June 30, 2007
Warning! This Could Make You SiCKOBy Michael Van Winkle
Beware! Watching Michael Moore's new documentary, SiCKO, could make you a little queasy. Potential side effects can include nausea, emotional disorientation and a complete disregard for truth. If you plan on going to the movies this weekend, consider taking Dramamine to help cope with the effusive propaganda.
To no surprise, Moore makes terrific use of all the elements of good film: scripting, shooting, and scoring. His dull sarcasm and everyman wardrobe cast him as a perfect anti-hero in a beautifully distorted quest to fix the American health care system. But predictably, its wealth of wit is sorely mismatched by scarcity of substance.
Right from the start, Moore is committed to making SiCKO more than just a lament about the uninsured. After years of arguing, the Left's position on health care has begun sounding like a one-note tune: uninsured, uninsured, uninsured. To remedy this, Moore tells us in the film's introduction that SiCKO is not about the millions of Americans who lack health insurance, but about the 250 million Americans who have it or, as he puts it, "those of you who are living the American dream."
The shift is surprising, honestly. Most wouldn't figure Michael Moore as one to reach out to mainstream America. But the shift also serves to make the film that much more persuasive. SiCKO isn't just trying to tug at your heart strings; it's trying to scare the crap out of you. Imbued in every vignette of neglect, mishap, and malfeasance is an implied voice: "This could be you."
If we take the film's subjects as representative of the whole, Americans are routinely forced to make nightmarish health decisions, choosing, for instance, between a middle finger that costs $60K to reattach and a ring finger that costs only $12K.
Even worse, according to Moore, most of us regularly risk death at the hands of dastardly HMOs, too greedy to pony up for expensive life-saving surgeries. So desperate are we for quality health care, many of us are willing to cross the border into Canada or flee to
But Moore never explains to the audience why we should take his subjects and their stories as representative of America. Though he claims SiCKO is about the 250 million Americans with health insurance, he admits the handful of stories featured in it were chosen from about 13,000 "horror stories" emailed to him in response to a posting on his web site.
Of course, if 13,000 people were randomly selected and scientifically polled they could be considered representative. But when such a poll is taken, it simply doesn't show the picture Moore wants us to see. According to an ABC poll last fall, 89 percent of Americans are satisfied with the quality of their health coverage. That means nine out of ten people have experiences substantially different than those featured in SiCKO.
Moore would no doubt argue that it is easy to be satisfied when you are not sick. His film is about people with serious illnesses and how they are treated by the system. But again, scientific polling calls Moore a liar. The same ABC poll found that among people with serious illnesses the level of satisfaction with the system was even higher: 90 percent say they are "satisfied," while 57 percent are "very satisfied."
In this sense, Moore's movie is profoundly dishonest. It takes a small slice of the American experience and uses it to draw conclusions about the whole.
But SiCKO is dishonest in another way. From the opening credits SiCKO is clearly not an investigation into a problem, but a cinematic justification for only one solution: universal health care. As such, it approaches the problem backward by promoting a solution Moore is already convinced would solve all health care problems.
We certainly should not be satisfied with the misery of 10 percent so long as the other 90 percent are happy. But if Moore's solution for a clearly manageable problem is to have the government take over the whole system, it reeks of overkill. Only the most ardent ideologue would advocate such a solution above more pragmatic approaches.
The questions Moore raises cannot be easily dismissed. Moore asks worthy questions about how our system treats the poor and elderly and demonstrates how destructive bureaucracy can be when it comes between patients and their doctors.
But the sickening part about SiCKO is not that Moore raises these rather difficult and unpleasant questions, but that he takes no care to educate his viewers about the myriad of possible solutions, including deregulation and subsidized insurance. Instead he over-simplifies the problem and promotes a one-size-fits-all, ideologically-inspired
Michael Moore gets plenty of public criticism over the positions he takes, some just, some unjust. But the real criticism should be about the dogmatic and polemical way he approaches serious and complex public policy questions. A serious inquiry into America's health care dilemma would have been welcome, but on this score, SiCKO is more of the disease.
Michael Van Winkle works as a legislative specialist for The Heartland Institute and blogs at http://www.mikevanwinkle.com/