POLICY: Beating up on the loony right once Moore

So there’s a movie called Sicko out and it has the right really riled up. Why? Because Michael Moore has adopted their tactics of using somewhat out of date anecdotes without any real data. At the least he’s made a teeny TV celebrity of Stuart Browning who’s now been on shouting matches on cable twice according to emails he’s sent me. And then into my email box the other day plopped this review at the American Thinker from someone called Peter Chowka, who apparently doesn’t like socialism and the bunch of know nothing, greedy Americans who are apparently ready to abandon the paragon of market efficiency that is our health system, because they think that some other approach might just cover a few more people at a lower cost—I mean just because all those foreigners do it how dare anyone think that we Americans might? Here’s some of Chowka’s rant:

From start to end, SiCKO, the latest "documentary" from notorious writer and filmmaker Michael Moore, is a stunning example of the Big Lie. Almost shockingly devoid of fact and context, it’s instead based on highly selective, emotionally-driven, and deeply flawed anecdotes, strung together by writer-director-producer Moore’s trademark folksy, soft-spoken, whimsical personal narrative. SiCKO (the unusual capitalization is Moore’s conceit) is not a documentary at all, but a naked propaganda exercise on behalf of full-bore socialism. A better title for it would be Pinko.

It may not be surprising that a polarizing political icon like Moore, with a hefty fan base, has produced another piece of pure Leftist cant, but the brazenness, magnitude, and absolute chutzpah inherent in this latest sleazy project are surely greater orders of magnitude over the top than any of his earlier work. It’s as if he believes that he’s finally connected with an issue–socialized medicine (or "universal health care")–that is poised to change history–to wrestle private enterprise-driven health care to the ground, once and for all, and to snuff the last breaths of freedom, autonomy, and choice out of it.

In this big picture sense, the film (despite its limitations it’s an obvious benefit to the cause) struck me as far more overwhelming, dangerous, and insidious–and ultimately more shameless and ambitious in its agenda–than I had imagined it would be. (Never underestimate the Left, I guess.) The fact that it has received mostly good early notices, including by the Fox News Channel’s reviewer who saw it at the Cannes film festival in May ("brilliant" and "uplifting" he called it), speaks volumes about the mainstream media’s inability to review a new work without ideology, ignorance, or confusion, or some combination of the three, ruling the day.

My fear after seeing SiCKO is that it may become the most highly applauded and influential of Moore’s films (not least because of his timing, which is very much in sync with the new and potentially unstoppable political push in the U.S. on behalf of government-controlled universal health care).

Before I sat down to watch SiCKO, I felt that I already knew way more than I wanted to about Moore, his M.O., and this particular production. As a journalist reporting on the complexities of American health care for three decades, I’ve charted with dismay the gathering momentum towards a government takeover of the field. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the extent of the other freebies Moore wants to flow unhindered from the government on down. Free college education, free day care, government-compensated months’ long maternity leave, and even state workers going into the homes of new mothers to do their laundry and other chores without charge–in other words, Socialism with a capital S that will lead, Moore and his ilk hope, to the complete socialist-statist "paradise" imagined by him and his presumed heroes (including Che Guevara, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel Castro).

Such an overarching theme would be absurdly funny if it weren’t so deadly dangerous–if Moore were not, in effect, playing with fire. But our society is now teeming with people who are ready to take Moore’s kind of nonsense completely to heart, conditioned and taught as they have been since birth that they have a "right" to everything they think they deserve, just by being here.

The education industry, the media, politicians and special interest groups have prepared people to anticipate nothing less than complete accommodation of their needs and wants. And now, "health care as a right" has been added to the growing list of entitlements. Since most Americans have yet to agree to go willingly into this bleak and government-controlled future, the current crop of Leftist politicians is adopting a centralized model, such as they admire in France and Cuba, to forcefully take all of us there. And along with the expansion of these myriad new "rights" to "free" health care go the extinction of many of our freedoms.

<SNIP>With news of SiCKO’s subject and plot (including the film maker’s and his cast members’ potentially illegal trip to Cuba) all over the media, I thought I was prepared for what I’d see on the screen. But the way the film actually proceeds, leading up to its final half hour, with Moore gauzily rhapsodizing everything about life in socialist France (which has one of the most firmly entrenched, nanny state entitlement cultures anywhere) and then in communist Cuba, is astonishing. Meanwhile, Moore completely whitewashes the sclerotic, inefficient, and stagnant mess that socialism (including its socialized medical system) brought to the French economy. Only now, as the center-right of French politics has begun reforming the worst socialist absurdities (the 30 hour work week for example), is France throwing off some of its torpor. Cuba’s failed, frequently deadly and murderous, Marxist police state doesn’t matter to Moore, either, because it, too, has numerous appealing freebies to offer.

