Academy Award-winning filmmaker.
Filmmaker Michael Moore joins us for a wide-ranging interview about Haiti, the Supreme Court decision on corporate campaign financing, President Obama’s first year in office, the Democrats, and much more. "[The Democrats] don’t have the guts. They don’t have the courage of their own convictions. They’re disgusting. I’m embarrassed," Moore says. "I want really nothing to do with them. And if they don’t find their spine, well, they’re in for a huge surprise in November." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, home of the Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s largest festival for independent cinema. We’re broadcasting from its headquarters.
Today we speak with one of the most famous independent filmmakers in the world, Michael Moore. For the past twenty years, Michael has been one of the most politically active, provocative and successful documentary filmmakers in the business. His films include Roger and me; Fahrenheit 9/11; Bowling for Columbine, for which he won the Academy Award; and his latest, Capitalism: A Love Story.
Michael Moore was in Park City this week to watch some of this year’s selections for the Sundance Film Festival. He’s also choosing some for his own, the Traverse City Film Festival in Michigan, where he now lives.
I had a chance to sit down with Michael Moore just after a film screening, just before he headed back to his hometown in Michigan. I began by asking him about the situation in Haiti.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I mean, the most wonderful thing about the — when you say “the US response” is that the individual Americans have immediately rallied, immediately that day, to wanting to help, whether it was texting a donation to the Red Cross or volunteering to go down there. People immediately began collecting.
I was in Miami when the earthquake happened, and so I saw a lot of it there. I mean, just the Haitian community and others in South Florida. There was actually — there was a doctor in Fort Lauderdale who owned his own private plane and just decided not to wait for the government to give him any clearance. He just went to the airport, literally hopped in his plane, went there, gathered as many injured as he could, put them in his plane — this was like with no permission or anything — and brought fifteen or so people back to the Fort Lauderdale hospital. I mean, that was — I thought, God, you know, why don’t we see more of that?
But the response from the — our government is once again this sort of, you know, clunky “we’re too big” — you know the saying “we’re too big to fail.” This is like “we’re too big to succeed.” That’s what it feels like.
Now, I will say this: Obama immediately, within hours, trying to pull the apparatus together and put it into motion, was in marked contrast to what we saw during Katrina and other events during the Bush years. So, on that first day I remember feeling really good about that.
By the second and the third day, when no, you know, real help had arrived, and the concern turned, you know, mostly to how are the Americans doing there, the Americans at the embassy, the Americans at the Montana Hotel, etc., etc. — and naturally, of course, I mean, it’s human nature to care about your own first, but I would hope, by this point, that we’re in a place where we just care about everybody and that we don’t see ourselves as more human or more worthy of life.
AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t you know a group of nurses who wanted to go — more than a group?
MICHAEL MOORE: Oh, my god. Well, this — no, this is the National Nurses Union. This is the saddest thing that’s happened. And I would hope anybody listening to this or watching this would respond and put pressure on the Bush administration. The National Nurses Union —-
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration?
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, the Obama. What did I say? The -—
AMY GOODMAN: Bush administration.
MICHAEL MOORE: Yeah, yeah. We already put pressure on them. They’re no longer with us. But that wasn’t just Freudian. That’s really — that is my state of mind. That is how I’m, you know, feeling, because I won’t accept the sugarcoated difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration. And you can say, on the surface, just how great things are in terms of compared to the last eight years, but the substance, when it comes to, you know, the rubber meeting the road, I can’t tell you how profoundly disappointed I am at this point.
And this situation with the National Nurses Union, they went out to their membership. Who would be willing to go to Haiti right now? Over 11,000, almost 12,000 nurses — 12,000 nurses — around this country have signed up, who are willing to go right now to Haiti. I don’t know if I heard it on your show last week or someplace else. You know, essentially one nurse could provide help for dozens of people. So just imagine if we could get 12,000 nurses there, with the necessary supplies, how many people could have been helped. I mean, this offer was made days and days ago.
AMY GOODMAN: To whom?
MICHAEL MOORE: To the Obama administration from the executive director of the National Nurses Union. She contacted the administration. She got put off. She had no response. Then they sent her to some low-level person that had no authority to do anything.
And then, finally, she’s contacting me. And she says, “Do you know any way to get a hold of President Obama?” And I’m going, “Well, this is pretty pathetic if you’re having to call me. I mean, you are the largest nurses union. You are, I believe, one of the vice presidents of the AFL-CIO, of the main board of the AFL-CIO, and you can’t get a call in to the White House to get 12,000 nurses down there? I don’t know what I can do for you. I mean, I’ll put my call in, too.”
