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Michael Moore has become an alternative American icon, unmistakable in his big floppy jeans, baseball cap and slightly sinister giggle. The filmmaker and activist gained widespread attention ten years ago for his film "Roger & Me," a darkly funny documentary about the shutdown of General Motors factories in his hometown of Flint, Michigan.
Moore subsequently created the television series "TV Nation," wrote the best-selling "Downsize This! Random Threats From an Unarmed American," and made several other films including "The Big One," which documents, among other things, his hysterically persistent confrontation with the CEO of Nike, Phil Knight.
He is currently producing the second season of a weekly half-hour series "The Awful Truth," and he will appear in his first acting role this October in Nora Ephron's "Lucky Numbers" with John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow. Jennifer Bleyer spoke with him last week on a morning flight from Milwaukee to Detroit as part of Ralph Nader's three-day whirlwind "Non-Voter Tour" and found him bleary eyed but passionately unrelenting.
Bleyer: What do you say to the question that's on a lot of people's minds, is a vote for Nader a vote for Bush?
Michael Moore: Number one, Bush is not going to win. I truly believe that, because the people of this country are not that stupid. He's behind 52 to 38 (percent) right now and every week he goes lower and lower. He's going to continue to sink like a stone.
I want to appeal to the people who are non-voters, who have never voted before or who aren't voting now because they don't like the choices on the ballot. For them, a vote for Nader is not a vote for Bush because they weren't going to vote for Gore in the first place.
Secondly, Gore doesn't own these people. He has to earn their vote, and I personally believe that a vote for Gore is a vote for Bush. It might be a kinder, gentler version of it, but still it's a vote for one of the two people running who are sponsored by big business.
Bleyer: But what do you say to people who see an earnest difference between the two, and really want to vote for Nader but are legitimately scared of a Bush presidency?
Michael Moore: You should never vote out of fear, you should vote your conscience. If people voted out of fear we never would have had the country, there never would have been a revolution. You've got to especially encourage young people to follow their conscience, because if you don't start doing it now at the age of 18, you'll never do it and in fact it'll get worse.
You'll always be doing things you don't really want to be doing. Who wants to live their life like that? You'll end up working in jobs you don't really want to work, being in relationships you don't really want to be in. It's like, oh my God, don't live your life like this! Free yourself.
Bleyer: Who exactly are the non-voters?
Michael Moore: It's a combination of people who are just turned off to the whole system, people who believe that there's no difference between the two candidates, and the young people who maybe have never voted before, because they've just come out of 12 to 16 years of an educational system that is not a democracy, that they have very little say in, then they're told to go out in the real world and behave as if they're participants when they haven't been allowed to be participants in their own education.
Bleyer: Last night in Madison, I was talking to kids about their thoughts on getting out the youth vote, and why young people don't vote. They didn't seem to think it was because kids are cynical, but more along the lines of people having it so good. They said that for most young people they know in Madison, unless someone's going to take their BMW away, why should they vote? They don't see politics affecting their lives because they're so privileged.
Michael Moore: No, 10 years ago when there was a recession we still had the problem of people not voting. The kids with the beemers and the parents with beemers, they're the ones who do vote. If you look at the statistics, the people with money show up to vote because they want to run the show, and they hope that the kids without that much money will stay home so they can run this country the way they want to run it.
Bleyer: What's in the way of getting out the working class vote?
Michael Moore: Despair. A sense of defeat.
Bleyer: What about the minority vote?
Michael Moore: Same thing, and they're probably the most afraid of George Bush. Even though it was Clinton/Gore that took away a lot of the social safety net that helps those communities, they still think it's safer to be with them than with Bush.
Bleyer: At the rally last night in Madison, you said that you believe it's possible for Nader to win, but practically speaking that seems pretty unlikely. A lot of people in the country can't understand why he's running with such a slim chance of victory.
Michael Moore: That's not why I'm doing this. I'm not a member of the Green Party. I don't care about the five percent or the federal funding. I'm doing this because I want him to be president of the United States. I would not devote a minute of my time if I didn't fully believe the man. And I don't make my decisions on whether I will "win." You know, that's what's so messed up about this country, "We're number one, we're number one!"
