Weapons of Mass Distraction
Sitting in a restaurant in Cherry Creek, minding my own business -- which means, of course, everyone else's -- I spotted a table of well-groomed, well-heeled white-hairs, the sort of people whose third homes might be in Aspen. They poured an amusing but not inexpensive red wine, then raised their glasses in a toast -- not to the day's stock-market results, not to a sale on Range Rovers, but to filmmaker Michael Moore.
Michael Moore, who in Westword's early days published a struggling alternative weekly in Flint, Michigan, and now, more than twenty years later, has gone from a hero of the working class to the toast of a vintage glass. The toast of Cannes, of Cherry Creek, of anyone anywhere who wants to see John Kerry elected -- and, even more, to see George Bush go away.
In an era when the president pushes plausible deniability, truth is much stranger than fiction.
"White House Declares War on DSL Provider," blared the headline over an article with a Washington, D.C., dateline, last month.
"The Bush Administration is awaiting congressional approval for an official act of war against high-speed DSL service provider Qwest, White House officials confirmed Tuesday," the piece reported. "'After two weeks of trying to peaceably resolve our differences with Qwest, we have decided that this poor customer service will not stand,' Bush said in a televised address."
Sure, the war-against-Qwest story appeared in the Onion, but these days, separating reality from parody can be tougher than, well, peeling back the layers of an onion -- and a lot more likely to make you cry. Jon Stewart's analysis of the Democratic National Convention rang truer than the network's packaged, traditional coverage (except when the goddamned fucking balloons failed to fall on cue). And that really was Michael Moore -- whose Fahrenheit 9/11 is well on its way to grossing a quarter of a billion dollars -- sharing a box with tidy Roslyn and Jimmy Carter, looking like an unmade bed.
And then there's the ad in this week's Denver edition of the Onion, addressed to "Undecided -- Kerry vs. Bush." The message? "Go see Fahrenheit 9/11 at any theater and we'll buy your ticket!!" All you have to do is fill out a coupon and send it, along with your receipt, to Yaller Dawg, Inc.
The offer's no joke. Although Yaller Dawg's address is in a downtown office building that happens to hold both the Denver Post and the Colorado Secretary of State's office, neither of those allegedly respectable organizations are behind this caper. It's the brainchild of some self-professed "establishment types" (lest we forget, the flower children and protesters of the '60s are Denver's establishment types), including Dick and Dottie Lamm, lawyer/ author Bruce Ducker and marketing maven Jock Bickert, people who love their town and their country -- right, not wrong. Yaller Dawg's credo comes from a Ducker pal who realized that, "even with the terrorist threat and the Iraq mess," there was no need to amend the "Why I Can't Vote for George Bush" missive he'd penned in November 2000: "I want health coverage for every American. I want major campaign finance reform that will eliminate soft money. I want the budget surplus to be used to retire national debt, not for a tax cut. I want strong gun controls in America. I want no ideologists -- neither conservative nor liberal -- on the Supreme Court. I want America to be proactively involved, non-militarily, in international affairs. I want America to take the lead in protecting the environment worldwide. Sadly, George Bush doesn't want any of these."
The author remains anonymous. Speaking officially, or close enough, for Yaller Dawg is Jay Horowitz, a prominent attorney who started out as a Watergate prosecutor and has "dealt with lots and lots of Republicans," he says, "including conservative Republicans, has represented lots and lots of Republicans, including conservative Republicans, and count among my friends Republicans, including conservative Republicans." Like Ducker, who saw Fahrenheit 9/11 on opening night at the Esquire, Horowitz was stunned not just by the crowd that showed up to see the movie (in his case, in much more conservative Jefferson County), but also by the crowd's response. Says Horowitz: "We both took away with us a very strong conviction arising from our non-coordinated, separate visits to the movie theaters in our respective neighborhoods that Fahrenheit 9/11, for all its sophomoric, transparent and vulnerable moviemaking attributes, nonetheless raised very strong questions and left everyone thinking deeper about what the current administration is about and what United States citizens should be thinking about."
And so they unleashed Yaller Dawg. "We determined that it would be important for any undecided folks, whatever their suasion, to be incentivized to see Moore's product," Horowitz says. "To that end, we have developed and are prosecuting this concept of encouraging people to see what, at the least, will require them to think and sort out and delineate their understanding of politics today, and the importance of this election."
In other words -- in layman, rather than lawman, terms -- Yaller Dawg is buying tickets, not votes. But for all of its flaws -- and Moore's critics are at the ready with itemized lists of every single one -- Fahrenheit 9/11 is an undeniably powerful weapon of mass distraction. (It's also a lot easier to locate than certain other mass weapons.)
It contains more than enough truths to get people thinking -- and thinking about why they, too, can't vote for George Bush.
Raise a glass.
The Right Stuff
Governor Bill Owens pulled some tough duty at the end of July.
On Monday, July 26, he was slated for the first team of the Republican Party's truth squad, joining other top GOPs to deliver the right's response to opening-day activities at the Democratic National Convention. And since Owens is a baseball fan, he couldn't go to Boston without stopping by Fenway Park, where the Red Sox were facing off against the Yankees in a rare Sunday-night game -- and John Kerry just happened to be throwing out the first pitch.
But before that, Owens was saddled with representing Colorado in the Cheyenne Frontier Days parade on July 24, which was billed as "Colorado Day."
In a schedule that included everything from horses to horsing around with donkeys, what did Colorado's governor find the most challenging?
Certainly not his truth-squad stint, reports Dan Hopkins, Owens's spokesman. Responding to the Democrats was a cinch. And it didn't turn out to be that tough to snag a seat at the ballgame, or to crash a party full of Democrats, where the governor wrangled a beer and a hot dog.
No, handling the horse was Owens's biggest challenge, despite the fact that the governor is Texas-born and -bred. The ride provided by the parade folk wasn't "parade broken" -- this was his first rodeo, as they say -- and also had an earache. So every time there was a loud noise or gunshot (hardly a rarity in Cheyenne), he reared up like a Democratic legislator hearing about a new Pledge of Allegiance proposal. But at least Owens had fair warning: The horse's name was Terminator.
He'll be back.