by Jackie Salit
American Reporter Correspondent
New York, N.Y.
October 13, 2009
GROWING CLOUT OF INDEPENDENTS IS A GOP NIGHTMARE
LOS ANGELES -- Michael Moore has a knack for juxtaposing key moments in history. His new film starts with the fall of Rome, intercut with the collapse of American industry.
Could Rome have acted differently when they knew their end was coming? Moore suggests, return to democracy! Moore shows societies are not sustainable with a widening gulf between "those who have everything, and those that have nothing." The oligarchs of Rome were poisoned by more than lead in their wine: selfishness and decadence, and disdain for common folk plebeians led to self-destruct.
Moore sounds an alarm, as once did Winston Churchill: "The era of procrastination is coming to a close. We are entering a period of consequences." Our heads must come out of the sand, or our children will amazedly wonder why America slept as the coming storm darkened the sky. Unbridled, unregulated, swindling, corrupted, anarchy capitalism has strangled itself. Only a return to real democracy and a commitment to moral values and advancement of the middle class can save it.
Now for a shocker. Many conservatives (with whom I sometimes travel) privately agree. If the business of America is business, regulation is essential. America needs markets, including customers from a vibrant middle class, to avoid a death spiral for American business. Greed is not good - unless carefully regulated to protect the average man, to make competition fair and to safeguard democracy.
In truth, the fundamental core of Republicans believe in is very much rooted in the core values of this film. Moore quotes rock-solid conservatives, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Jesus. All were against usury, speculation, and distrusted banks.
Senator John McCain stressed that real conservatives are "Teddy Roosevelt Republicans." TR's vision was a government big enough to play "honest umpire," and to swing a big stick both at home and abroad, and a Big government able to protect Big Business from itself.
But since the era of Ronald Reagan, the death of regulation decimated the middle class, and in turn, decimated our industry. True TR conservatives want a stable business environment, not the roller coaster. Regulation of our economy is necessary to protect conservative values.
The other Roosevelt remarked that saving capitalism was like saving a drowning man with a top hat. The drowning capitalist refused to thank FDR, but instead complained that he had lost his hat!
So it is today. Herodotus showed the rich pursuing more wealth and, in the process, destroyed the very societies that created wealth. Sophocles may have heard heard the turbid ebb and flow of tragedy long ago on the Agean. Mathew Arnold may have seen the sea of capitalism that once ringed our globe, but like any other faith, ours may be replaced as ignorant armies clash by night.
Lee Iacocca bluntly states, "our once-great companies are getting slaughtered by health care costs." Iacocca asks: "Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. This is America, not the damned Titanic." Lee, like Moore, faces up to inconvenient truths. Something is deeply rank and wrong, and our body politic needs stiff medicine.
Moore, like Roosevelt prescribes principles to restore honesty amid our society, a kind of "re-moralization": "The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit," FDR said.
Conservatives don't like Moore's style, appearance, or theatrics, but moral and true conservative ideas are at the heart of his movie. Sure, his citizen arrests of CEOs may be off-putting to some. But hey, it is a movie, and Moore needed to sell tickets. No capitalist could criticize Moore for needing to make a buck.
I've said before that Moore can and should broaden his appeal. In 1968 college students scrubbed up to "get clean for Gene," so their candidate, Eugene J. "Gene" McCarthy would have national appeal. Moore' could consider small style changes so his substance would shine brighter. If we are going to get the airplane of reform off the ground, we need both wings. Winston Churchill liked to say that democracy is the worst of all possible systems of government - except for all others that have ever been devised.
A country divided against itself without a middle class cannot stand. When rebellion comes, "do not send to ask for whom the bell tolls," as John Donne wrote so long ago, since everyone suffers and foots the bill.
Can America foresee and avoid the collapse Rome suffered?
Will business heavyweights like Lee Iacocca team up with Moore before it is too late?
Bluntly, can capitalism be saved from the capitalists themselves? If we fail, we face not just a new Great Depression. We are looking at a new Dark ages. Given the vast expansion of humankind, a new Dark Ages may be far darker than anything in history.
Have we learned anything in the 16-odd centuries since the fall of Rome? This is not a time for "sunshine patriots." Now, the Right and the Left must unite for love of our country. In 10 years, let's not wonder why America slept, as JFK famously wrote. Instead, this can and will be America's finest hour, as FDR claimed Wowlrd War II was. Moore's prescriptions - a return to democracy, morality, and protection of the middle class- make eminent sense. Frankly, we don't have any choice but to face the provervial coming storm now.
Imperial Rome probably would have thrown soothsayer Michael Moore to a lion. Let's hope America doesn't make this mistake. Moore may be a genuine documentary-philosopher king, and we need him. James Murtagh spent 20 years as an ICU physician.