Look, I never would have made "Roger & Me" if at the beginning I had looked at logically. I'm 35-years old, I have no film classes and don't know anything about doing this. I have no connections, no uncle in the business. You know, you would logically have to look at that and say the guy's a little crazy, thinking that he's going to make a documentary film that everyone in the country's going to see. Just as when I was 18, I decided to run for public office. No 18-year-olds had ever been elected before!
I have a curse in my personal experience that I've been able to set out to do things that seem impossible and have been able to accomplish them. I no longer listen to anybody who says that it can't happen. If the laws of physics don't prevent it -- you know, gravity, motion -- than I think it's possible.
Bleyer: Do you truly think Ralph is the best person for the job?
Michael Moore: I think Phil Donahue's the best person for the job. If Phil gave a presidential address, people would tune in. (Laughing.) Well, it's hard to say because I don't know all 250 million people in this country. Certainly under Ralph Nader, we would be living in a more humane country.
You've got to understand, Nader has more experience than Bush and Gore, he's written more legislation and gotten more laws passed than both of them combined. He has worked inside and outside the halls of Congress since 1965. What were they doing in 1965? We know what one of them was doing in '65: Partytime. And the other one was probably living in daddy's hotel room. This guy was writing laws!
Bleyer: How susceptible do you think people are to campaign advertising?
Michael Moore: I think people just groan when these political ads come on now.
Bleyer: Do you think there's any real difference between Bush and Gore?
Michael Moore: Yes. Gore believes in a woman's right to choose, and Bush does not.
Bleyer: Well that's a pretty legitimate difference, especially with the possibility of Supreme Court nominations by Bush that could affect abortion choice. I know I've talked to people, especially young women, who want to vote Nader but are instead voting for Gore just because of the abortion issue.
Michael Moore: I understand that. They have every right to be concerned. But George W. Bush is not going to appoint justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. He hasn't done it in Texas, and that's the only track record we have to look at. He's appointed moderate justices who have upheld Texas abortion laws. He's not a right-wing ideologue, he's a politician, and he'll do whatever he has to do to get elected. He reads the poll numbers, and two-thirds of the American public is pro-choice. It is part of our American culture, it will never go away. And in fact, all of the Supreme Court decisions lately that have upheld abortion have been because the Republican, Reagan-appointed Sandra Day O'Connor, Bush-appointed David Souter and Ford-appointed Justice Stevens have all been the ones upholding abortion. One of Clinton's appointees, Breyer, is becoming very conservative. We just don't know. Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren, and that became the most liberal court of the last hundred years. It's a guessing game, and I'm not going to make my choice on presidents based on this sort of thing.
The real issue with abortion is that under Clinton/Gore, they have not prosecuted the abortion terrorists the way that they should have, and as a result of the assassination of the abortion doctors and the fire bombing of the clinics, women in 84 percent of U.S. counties cannot get an abortion. There is literally nobody who will provide an abortion. In some parts of the country you have to travel hundreds of miles if you want to get an abortion. To me, what's really important isn't a piece of paper that says Roe vs. Wade, it's the reality. What good is the right if it can't be used, if it's theoretical?
The terrorists won, they've been able to outlaw abortion in most parts of the United States during a pro-choice administration with a pro-choice attorney general. That is the issue we should be talking about. I personally don't believe any president, Democrat or Republican, is going to overturn Roe vs. Wade. It's the law of the land, a generation of women have been brought up with it, not knowing any other way.
Bleyer: How would you respond to criticism from the left that says Ralph doesn't address racial issues enough?
Michael Moore: I find that kind of strange. I know him personally and I know that these issues are very important to him. First of all, let's just call him what's rarely said in this campaign. Ralph is an Arab-American. To think of an Arab-American running for president of the United States is a pretty heavy concept in terms of race in this country.
Number two, Gore did not appoint the first Jew to run as vice president, Ralph Nader did. Now I know everyone focuses on Winona's Native American heritage from her father, but her mother is one hundred percent Jewish. He appointed a woman who is Native American and Jewish to run with himself, an Arab-American. Gore has the rhetoric about race. Ralph's act of running with Winona shows that he's not just going to say it, he's going to do it.
Bleyer: What would you say to people who are still sitting on the fence, who really want to vote for Nader but are sort of ambivalent or afraid?
Michael Moore: I don't like to talk about the horse race and how to use the vote as a strategy. I'm just going to keep encouraging people to vote their conscience, not their fears. This is the most powerful thing you can do as a citizen in a democracy.