And Moore has managed to find in France and Cuba personalities out of central casting, who come across as hip, smart, empathetic, and successful professionals, and get them on film singing their country’s praises!

The absence of any actual, verifiable information, and essential context, about the big and extremely complex subject at hand (health care, after all, represents one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy) is appalling, but that probably won’t bother either the hard core collectivists or statists who will eagerly pay to see this thing or the fans of the expanding entitlement culture, who will root for SiCKO’s commercial success and, more to the point, the progress of Moore’s single payer universal health care agenda in the evolving national political debate. Fortunately, a number of Web sites and blogs, and even competing filmmakers, are taking Moore and his fellow travelers to task for their misrepresentations, omissions, and obfuscations. To correct just two of the lies: 

Moore throws around a figure of "50 million uninsured Americans." It’s more accurate to report that the number of Americans who are uninsured cannot be verified. A significant percentage, however, can afford insurance but choose not to buy it. In addition, as many as one-third of the uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or other free government programs but fail to apply for them. And, ultimately, "uninsured" does not mean without access to care. Literally every day, the mainstream media in the countries whose government-run medical systems Moore holds up as superior models publish stories documenting the failure of mandatory, no-opt-out, state-run medical care. The laundry list of ills, in the U.K. alone, includes patients waiting months or even years for critical drugs and treatments (sometimes becoming disabled or dying because of the delay or lack of care), people denied therapies altogether because of rationing or cost (see, for example, an article last February in The Scotsman, "Cancer patients told life-prolonging treatment is too expensive for NHS"), an explosion in the size of the medical bureaucracy, and thousands of physicians taking to the streets earlier this year to protest.

One bottom line, so to speak, is particularly telling: Moore, who is obese, would most likely be denied a number of common health care procedures and treatments in one of his favored government-controlled socialist medicine systems, the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS), because of his excessive weight. Recently, the cash-strapped NHS actually started limiting or prohibiting therapies for residents who are fat or who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.

All of this posturing, needless to say, is truly sickening. . . including the vision of Moore as a pied piper of endless freebies, a Santa Claus (one can easily imagine him actually playing that role) with a bottomless bag of gifts. What we’re seeing, with SiCKO not even in theaters yet, is the attempt at the final push over the finish line for the complete takeover of American health care by the government–potentially the biggest change in the way medicine is practiced in the U.S. since the time of the Founding Fathers.Unfortunately, judging by the media’s fawning reception, and the promises by many politicians to deliver up mandatory government-run universal health care à la Moore with the ’08 elections, it really feels like the fix is in.

I’m getting particularly pissed off with people who claim that uninsurance is not a problem because people are rationally turning it down. This is pure BS. If that was the case then insurance benefits from employers would not be the most valued benefit at work. “Uninsured by choice” is not a real category and even if it was one, it should not be allowed to be! So like a red rag to a bull I was off with this reply to his email.

I have no idea who you are, Mr Chowka, but if you’re going to accuse Moore (probably correctly) of not using facts, coming to the topic with his mind already made up, and distorting the truth, why did you do exactly the same thing in your review? Is it because you’re his intellectual equal?

And this reply arrived very quickly in which he confused acclaim from the right wing echo chamber with facts.

You’re certainly entitled to your point of view (MH: Oh lucky me!), and I appreciate hearing from you and anyone else who disagrees, or agrees, with me. It was, after all, a review that I wrote, intended to be a mix of opinion and, I hope, fact. I just re-read it; it’s clearly opinionated but it is supported, I believe, by a lot of information and sources and not just by my imaginings. I was limited to 2,000 words but in reality the original Web version at American Thinker that I recommended (in the e-mail version that I sent out) has at least 26 embedded links/URLs to sources of information, including the New York Times (two articles), Michael Moore’s own site, the BBC, the AMA, the pro-Moore California Progress Report, the Wall Street Journal, and Suffolk University. It seems to me that I am not avoiding or running away from documentation and sources but including a wide variety of them. Since it went online last Thursday evening (June 21), my article has been referenced and commented on (more often than not positively, for what that’s worth) in a number of prominent online venues, including KevinMD.com, Free Republic, David Catron, and David Hogberg here and here. My article/review was also linked from the front page of Real Clear Politics on Saturday. My disagreements with Moore aside, I have to hand it to him for stoking the discussion and debate about U.S. health care policy to unprecedented levels, certainly a degree not seen since 1993-’94. Hopefully, I (and I know many others) will have future opportunities to delve more deeply into the core of the issues that Moore and his supporters are highlighting, as the issues continue to emerge and, we can hope, become more clearly defined.