But as we sit here today, not a whole heck of a lot has happened. And it’s distressing. It’s just one example, I think, of so many things, and you covered a lot of it last week when you were there, that just have fallen through here.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s stay on the issue of healthcare, but in this country. As all this was going down in Haiti, the Massachusetts election took place, replacing the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and it was the Republican who won, Scott Brown. This has profound implications for healthcare. But you’ve been critical about the direction President Obama has been pushing on healthcare. Talk about this year and healthcare and what you see needs to be done.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I wrote a — actually, I did — I sent a note off to the White House the night of the Massachusetts election, and I said to President Obama, “I’m sure you’re not surprised. What did you think was going to happen after a year of completely going back on everything you promised in terms of real universal healthcare, a year of you not getting us out of Afghanistan but escalating the war to a degree that is shocking? What did you expect to happen after a year of, instead of coming in to tie these banks and these institutions down and make them pay for what the damage they’ve done to the average American, instead giving them more help, more of a bailout? It’s like, what did you think was going to happen in Massachusetts, that your base was just going to wake up on Tuesday morning and go, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to go to the polls and vote for somebody to back everything that’s been going on”? I think a lot of people woke up and said, “I could care less at this point. I’m so upset. And I’m not going to — I’m not going to go vote.” Of course, the other side, you know, they’re always up. They’re up at like 5:00 in the morning trying to figure out how to screw the human race. So I’m not surprised they got to the polls.
But I think that it was a good — a good trailer, a good coming attraction for this November. And Obama, a year ago, man, he just had it right in his hands. He could have — he really could have chosen a different path. The country was demanding it. There was such excitement that we were going to turn away, radically away, from where we’d been in these last eight years and create the country that we all want it to be. Vast majority of people voted for him. And that he thought that the way to go in was to go in trying to be like the other side, this is the continual and historic failure of the Democratic Party in our lifetime, that they think the only way they’re going to survive is to be more — is to be Republican lite. And every time that happens, it goes kaboom.
AMY GOODMAN: How did sixty become the new fifty-one? I mean, when the pharmaceutical bill went through, that supposedly the Democrats were very, very against, the Republicans didn’t have sixty votes, but it passed. How is it — I mean, what’s so key about Massachusetts, of course, is that he now — it means the Democratic voting bloc doesn’t have sixty votes. But why did they need that?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, remember, we were being led for eight years by a president who barely was a C-minus student. OK, so when you have stupid people in charge, sixty sounds like a majority of a hundred. “Yeah, I think that’s what we need, is sixty.” And they just — they somehow were able to convince the American people that sixty is fifty.
I think, all kidding aside, that this is another example of the Democrats are essentially a bunch of wimps. They don’t have the guts. They don’t have the courage of their own convictions. They’re disgusting. I’m embarrassed. I want really nothing to do with them. And if they don’t find their spine, well, they’re in for a huge surprise in November.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker. We sat down together on Sunday morning here in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival. We’ll continue with our conversation in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the Sundance Film Festival, the home of independent filmmaking, the largest film festival for independent media in this country. As we continue now with my conversation with Michael Moore, the Academy Award-winning filmmaker. His last films, Sicko and then, well, Capitalism: A Love Story.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think healthcare will pass in any way? And do you think it should? I mean, you did the film Sicko. You told us about the different systems around the world, that we’re actually the exception, not the other systems, though they may differ in various ways, France, Canada, Britain.
MICHAEL MOORE: I mean, should this healthcare bill pass? No. No, it shouldn’t. Neither the Senate nor the House bill. They’re both wrong.
And there are parts of them that are great. And maybe what they should have done, from the beginning, instead of calling it a universal healthcare bill, which is a lie, they just should have had a bill that said, let’s pass a law that prohibits people being denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Pass that law. Let’s have a law that says kids can stay on their parents’ health insurance to age twenty-five. You know, pass that law.
I mean, that probably now — looking at their inability to organize their way out of a vast majority box that they’d been in, they can’t even figure out how to lead when they have a mandate. So, at this point, I wouldn’t — I hope that they don’t vote for either of those. And I hope that people, the people watching this and listening to this and everybody else out there, gets active, because it isn’t going to happen on its own. And certainly none of the Obama people are going to make it happen. That is for damn sure.
AMY GOODMAN: OK, let’s talk about — well, Capitalism: A Love Story just came out. And we’re looking now, today, when we look at the economy, when we look at the state of our union, Ben Bernanke, the question of whether he should be confirmed, reconfirmed, Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary. And we’re looking at a Supreme Court decision, unprecedented, overruling years of precedent of corporate money just — if it hasn’t already, the floodgates opened on them — flooding politics in this country. Put that all together.
