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Here Comes Trouble

Howard Dean and Michael Moore join forces for an unforgettable afternoon of Bush-bashing and intra-party scheming. Forget Bush--can John Kerry survive these guys?

2:15 AM, Jul 28, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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And poor Roger Hickey gets desperate. He starts plugging left-wing media outlets to fill the space. He tells the crowd to go see Outfoxed. They cheer. He tells the crowd to listen to Air America. They cheer. He tells them to read the American Prospect. They cheer.

"Salon!" someone shouts.

"And Salon, too," Hickey booms into the microphone.

"Buzzflash!" another person yells.

"And Buzzflash," Hickey responds.

"The Nation!" cries Katrina vanden Heuvel, from the back of the room. "The Nation!"

Hickey ignores her.

WHEN MICHAEL MOORE finally does arrive, his audience isn't bothered; they're primed. The eruption of affection is staggering. And Moore does not disappoint.

It says here that Michael Moore is a heck of a speaker. Dishonest? Sure. Intellectually rickety? You betcha. But put aside the facts and the politics and the morality: Taken as a performance piece, Moore's speech is sparkling entertainment. He's warm and self-deprecating. Funny and conversational. He does voices and impersonations. He changes meter and cadences. He is, without doubt, the real thing.

If you feel compelled to dwell on facts and morality and whatnot, yes, Moore does call General Electric "war profiteers" and say that Matt Lauer--Matt Lauer?--is a shill for the Bush administration. Yes, he does call conservatives "hate-triots." Yes, he does say that Republicans wake up every day "at 6:00 in the morning" so they can "figure out which minority group they're going to screw today." Yes, he does say Canadians "are just like us--only better."

But to dwell on such trivialities is to miss Michael Moore's higher truth. He is no longer just a crank or a provocateur. He has become a liberal saint.

Moore was beatified around the time of the Oscars in 2003, when he went from being a liberal-issue activist to an explicitly anti-Bush rallying point. But his canonization didn't come until a few weeks ago when Fahrenheit 9/11 grossed $22 million in its opening weekend. Since then, Fahrenheit 9/11 has taken on the mystical quality of a holy text. Moore and others at Take Back America refer to it simply as "The Film." Believers identify each other by asking, "Have you seen The Film?" Moore asks everyone in the audience to take two family members to see The Film before Election Day, so that the heathens might be converted.

The theological significance of The Film doesn't have anything to do with its content--there's nothing there that hasn't been floating around for four years--but rather lies in its box-office performance. You see, the success of The Film lets the people on the left pretend that everyone in America agrees with them.

"THE MAJORITY of our fellow Americans are liberal and progressive," Moore says. He shunts aside as myth the notion that the country is divided evenly on politics. "This ain't a 50-50 country," he says.

Instead, Moore claims that the 50-50 split we hear so much about is only among likely voters. You see, only 50 percent of eligible voters vote, and the non-voting 50 percent is overwhelmingly anti-Bush and sure to come to the polls this November because "You can't compare this election to any election before September 11, 2001."

So Moore thinks John Kerry is en route to a 75-25 drubbing of George W. Bush. Which would be pretty impressive, considering that FDR only beat Herbert Hoover 59-41.

Moore is, however, covering his bases. As he sees it, the only way Kerry can lose is if he fails "to push forward the liberal progressive agenda that America already agrees with."

THE PROBLEM, of course, is that Howard Dean was a saint, too. His success at raising millions of dollars on the internet and organizing thousands of MeetUp parties led his followers to believe that everyone agreed with them.

You'll recall that John Kerry and John Edwards--two perfectly ordinary politicians--beat Howard Dean like a drum.

So how is it that Kerry is supposed to win the White House with a message that couldn't carry the Democratic primary in Wisconsin? Who cares.

The real question is: Why has Michael Moore been embraced by the Democratic establishment? Nearly all of Democratic Washington came to the D.C. premiere of Fahrenheit 9/11 earlier this month. The last two Democratic presidents have given him their seal of approval: When Bill Clinton was asked what he thought of The Film, he replied, "I think every American ought to see it." After his convention speech last night, Jimmy Carter sat with Moore.