And after searching his article for any real facts other than calling the French a bunch of cheese eating surrender monkeys, I was compelled to write this:

Unfortunately, the article you wrote tells a BS story about health insurance. The data is that 80 million-ish Americans go without health insurance for at least 3 months in an 2 year period–any one of those is liable for financial disaster if they have some bad luck in that time. You may not give a shit–you may have great insurance. But all the data shows that this is a massive problem for those how run into bad luck, and that it’s getting worse whether you believe Himmelstein’s numbers or Dravenove’s. Furthermore, many of those who "could afford" health insurance can’t buy it because of underwriting laws, and many of those "eligible" for public programs (such as SCHIP) have been thrown off the rolls in the recent recession (e.g. in Florida). All your statements about France are pure opinion, just like Moore’s. More importantly you ignore the data that shows that the French provide all this elements of the socialist paradise you so decry at a cost somewhere around 60% that of the US. Is it just possible that they might have something to teach us?

And given that Sicko, (and John Cohn’s Sick) are getting grudging acknowledgments from the right (Herzlinger, Cannon, AHIP et al), as well as the left, that there are significant problems with cost and coverage in the US, it would behoove responsible commentators to show that there are several sides to every story, several compromises that any health care system must adopt, and several major problems with the US system–and there’s a rational series of discussions needed about how to correct them. Something your review fails to do.

So do you want to imitate Moore, (and the other loonies on the anti-Canadian right) in propagandizing or do you want to join a rational discussion?

I’m waiting — but I think we know the answer

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8 replies »

  1. Thank you for all points made on the subject.
    If anything, looking at any point of view ( right or left )
    I hope it will stimulate people to research the current problems with US health care, as “SICKO” did for me.

  2. Matthew-
    I don’t know which upsets me more: (1) that you accuse me of being a member of the political right, (2) that you mention me in the same breath as AHIP, or (3) that you suggest I only *grudgingly* acknowledge that the U.S. health care sector has problems. As in: “Gee, I really do think this health care system is swell. If only those courageous leftists didn’t make such a persuasive case…Damn you Jonathan Cohn!!”

  3. > I hate that Michael Moore is what it takes
    > to have a national discussion about healthcare.
    That’ll change when we quit confusing value judgements with emotion. I recommend C.S. Lewis’ 1943 book The Abolution of Man as a starting point in this.
    Until then, we’re stuck with demagoguery. But it could be worse — G.K. Chesterton points out that the demagogue at least tries to please the demos, whilst the mystagogue entirely despises the demos. (If you read this, it should be read aloud, in a sarcastic tone.)
    Wow! Two of Matthew’s countrymen in one post. And they’re two of my favorite authors. I must be English at heart.

  4. I just saw Michael Moore’s film. I am currently dealing with a personal health care crisis. I am also a health care provider.
    I thought the film was spot-on, except it did not discuss the tiny amounts that healthcare providers on HMO panels are paid. The end result is that it is simply very difficult to find a competent doctor when you’ve got an HMO and an actual medical problem.

  5. I hate that Michael Moore is what it takes to have a national discussion about healthcare. The problem is that while our healthcare “system” does suck, it sucks in ways that Moore is not going to highlight or discuss intelligently. And the right’s reaction to Moore is generally to go overboard with how great it is – “best in the world” etc. This polarizing discussion and talk of “socialism” is not likely to help move us forward with solutions.

  6. Yes. Absolutely. We will worship Stalin in order to be able to afford our medications and not worry about breaking a leg falling on ice bankrupting us.
    C’mon. This is the worst kind of canard. “You want doctors to be able to exercise their solemn oath? Well you’ll just have to have the right school connections and inherit a fortune, or stand on your fellow citizen’s faces just to win the darwinian race or you’re obviously not worthy of a doctor’s attention. Anything else is SOCIALISM!”
    Um. Taking care of your fellow human beings because the whole is stronger than the individual? If that’s socialism, then I guess I vote “DA!”