIP supporters that under
the European Constitution, it will be illegal call themselves
English- fun, but too easy.
Moore faces a far more pitiless task in the States. When
Bowling for Columbine won its Oscar, he faced howls of protests
from indignant hecklers at the ceremony when he used his
speech to condemn Bush and Iraq. It is all very well for
Hollywood to snuggle up to Moore in the sun at Cannes- you
should have seen the rows of frozen celebrities in LA in
2002: acting legends, paralyzed with fear, lest a single
movement be interpreted as a political gesture at the box
Fortunately, Americans are slightly less blinkered than
they were two years ago. The media emerged from under its
red, blue but predominately white flag to challenge and criticize
the Bush administration after nearly three years under a
cosh of hysteria and patriotism. The change is not complete-
Disney’s CEO Michael Eisner attempted to block distribution
of Fahrenheit 9/11, for example, but the incident was widely
reported as being linked to Disneyland resorts in tax-friendly
Florida: Jeb Bush country.
Eisner emerges from the incident badly. The film will be
released on 500 screens of the sort normally reserved for
Hollywood’s billion dollar bloodbaths and the DVD is
expected to be released before the November polling day as
part of a concerted effort to ram the film into the American
Its commercial success seems certain, its stated aim less
so. There are an estimated 1 in 27 Americans whose vote is
still ‘up for grabs’ as well as millions of Republicans
who doubtless remain relatively unaware of the kind of claims
about Bush that Moore is making. Getting them as far as the
cinemas will be a job in itself, especially when his target
audience are those people for whom The Passion of the Christ
was their first cinematic visit in years. Moore is aware
of the battle ahead- he has hired two former Clinton advisers
to help him wage the propaganda war against the West Wing.
Those of us in Britain who will watch the match perhaps
with a certain degree of disdain may well be advised to prepare
for the war to come home. Moore has promised to make a similar
film about Tony Blair; if he releases it before next year’s
General Election he way well find it easier to sway an island
than a continent.