MICHAEL MOORE: Man, that’s so depressing. It’s like the way you — I mean, you just — this last week has been a rough week for democracy. I mean, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t in a total state of despair at this moment. And I’m not usually one that goes there. I mean, I’m usually like, “Let’s go!” I have — that Supreme Court ruling — and the disgusting part of it is how I got dragged into it, that there’s the whole argument before the Supreme Court and the justices and the attorneys for the other side discussing Fahrenheit 9/11. I don’t know if you followed this.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait, explain the whole thing.
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, the Supreme Court case that was decided was based on the fact that the Federal Elections Commission declared this anti-Hillary ad an ad. And the other side was — they were calling it a documentary.
UNIDENTIFIED: She’s deceitful. She’ll make up any story, lie about anything, as long as it serves her purpose of the moment. Ruthless, vindictive.
ANN COULTER: Venal, sneaky.
UNIDENTIFIED: Ideological, intolerant.
ANN COULTER: Liar is a good one.
MARK LEVIN: Scares the hell out of me.
MICHAEL MOORE: And the FEC said, no, this is an ad, and you have to follow the election laws. In terms of where the money comes from, you have to report this. They said, no, it’s just like Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. That was produced and distributed by a corporation, the Weinstein Company, etc., etc. And so the justices — they all had this discussion about how — why did Michael Moore get to distribute his film and not have to deal with the FEC, and they did? And that was the case that was decided. The justices decided, yeah, that’s not right. And so, we’re just going to let — now open up the floodgates and let all this money pour in. So I —-
AMY GOODMAN: So you’re the cause of this?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, I’ve got to tell you, my own Catholic guilt and my own -— I have thought about this for the last few days. Not that I’m the cause of it, but, you know — see, the thing is, and this is where — this is how they got away with it, is basically, you really never want the government, any arm of the government, whether it’s the FEC or the Supreme Court, deciding who can say what, period.
You know, I think what I do is a form of journalism. You know, it’s essentially a filmed version of the op-ed page, my op-ed page, and it’s full of lots of facts and information, and it also is full of my opinion. And, you know, the right would say, “No, that’s not true. You were just out there trying to get Bush out of the White House and get Kerry elected with Fahrenheit 9/11.” And I could say and prove, of course, that I started working on that film long before there was a John Kerry for president. And I never spoke to anybody in the Kerry campaign, and I’m sure they didn’t want to speak to me. So, that had nothing to do with that, whereas the Hillary thing was specifically set up to be out there during the campaign in ’08 to stop Hillary Clinton. But you can see how it could get confusing and how they can create the ball of confusion in all of this.
And, of course, where did my money come from? Well, my money came from a Hollywood studio. Hollywood studio is a corporation, not only just a corporation, but in this case, Fahrenheit 9/11 was made by Miramax, which is part of the Walt Disney Company. So you can see where they go with this.
And I think that I just — it just — I hate it when the other side, they’re so — I mean, I hate it because I also, in some weird way, also admire them. They’re so good at what they do, the evil that they perpetrate, their ability to rally people, and of course the amount of funding that they receive. Just to make this clear, the Walt Disney Company, once they saw Fahrenheit 9/11, Mr. Michael Eisner said, “We no way are ever releasing this movie.” And as everyone knows the story, you know, we made this public, and he had to admit that they were trying to censor the film, and then I was able to get the film out because of a public outcry about it. So, we will never have the resources.
I just got a phone call from a freshman congressman in Michigan, a good guy, who beat the incumbent Republican in ’08, asking me for a donation for his reelection this year. And I just felt like, why? Because I have — whatever amount of money I could give you, or everybody else in here or people we know could give you, will never ever match what corporate America has. If that’s really the new — if that’s the new rule now, then we’ve already lost. We’ve already lost.
So how do we fight this now? Because their propaganda machine that’s funded now with — will have billions of dollars behind this to manipulate an uneducated American public — when I say “uneducated,” I’m talking about an American public, as you know, where we rank in the world, in math and science and literacy, all these things — we’re so far behind so many other countries. We have 40 million functional illiterates in this country, 40 million adults who can’t read and write above a fourth grade level. If you create a country where the education system sucks so bad, where you make it your lowest priority, and then you want to create some propaganda to easily lead them down the path you want to lead them down, it’s a cakewalk at that point, when you have this enforced ignorance, the illiteracy that’s encouraged, the C-minus president who was so proud of himself and encouraging others that that was cool, it was cool to be dumb. And that’s what we’ve just lived through, through this first decade of this century. And now they’re going to have billions of dollars to manipulate our fellow Americans? What are we going to do, Amy? Seriously. I mean, as I sit here, I don’t have the answer. But, you know, we have your show. What else do we have?
AMY GOODMAN: You talk about us and them, us and them. Timothy Geithner, do you think he should be Treasury Secretary?
