I have been reading some post-US Election commentary on various sites that are blaming Michael Moore for the Democratic loss, and I am perplexed. The organisations that were celebrating Fahrenheit 9/11 earlier this year are now condemning it, saying that Michael Moore is now singlehandedly responsible for the election outcome. The Republicans are saying that their win shows that people hate Moore; the Democrats are saying they lost because they were associated with him.
But is it really that simple?
Throughout the campaign the Democrats (except for Wes Clark) made a point of distancing themselves from Moore. They tried to walk the tightrope between conservative and liberal America, without taking a real stand either way. Too afraid to alienate the military mothers, too afraid to alienate the Evangelicals, too afraid to alienate the left… and they lost. The odds weren’t great to begin with — it is wartime, and there was an incumbent President with a powerful religious base, which meant that it was already an outside shot. They had a candidate that was nice enough, but had the charisma of a tree stump.
I am seeing a similar fallout here in Australia, with the ALP scapegoating just about everything from Medicare Gold to the media to Mark Latham himself. There appears to be major disunity within the party (well, as reported by Murdoch…which is a whole other story), with questions about Mark Latham’s ability to lead the ALP to victory in 2007. Also the victim of a major scare campaign (re: interest rates) and a religious backlash similar to what we witnessed in the US meant that the ALP lost in a landslide.
People were speculating that Fahrenheit 9/11 would shift public opinion towards the Democrats, or the ALP/Greens in Australia. And, given the box office records that Fahrenheit broke, it seemed like a possibility. However, I think a major problem that analysts seem to have is that they tend to overestimate the actual impact that a movie like Fahrenheit would have.
Opinion polls just before the election indicated that people still trusted John Howard, despite him lying about ‘children overboard’ and misleading the public over the War in Iraq. Historically they have also shown that electoral success is more tied to the perceived values, image, and likeability of a leader than the actual issues of policy. Now, that is not to say that people don’t vote on issues — the Greens vote was quite significant, but overall, I think that political analysts have a tendency to emphasise politics over popularity.
And this is where Fahrenheit fits. I have spoken to a few friends and family who are intelligent, but all in all, are not particularly political. All of them went to see Fahrenheit 9/11. All of them were angry after the film. But none of them seemed to sustain their anger — instead throwing their hands up in the air, proclaiming “the world is fucked” and moving on with the day-to-day. And, as we know, it is the day-to-day issues, such as interest rates, as well as which leader they like, that hit home the hardest with them. Even though most of my friends and family voted Green, their reasons were more to do with the day-to-day issues, and Bob Brown’s stand against George Bush, than the War on Terror. And I think this is a more accurate reflection of the impact that Fahrenheit had on voters than many would have us believe.
Sure, the youth vote in America was up. But it was more as a result of organisations like Rock the Vote and moveon.org. Sure, people were angry, but with effective scare campaigns around the ol’ hip pocket, people soon forgot about the war. This is not to say that people are greedy, or that people are stupid. They just aren’t interested.
So yes, I think we political folk tend to assume that everyone is as interested in politics as we are — and as a result we tend to overstate the impact of films, celebrities, etc, when really, at the end of the day, all it is is an inability to engage. The Democrats need a charismatic leader whom people identify with. The ALP needs a leader for more than a year — to give the people a chance to love them. Don’t dump Latham. He has the qualities that make a great Labor leader. Don’t blame Moore. He’s just a filmmaker. Just accept the political realities and deal with them.