Prepare to be Sickened by SiCKO

From start to end, SiCKO, the latest “documentary” from notorious writer and filmmaker Michael Moore, is a stunning example of the Big Lie. Almost shockingly devoid of fact and context, it's instead based on highly selective, emotionally-driven, and deeply flawed anecdotes, strung together by writer-director-producer Moore's trademark folksy, soft-spoken, whimsical personal narrative. SiCKO (the unusual capitalization is Moore's conceit) is not a documentary at all, but a naked propaganda exercise on behalf of full-bore socialism. A better title for it would be Pinko.

The intent is to mislead rather than to inform or enlighten. SiCKO strikes me as even worse than Moore's previous, problematic long form works, the anti-gun Bowling for Columbine and the rabidly anti-Bush Fahrenheit 9/11. 

SiCKO is opening today in limited release. Originally scheduled to open “wide” theatrically in the U.S. on June 29, its distributors
have just announced that its formal opening has been pushed up one week, with pre-release “sneak previews” also now scheduled in 27 urban markets around the country. These developments are in the wake of a big publicity push for the film over the last few weeks, pulled off with the complicity of the mainstream media, and considerably boosted by viral marketing.

In mid-June, a 124 minute-long version of SiCKO–apparently the complete final cut–began appearing in fairly high quality streams and downloadable files on the Internet, allowing for an early review. (As of this writing, it is unclear if a copy of SiCKO was actually “leaked” to the Internet, or whether it’s popping up on an offshore Web site that facilitates peer-to-peer file sharing and for a time on YouTube was just another ploy in the film's manipulative viral marketing plan. In a search of Google News yesterday thousands of website posts already highlighted the “SiCKO leak,” further calling attention to the movie with tons of free publicity in the crucial days before its official commercial release.)

It may not be surprising that a polarizing political icon like Moore, with a hefty fan base, has produced another piece of pure Leftist cant, but the brazenness, magnitude, and absolute chutzpah inherent in this latest sleazy project are surely greater orders of magnitude over the top than any of his earlier work. It's as if he believes that he's finally connected with an issue–socialized medicine (or “universal health care”)–that is poised to change history–to wrestle private enterprise-driven health care to the ground, once and for all, and to snuff the last breaths of freedom, autonomy, and choice out of it.

In this big picture sense, the film (despite its limitations it's an obvious benefit to the cause) struck me as far more overwhelming, dangerous, and insidious–and ultimately more shameless and ambitious in its agenda–than I had imagined it would be. (Never underestimate the Left, I guess.) The fact that it has received mostly good early notices, including by the Fox News Channel's reviewer who saw it at the Cannes film festival in May (“
brilliant” and “uplifting” he called it), speaks volumes about the mainstream media's inability to review a new work without ideology, ignorance, or confusion, or some combination of the three, ruling the day.

My fear after seeing SiCKO is that it may become the most highly applauded and influential of Moore's films (not least because of his timing, which is very much in sync with the new and potentially
unstoppable political push in the U.S. on behalf of government-controlled universal health care).

Before I sat down to watch SiCKO, I felt that I already knew way more than I wanted to about
Moore, his M.O., and this particular production. As a journalist reporting on the complexities of American health care for three decades, I've charted with dismay the gathering momentum towards a government takeover of the field. I wasn't prepared, however, for the extent of the other freebies Moore wants to flow unhindered from the government on down. Free college education, free day care, government-compensated months' long maternity leave, and even state workers going into the homes of new mothers to do their laundry and other chores without charge–in other words, Socialism with a capital S that will lead, Moore and his ilk hope, to the complete socialist-statist “paradise” imagined by him and his heroes (including Che, Hugo, and Fidel).

Such an overarching theme would be absurdly funny if it weren't so deadly dangerous–if Moore were not, in effect, playing with fire. But our society is now teeming with people who are ready to take Moore's kind of nonsense completely to heart, conditioned and taught as they have been since birth that they have a “right” to everything they think they deserve, just by being here.

The education industry, the media, politicians and special interest groups have prepared people to anticipate nothing less than complete accommodation of their needs and wants. And now, “health care as a right” has been added to the growing list of entitlements. Since most Americans have yet to agree to go willingly into this bleak and government-controlled future, the current crop of left politicians is adopting a centralized model, such as they admire in France and Cuba, to
forcefully take all of us there. And along with the expansion of these myriad new “rights” to “free” health care go the extinction of many of our freedoms.

A June 2007
public opinion poll of residents in Massachusetts by Suffolk University found that “an overwhelming number, 92 percent, said everyone has a right to health care.” The website of the non-profit foundation run by former Democrat Congressman from Iowa Berkley Bedell, who used his influence with Iowa Democrat Sen. Tom Harkin to force the National Institutes of Health to start spending hundreds of millions of dollars on complementary and alternative medicine, says that “Cuba” is the “model for alternative medicine” in the U.S.