MICHAEL MOORE: Absolutely not. He never should have been. I said that at the beginning. And it was — you know, I joked, I think, about it with you like a year ago. I said maybe he’s just bringing him in to clean up the mess he created, you know, something like a parent would do. You know, “OK, you broke this. Get in here and clean it up.” Clearly, that’s not what his purpose was for this year. His purpose was there to protect Goldman Sachs, to protect the banks and Wall Street. And he’s done a fine job of doing that, in making sure that, again, they are back to record profits, record bonuses, all of this stuff.
AMY GOODMAN: How does this play in Michigan? That’s where you live now. And you live in Flint, one of the most depressed areas in the country.
MICHAEL MOORE: People are so angry. And I think, of course, this is what — partly what happened in Massachusetts. And it’s partly why Obama got elected, because people were so angry at what happened to their lives, to the economy, to our reputation as Americans, that a country that is essentially — still has a huge problem with race, a certain number of Americans were able to put their feelings about race aside, because they were so angry at what was going on. That was interesting and somewhat impressive.
I think that anger and the anger in Michigan, we’re going to end up with a Republican governor this November. I can — I already see it. I can already feel it happening, I think, because people are so upset. I mean, you’ve got an official unemployment rate of over 15 percent. Unofficially — I mean, the county I live in is over 20 percent officially, so you know it’s really over 30 percent, at least. People are very, very upset and can now be easily manipulated now, as people who are hurting have been, I mean, historically.
I mean, we don’t have to — we know the examples. We’re sitting here — you know, what happens when those in power, those who support corporate interests, who support right-wing ideology — they used to call it “fascism” — they’re the pros at manipulating the public when the public is hurting. And so, expect to see that. And that’s what I expect to see. And, of course, I’m not just going to sit back and let it happen, and I know people watching this, listening to this, feel same way. But we’re going to have to — we’re going to have to get it together, and get it together pretty damn quick, because they’re already ten miles down the road in front of us.
AMY GOODMAN: President Obama’s State of the Union address, what should he say?
MICHAEL MOORE: He should acknowledge why he got elected. He should acknowledge why he took the job, to serve the American people and then to lead, and why those American people wanted him there. And he should apologize, should apologize for this first year. You know, he’s actually — I mean, to use the phrase — “man enough" to do that. I think he has that in him. I think people would be pleasantly stunned to hear that admission. I think the base the next morning would be up out of bed and rallying around him, if he said, “You know what? I tried a different path. I’m a nice guy. I thought I’d hold out the olive branch. I thought I’d, you know, not rock the boat too much, because I know people were nervous about me in their White House. So I tried to be, you know, not threatening.” I get all that, right? I mean, he, unfortunately, has to carry that baggage with him because of the racism that exists in this country. OK, but now he tried it that way; didn’t work. And what he said last week to the banks and to Wall Street, if that was any indication of the change of heart he may be starting to have, I’d like to hear more of that this week at the State of the Union address.
AMY GOODMAN: Should Ben Bernanke be out?
MICHAEL MOORE: Absolutely. Well, I mean, absolutely. But, again, they’ve got that so locked up. All these guys should be gone. Larry Summers, the whole — I mean, they never should have been there in the first place. It is so bizarre that Paul Volcker is essentially the hero of this story, on some level, that they shoved him out, and now he apparently is back in. So I don’t know what that means, but —-
AMY GOODMAN: What is the lesson of Capitalism: A Love Story for what we’re seeing today in the United States, in Obama America?
MICHAEL MOORE: Well, capitalism and democracy are the opposite of each other. Capitalism is a system that guarantees that a few are going to do very well, and everybody else is going to serve the few. Democracy means everybody has a seat at the table. Everybody. And the wealth that is created is shared amongst everybody. That’s democracy. That’s the basic tenet of virtually every faith, this temple, the Christian Church, Islam, the Buddhists. The things that every -— religious people say they believe in, that is one of the first tenets of those religions, that we all sit at the table and that we don’t create a society that shoves so many off into the other room.
So, capitalism has had some incredible victories in the last week. They’ve had a weak president and a scared Congress during this last year. So they are running a number of victory laps right now. They’ve been popping a lot of corks. But we, all of us, have to remember that there’s more of us than there are of them. There always have been. There always will be. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. It’s time to step up and take this country back. And, you know, I will climb out of my own personal despair of what I’ve witnessed in this last week. I will pray for those in Haiti who suffer, those who have died just during the course of this interview, hundreds, maybe thousands just during this brief time. And I will demand that my government get help to those people and start behaving the way we expect them to behave.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore, thanks so much.
MICHAEL MOORE: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Academy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Moore, speaking at the Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah, the nation’s largest festival for independent cinema.