A Blueprint for Moore Bashing
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We've got to repudiate, you know, the most strident and insulting anti-American voices out there sometimes on our party's left ... We can't have our party identified by Michael Moore and Hollywood as our cultural values. – Al From, CEO, Democratic Leadership Council
You know, let's let Hollywood and the Cannes Film Festival fawn all over Michael Moore. We ought to make it pretty clear that he sure doesn't speak for us when it comes to standing up for our country. – Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, the think tank of the DLC
The first thing I thought when reading these passages – both taken from a "soul-searching" roundtable held by the Democratic Leadership Council – was this: Who the hell is Will Marshall?
I couldn't remember seeing his name at the top of anybody's ballot. I didn't remember which, if any, elections he had ever won. I was a little mystified, in fact, by the nature of his popular support – who he meant, exactly, when he used the word "we" to talk about whom Michael Moore does and does not speak for.
According to the last data I could find, Moore recently made a movie that was seen by tens of millions of people around the world and has grossed nearly $120 million in the U.S. alone. Furthermore, it was, according to exit polls, a much better demographic success than the actual Democratic party. A Harris poll conducted in July found that 89 percent of Democrats agreed with "Fahrenheit 9/11," along with 70 percent of independents. That means Moore outperformed John Kerry among independents by about 19 points, if we are to go just by the data presented by bum-licking power-worshipper Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times at the DLC roundtable.
Moore's revenues come from millions of ordinary people paying 10 bucks a pop to see his film. In contrast, only about 200 people a year visit the DLC at the box office – only they pay thousands of dollars per ticket, and they all have names you'd recognize: Eli Lilly, Coca-Cola, Union Carbide, Occidental Petroleum, BP and so on.
Like Moore, Marshall is a media figure. He is one of the chief contributors to Blueprint magazine, the flagship publication of the DLC. Despite the fact that subscriptions to this magazine are included free with membership in the DLC, its annual circulation still lags slightly behind the gate for "Fahrenheit 9/11," with about 20,000 readers per year.
An unfair dig, you say: Blueprint is a trade magazine. Seen in that light, it indeed appears a much better market performer, with only about six times fewer readers than the industry bible for horror makeup artists, Fangoria.
While it is not exactly clear who else Marshall is talking about in this quotation, it is fairly clear that he means that Michael Moore does not speak for him personally. Which makes sense, of course.
In addition to his duties as the president of the PPI, Marshall kept himself busy in the last few years. Among other things, he served on the board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an organization co-chaired by Joe Lieberman and John McCain whose aim was to build bipartisan support for the invasion of Iraq.
Marshall also signed, at the outset of the war, a letter issued by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) expressing support for the invasion. Marshall signed a similar letter sent to President Bush put out by the conservative Social Democrats/USA group on Feb. 25, 2003, just before the invasion. The SD/USA letter urged Bush to commit to "maintaining substantial U.S. military forces in Iraq for as long as may be required to ensure a stable, representative regime is in place and functioning."
One of just a handful of Marshall's co-signatories on that letter was Bruce Jackson, who also happens to be the head of the PNAC (whose letter Marshall also signed) and the founder of the aforementioned Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. Jackson is not only a neo-con of high rank and one of the chief pom-pom wavers for the war effort. He was also a vice president in the weapons division of Lockheed-Martin between 1993 and 2002 – meaning that he was one of the implied targets of "Bowling for Columbine," which came out in Jackson's last year with the company.
Clearly, Marshall was thinking about the good of the Democratic Party, and not the integrity of his grimy little network of missile-humping cronies, when he and Al From made the curious – and curiously conspicuous – decision to denounce Moore, Hollywood and France at the DLC meeting in early November.
There were a number of things that were strange about the release of this obviously coordinated series of sound bites from the DLC heavies.
For one thing, people like Al From, Donna Brazile and DLC president Bruce Reed – event speakers who are all high-level political heavyweights whose instinct for spontaneity died with their souls 100 years ago, and would never say anything without first calculating its potential impact – would seem to gain very little by mentioning Moore's name at all in the conference.
To say openly in front of a roomful of reporters that the party has to disavow Michael Moore is to remind a roomful of reporters that the Democratic party is still currently linked to Michael Moore. This would be like George Bush Sr. using the word "wimp" in public, or John Kerry using the word "effete" or "snob." No alert political operative would recommend it, under normal circumstances.
Furthermore, as both Marshall and From surely know, there was no effort whatsoever even this time around by the Democratic Party to associate itself with Michael Moore. Excepting the brief and mostly unrequited love affair between Moore and Wes Clark, most of the party candidates recoiled from the fat director as from a diseased thing throughout the entire campaign season. They've already kept him at arm's length – why talk about the need to do it again? Why bring him up at all?
Well, that's easy. It's one thing to avoid public appearances with a Michael Moore, and to accept his support only tacitly. But it's another thing entirely to openly denounce him as anti-American, which is what Al From did last week.
What From, Marshall and the other DLC speakers were doing last week was not just ruminating out loud about the need to shy away from certain demonized liberal icons. They were, instead, announcing their willingness to embrace the other side's tactic – I hate to lean on this overused word, but it is a McCarthyite tactic – of branding certain individuals as traitors and anti-Americans. What they were doing was sending up a trial balloon, to see if anyone noticed this chilling affirmative shift in strategy and tactics.
Well, I noticed. I also noticed that unless something is done about it, this unelected bund of corporate pawns is once again going to end up writing the party platform and arranging things to make sure that no anti-war candidate is allowed to compete for votes in the primaries. It will push one of its own – probably Harold Ickes, or Brazile – in next year's election for the chairman of the Democratic Party. And when that person wins, the tens of millions of Democrats who opposed the war will have to get used to people like Will Marshall referring to them as "we" in front of roomfuls of reporters – Marshall, who this year wrote, in Blueprint, an article entitled "Stay and Win in Iraq" that offered the following view of the progress of the war:
"Coalition forces still face daily attacks but the body count tilts massively in their favor."
Uh-huh. And Michael Moore and Hollywood are the problem with the Democratic Party.
Matt Taibbi lives in New York. He covers politics for Rolling Stone and the New York Press.