Moore plays these themes like a virtuoso–actually like a hot new conductor, baton in hand, standing before a full symphony orchestra that's tuning up and waiting for direction. Even the American Medical Association, for decades vehemently opposed to “socialized medicine,” has joined the chorus. In 2001, the AMA added to its “Principles of medical ethics,” which its members must subscribe to, this one: “A physician shall support access to medical care for all people.”

With news of SiCKO's subject and plot (including the film maker's and his cast members' potentially illegal trip to Cuba) all over the media, I thought I was prepared for what I'd see on the screen. But the way the film actually proceeds, leading up to its final half hour, with Moore gauzily rhapsodizing everything about life in socialist France (which has one of the most firmly entrenched, nanny state entitlement cultures anywhere) and then in communist Cuba, is astonishing. Meanwhile, Moore completely whitewashes the sclerotic, inefficient, and stagnant mess that socialism (including its
socialized medical system) brought to the French economy. Only now, as the center-right of French politics has begun reforming the worst socialist absurdities (the 30 hour work week for example) is France throwing off some of its torpor. Cuba’s failed, frequently deadly and murderous Marxist police state doesn’t matter, because both countries have freebies to offer!

And Moore has managed to find in France and Cuba personalities out of central casting, who come across as hip, smart, empathetic, and successful professionals, and get them on film singing their country's praises!

The absence of any actual, verifiable information, and essential context, about the big and extremely complex subject at hand (health care, after all, represents one-sixth of the entire U.S. economy) is appalling, but that probably won't bother either the hard core collectivists and statists who will eagerly pay to see this thing or the fans of the expanding entitlement culture, who will root for SiCKO's commercial success and, more to the point, the progress of Moore's single payer universal health care agenda in the evolving national political debate.

Fortunately, a number of
Web sites and blogs, and even competing filmmakers, are taking Moore and his fellow travelers to task for their misrepresentations, omissions, and obfuscations. To correct just two of the lies:
●         Moore throws around a figure of “50 million uninsured Americans.” It's more accurate to report that the number of Americans who are uninsured cannot be verified. A significant percentage, however, can afford insurance but choose not to buy it. In addition, as many as one-third of the uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or other free government programs but fail to apply for them. And, ultimately, “uninsured” does not mean without access to care.

●         Literally every day, the mainstream media in the countries whose government-run medical systems Moore holds up as superior models publish stories documenting the failure of mandatory, no-opt-out, state-run medical care. The laundry list of ills, in the U.K. alone, includes patients waiting months or even years for critical drugs and treatments (sometimes becoming disabled or dying because of the delay or lack of care), people denied therapies altogether because of rationing or cost (see, for example, an article last February in The Scotsman, “Cancer patients told life-prolonging treatment is too expensive for NHS”), an explosion in the size of the medical bureaucracy, and thousands of physicians taking to the streets earlier this year to protest.
One bottom line, so to speak, is particularly telling: Moore, who is obese, would most likely be denied a number of common health care procedures and treatments in one of his favored government-controlled socialist medicine systems, the U.K.'s National Health Service (NHS), because of his excessive weight. Recently, the cash-strapped NHS actually started limiting or prohibiting therapies for residents who are fat or who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol.

Oh, but these are just details, after all, that would only get in the way of the misty-eyed collectivist party line. This past week, preaching to his chorus, Moore engaged in a first round of high gloss soft ball interviews and media appearances including on ABC TV's Good Morning America,
Nightline, and  The View, and he was the only sit down guest on David Letterman's CBS TV show on Friday June 15.

Earlier in the week, Moore spent a day at the California state capitol in Sacramento, headlining a rally for single payer health care, appearing at a press conference with leading Democrat politicians, and–hold on to your hats–testifying as an expert witness at a California Senate hearing advocating single payer socialized medicine in the nation's biggest state. (The hearing, captured by the California Channel's cameras, starts 39 minutes and 20 seconds into the streaming Windows Media video file at this url.)

All of this posturing, needless to say, is truly sickening. . . including the vision of Moore as a pied piper of endless freebies, a Santa Claus (one can easily imagine him actually playing that role) with a bottomless bag of gifts. What we're seeing, with SiCKO not even in theaters yet, is the attempt at the final push over the finish line for the complete takeover of American health care by the government–potentially the biggest change in the way medicine is practiced in the U.S. since the time of the Founding Fathers.

Unfortunately, judging by the media's fawning reception, and the promises by many politicians to deliver up mandatory government-run universal health care à la Moore with the '08 elections, it really feels like the fix is in.

Peter Barry Chowka is a widely published investigative journalist and medical-political analyst who specializes in reporting on the politics of health care and innovative therapies. His Web site is
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