An Interview With Michael Moore
Michael Moore took time out from his book tour to make a whirlwind appearance at Jim Hightower’s Rolling Thunder Downhome Democracy Tour, which kicked-off in Austin on March 23. A large, enthusiastic crowd listened as Moore recounted the tale of how his newest book, Stupid White Men, And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation, which was completed prior to September 11, almost never saw the light of day. In light of the tragedy, and the general upsurge in flag-waving, HarperCollins wanted him to rethink the tone of the book, which begins with a chapter on Bush’s election called “A Very American Coup.” At a minimum, they said, the title should be changed. “They told me stupid white men are no longer the problem,” Moore said. “I said stupid white men are always the problem.” But he was willing to compromise, he said. “I told them how about this for a title: ‘Bring Me the Head of Antonin Scalia’!” Moore spoke briefly to the Observer following the event.
When did you first meet Jim Hightower?
I first met him in Peter Yarrow’s apartment in New York City in 1983 or 1984. Peter Yarrow [of Peter, Paul, and Mary] was having a fundraiser for my paper, The Flint Voice, and he invited a bunch of people to help raise money. So it was for this fundraiser that Hightower was there.
Was he the first progressive Texan you ever met?
[laughs] No, because hundreds of people that I knew in Flint and Detroit had already moved to Texas beginning in the early ’80s [when GM began moving plants to the South].
At the old Arlington Stadium, there used to be more people cheering for the Detroit Tigers than the Texas Rangers.
I can vouch for that. I followed the Tigers on the Western and Southern tour just because it was so amazing listening to the games at home–how when a Tiger hit a home run there’d be this huge applause, and then the Rangers would hit one and you’d hear nothing. You’d think it was a home game.
That used to piss me off.
I bet. But Hightower wasn’t [in NYC] to give me money. Hightower was there because he was raising money to run for office here in Texas. So he was hitting on my people, the people who had come there to give me money. [laughs] And he had this cowboy hat on, and that’s the first thing I noticed: Who’s this guy in the cowboy hat asking people for money when they’re supposed to be giving money to me? But Hightower’s great.
You have a chapter in your new book called “Democrats, DOA.” What about organized labor: What are the prospects for a resurgence?
A lot of people in the labor movement know that if they don’t become more aggressive they’re just going to be whittled down to nothing. They already are pretty much whittled down to nothing. The sad thing is that the last poll I saw, this last Labor Day or the year before, one of the polling companies asked Americans ‘How do you feel about labor?’ and 58 percent said that they’re pro-labor. Now, only about what, 15 percent belong to a union? But 58 percent are pro-labor.
And that number is up?
Yeah, course it’s up. Because a lot of people have figured it out, you know. But there’s no mechanism. When I was working on my last book I called the AFL-CIO trying to get a number: What’s a number people could call if you want to organize a union in the workplace? There was no number! Simple thing like that, you know? They don’t know where to go. They don’t know what their rights are. They’re not trained in how to [organize] so they don’t lose their job.
What should unions be doing differently?
They slit their own throats by not spending money on organizing. They’re giving it to candidates, crap like that.
You’ve spoken at big anti-globalization demonstrations. Some are now saying the big demos are counterproductive.
They’re not counterproductive. But it can’t be just demonstrations. It can’t just be some kind of feel-good thing. You need those things, but it can’t just be that. I think you need different people working on different things. I heard somebody trashing Bono the other day, because he was meeting with all the muckety-mucks, including Bush. And I said, hey, we have to have different people doing different things at different levels. And it’s good that he’s doing what he’s doing at his level. That’s not something for Michael Moore to do, but it’s something for Bono to do. We’ve got to quit trashing each other like this. Everybody’s doing their thing to try to make it a better world.
The most striking thing at the big demos, Nader rallies, and such, is the youth of the participants.
That’s right. When Nader came to Flint, during the campaign, Clinton scheduled a stop there on behalf of Gore–same day, same hour, literally half a mile away. And Ralph got more people than the President. And I think there’s something going on in the country and the press hasn’t quite put their finger on it. This AP reporter called me the other day and said, ‘Say you know, your book is number one, and all these conservative books are underneath you, like Bias [by Bernard Goldberg], the Buchanan book [The Death of the West]. What do you make of that, what’s the difference between your book and their book?’ And I said the difference is mine’s number one. [laughs] No, the difference is that I represent actually the mainstream, and they’re the fringe group. I mean, this event today, it’s like this everywhere I go. It’s amazing, just amazing.
If your message has such mainstream appeal, why doesn’t the Democratic Party recognize that? Why is the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) still in control of the party?
Well the DLC, just by the nature of the fact that they’re more conservative, that means they’re more organized and together, committed. Our side is too loosey goosey.
This professor did a report on when Newt Gingrich took over in ’94, the “Republican Revolution.” The Democrats that lost in that election were the ones that played it middle-of-the-road and tried to sound Republican. The ones who won were the ones who stuck to their guns, and actually sounded like Democrats. [The DLC] think that because Clinton got elected, that’s the mantra now: You gotta be centrist. You gotta move toward the right. People voted for Clinton because they were tired after twelve years of Darth Vader and his sidekick. They wanted a change. And he was a big man on campus, handsome guy, charisma. And he came from us; he was working-class. We are the majority of the republic, those of us who come from the working-class. So we like it when one of ours does good.
I’ve read over the years people will attack me because ‘Oh, he makes all this money, and oh, he lives on the Upper West Side of New York.’ Nobody from the working class ever makes that criticism of me. Everybody’s like ‘Alright! One of us got out, one of us is doing well.’ Cause we’re raised to believe in the American dream. It’s only people with money that make that criticism. It’s more like the undesirable has moved into the neighborhood, namely, me.
Both the Democrats and the Republicans seem to have a tenuous hold on the voters they do have.
If you go to the county Democratic Party meetings, there’s probably not a dozen people there, probably less. You could take a dozen people and take the damn thing over. And for me that’s an easier route than a third party right now. Because Democrats have already got a party headquarters, they’ve got a logo picked out, they’ve got stationery printed. It’s the path of least resistance if you want to take it over.
It happened in this state with the Republican Party. It’s a movement now.
Yeah, yeah. Well, you’ve got to get the hacks out of there and get fresh blood in there. The hacks have got to go. The hacks will go when the rest of us stand up.