Laughing With/At Michael Moore
by James Ostrowski by James Ostrowski
In Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore tries and fails to explain why America is so violent. I give Bowling for Columbine one thumb down and the other thumb up. (Can I do that?) I knew the movie’s flaws going in and discounted them. I had heard Moore exploited a frail Charleton Heston so when he did so, I was prepared. It was despicable, but on the plus side Michael Moore illustrates once again the mindset of the leftist. They love humanity but treat individual human beings badly. When a tragedy occurs — a six year-old shooting a classmate, they blame everyone in the world except those responsible. Thus, Heston is responsible, but the boy’s mother, his jailbird father, his low-life uncle who left a stolen, loaded handgun in the boy’s home, and school administrators who knew the boy was a bully, are not. Moore later blames Dick Clark for the death of the victim, Kayla Rowland, because the shooter’s mother worked in one of his restaurants. Really.
So, the movie has many flaws but, I am sorry, I think this improbable raconteur is funny. (So does the BBC.) He is also a Rothbardian, in method, not content. To a large extent, he holds governments to the same moral standard as individuals. He likes to go after the specific higher-ups who are responsible for some misdeed. He is usually wrong about who they are, but the approach is right and Murray did the same. It’s not just a debate over political philosophy. It’s usually about a bunch of SOBs plotting in a room somewhere for power and pelf. Moore and Rothbard want to break down that door and expose the machinations. We would do well to follow their example. Identify the evildoers, strip away their anonymity, and get in their faces. But leave poor old Charleton Heston alone.
Moore is superb in a sequence that begins with an interview with Lockheed-Martin’s clueless public relations man trying to explain the difference between the slaughter at Columbine High and the slaughter facilitated by the weapons made by Lockheed which has a plant in Littleton, Colorado where Columbine High is located.1 The PR man says it’s for our defense, so Moore launches into a video collage of the Union’s numerous, aggressive, offensive, foreign interventions, all to the sound of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World: Mossadeq, the Shah, Diem, Vietnam, Allende, our man Osama, Afghanistan (1980), the Contras, our man Saddam (1982), our men the Iranians (1983), Noriega, not our man anymore Saddam (1991), reinstating the dictator of Kuwait, the aspirin factory, the weekly bombing of Iraq, giving our men the Taliban $245 million in 2000-2001. Naturally, the scene ends with all this non-defensive blood and gore blowing back into the World Trade Center, courtesy of not our man anymore Osama.
The next scene is even better. Moore begins the day of the Columbine slaughter with the foul deeds of another adolescent criminal. One hour before Columbine, NATO hits Serbia (Osama’s enemy in the Balkans) with the fiercest air strikes of the war. Bill Clinton gloats on television. A few hours later, after the shooting in Columbine, Clinton, oblivious to the hypocrisy of it all, expresses his regrets (not to the Serbs).
Moore even contributes to the debate over 9/11. Though Con-dy Rice told us that no one had imagined hijackers crashing planes, Moore reminds us that Eric Harris had this precise idea and about New York too, and this was widely broadcast after the shooting.
But Michael Moore clumsily reveals his leftist blind spot in Bowling for Columbine. In grappling with the question of why America is so violent, he rattles off several examples of countries with violent pasts such as Germany and Japan but lower murder rates than the U. S. Omitted from the survey is China, the twentieth century’s second most efficient corpse maker. Later, at an NRA rally, a poster is shown but so briefly, the casual viewer can not grasp it. The poster shows photos, left to right, of Hitler, Castro, Qaddafi, and Stalin. (See it here.) The text reads: “The Experts Agree. . . [photos]. . . Gun Control Works.” The poster is shot in such a way that Hitler is the most prominent face and Stalin is off to the right. In 1.5 seconds, you can’t really read the text, so the intended effect seems to be to associate the NRA with Hitler.
Moore’s leftist blind spot is the key to his whole persona. This man is not against violence; he is not against guns or shooting them at people. So long as they are leftist guns shooting at “reactionaries” who oppose the left’s “humanitarian” schemes, violence is fine. Moore is for “gun control” but that doesn’t seem to include the control of guns owned by the government that are used to extort the funds needed to pay for the welfare state he favors expanding.
Moore is weakest when he tries to deny the fact that crime in America is disproportionately committed by minorities. His counter-argument: two white murderers tried to blame the proverbial black guy for their crimes. Okay, Michael, now walk with me into any state prison, local jail, or arraignment court in the United States and get real! The truth is, America is not violent, but too many Americans are.
On the street where I grew up, there hasn’t been a violent crime in fifty years. Leaving aside teenage fisticuffs, none of the hundreds of baby boomer boys I grew up with and went to school with has ever committed a violent crime to my knowledge. I live in a very safe neighborhood inside the city limits of Buffalo and I live near the “safest city in America,” Amherst, a large, suburban town.
Moore’s attempt to suggest that America is dangerous because white people are nervous about non-white people, is absurd. So is his crackpot leftist theory — expressed in the film by political philosopher Marilyn Manson — that we are prone to violence because greedy capitalists create fear in people to get them to buy things. My hunch is that only a tiny amount of violence is related to timorous people exaggerating threats from others and overreacting. Violent crime is generally committed by the fearless, not the fearful.
For the record, I tend toward a “bleeding-heart” libertarian approach to understanding the high crime rate in the inner city. Inner city residents are plagued by numerous destructive public policies imposed from without by (high I.Q.) limousine liberals: drug war, poverty war, “urban renewal”, public housing, occupational licensure, and inefficient government monopolies in transportation, education, and medical care. Ayn Rand was right. “It is freedom that the ‘have-nots’ have not.”
There are some inadvertent laughs in the film. One of Moore’s experts points out that crime has been declining for years, “yet” gun ownership is rising. This is one social “scientist” blinded by ideology. Then, Moore and one of his other “experts” are standing at the South Central corner where Reginald Denny was welcomed by the locals. While the expert says it is highly unlikely the white film crew will be victimized as folklore would have it, the devil in the viewer thinks, “Wouldn’t it be funny if. . .”
August 8, 2003
James Ostrowski is an attorney practicing in Buffalo, New York. See his website at http://jimostrowski.com.