Friday, May 11, 2007

Whose Chutzpah?

Chutzpah is clearly afoot in this morning's story of the latest confrontation between Michael Moore and the "evil authoritarians" (from both the private and public sectors) he has made a career out of challenging. However, until we dig into the details of the story, it is less clear who has actually committed the act of chutzpah. Let's use the account that appeared on the BBC NEWS Web site as an initial source of those details, starting with a lead that lays out the two sides of the story:

Award-winning film-maker Michael Moore is being investigated by US authorities for a possible violation of the trade embargo against Cuba, he has announced.

Mr Moore took a group of 9/11 rescue workers to Cuba in March to film part of his new documentary about healthcare provision in the US.

The US Treasury has sent him a letter asking him to explain himself.

For those lacking in the "long view," the violation does involve the economic embargo on Cuba that is now over 40 years old and constitutes the primary strategy for our refusal to "recognize" (a verb once applied to another Communist government, which subsequently became a major trading partner) the Communist government that Fidel Castro formed after his successful revolution against a corrupt regime with a keen sense of free-market capitalism. There have been a variety of challenges to this embargo, particularly over the last ten years or so; but, like it or not, the law is still "on the books."

The "explanation" for Moore's actions is actually a matter of public record:

Mr Moore made the trip to Cuba to film part of Sicko, an examination of America's health care industry which, according to the film's producer, Meghan O'Hara, will "expose the corporations that place profit before care and the politicians who care only about money".

His spokeswoman, Lisa Cohen, told the French news agency AFP that he took around 10 ailing New York rescue workers with him for medical treatment.

The group were suffering from conditions thought linked to their work clearing up debris from the site of the World Trade Center bombings on 11 September 2001.

In other words Moore went to Cuba to see if you could get better health care there, bring his own test cases with him. By making those test cases ten 9/11 rescue workers who still need medical treatment, Moore was basically engaging his usual rhetorical strategy: back up your polemic with an example that is sure to be recognized by everyone as egregious neglect by the American health care system.

Unfortunately, if Moore did not do the necessary paper-work that the Office of Foreign Assets Control requires, particularly where Cuba is involved, then, like it or not, the government had a legal right to challenge him. This means that, however much this may upset many readers, we really cannot identify any individual or institution on the Federal side as an "agent of chutzpah!" So now we have to look through the other end of the telescope, so to speak.

I am happy to report, thought, the Truthdig readers, who have submitted comments on the BBC story, have beat me to the telescope and started hypothesizing about the motives behind Moore's actions. First on the line was a commenter who identifies himself as "rowdy" and submitted the following:

you gotta hand it to mike. he knows how to fuel the fires of ticket sales. the dumb asses at the treasury dept.played right into his hands.

Commenter "Spinoza" was more explicit about Moore's actions being deliberately motivated:

Mike regularly says the capitalists will always do everything possible to make money/intimidate the left. You just have to figure out how to exploit them. Admittedly that is not easy but Mike seems to know how to do it.

In other words there is a good chance that Moore initiated his actions knowing that he would get called to task by the Federal government and once again get thrust into the spotlight of media attention. Furthermore, we should note that the BBC report says nothing about the results of Moore's experiment: Did his "test cases" get better medical treatment in Cuba than they have been getting since their heroic acts back in 2001? My guess is that Moore has not made this a matter of public record, and why should he? He has now created a "burning question" with this promise (which may or may not be valid) that the answer will be found in the final cut of his new film. This whole affair may very well be a ploy to build up his audience base before the film has even been completed, and that is why the Chutzpah Award should go to Michael Moore rather than to the Feds! If an act is declared outrageous enough to be admirable, then that satisfies one of the criteria for chutzpah; and Moore seems to have "scored" on that criterion. We are all his "victims;" but there have been far worse implementations of rhetorical strategies!

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