Michael Moore tends to preach to the choir with his films and that was no less true when I saw his most recent movie with two good friends on Friday night in Cary, North Carolina. The enthusiastic audience — a large one — could have been a local contigent of moveon.org or donors to the committee to re-elect Barack Obama, nodding, as they did (as well as sighing, snorting, and chortling) in all the right “can you believe what Reaganomics hath wrought?” places.
But Moore is less partisan than usual in Capitalism: A Love Story. Since money is the name of the game in politics as well as the free market, plenty of Democrats are held up to a harsh, unflattering light. Timothy Geithner is positively skewered. And Moore subtly suggests that the jury is still out on whether President Obama will put an end to the brazen corporatizing of the democratic process itself — or go down trying.
But what struck me most was Moore’s return — again and again in the film — to the Church’s teachings on wealth and poverty, and to the gospel’s clear preferential option for the poor. Reminding us of his happy Catholic upbringing (how often do you hear alums of 1960s parochial education refer to their nun-teachers as “groovy”?), Moore is mindful of “the least of these” who have suffered and who continue to suffer at the (greedy) hands of corporate executives and a system that sanctions and rewards their obscene excesses.
It was chilling to meet in the film real families victimized by another corporate obscenity known as “dead peasants” insurance. Common among several blue-chip companies (including Walmart and Bank of America), this practice involves said companies taking out secret life insurance policies on rank-and-file workers, the tax-free proceeds of which go not to surviving family members but toward funding retirement benefits and other perks for the companies’ top executives. There must be a special place in Hades . . . .
Moore plays clips from the 1977 TV mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth, and dubs in some new dialogue. In one scene, when a sick man is presented for healing, Jesus refuses on account of the poor guy’s “pre-exisiting condition.” It’s funny, but it also gets to the heart of the matter: it matters most how we treat the poor among us and those who suffer.
Say what you will about Michael Moore’s blowhard style; he cares about the voiceless, powerless millions who are discarded like yesterday’s garbage.