The Big One




Michael Moore, the pudgy left-wing gadfly who chased General Motors Chairman Roger Smith around the country in his last movie, Roger and Me, is back again with his new documentary, 'The Big One.' The title, by the way, is the name Moore thinks we should give the United States. "The United States of America," he says. "That’s just like any other country, it’s just a name, you know, it’s even kind of wimpy. It’s too modest. I mean, we’re big, right, we’re huge. Don’t give us any lip because we’ll crush you like a grape. The Big One is much better, you know, when other countries talk about us they just need to say The Big One. Everybody’ll know who they’re talking about."

So that’s a sample of Moore at work in this film. Here’s another: In 1996 he opened three checking accounts at the bank. Then he sent a $100 contribution to the Bush campaign from one of the accounts -- Abortionists for Bush. It was quickly cashed. Then he sent another hundred dollar check to Perot from his account Pedophiles For Perot. And that one was cashed. And a third to Clinton from Hemp Growers for Clinton. Oddly enough, only the Clinton campaign returned the check.

But most of the movie follows Moore as he does a book tour for his book "Downsize This," traveling to a few dozen cities around the country, where he reads and autographs copies. Along the way he stops to help out a lot of working men and women who themselves have been downsized. In Illinois he gets to the city where Payday candy bars are made, in fact where they’ve been made for fifty years, on the day when all the workers are told that the plant is closing and they’re all out of a job. Even though the plant makes a profit, and has every year for decades, the owners are closing it to make candy more cheaply elsewhere.

He tries to get in to see the management, but instead he gets kicked out. The same thing happens in Milwaukee at a factory that makes controls for autos. Lots of profits, but the plant is being closed. Kicked out again.

In Iowa, the employees at a Borders book store where he reads and signs books meet him outside in the dark, with one eye peeled for company spies, and they tell him that only the management personnel are working that night because the employees are trying to form a union and they don’t want Moore stirring things up in support of the workers. The same thing happens in Philadelphia.

Ultimately, he goes to Portland and meets Phil Knight of Nike, the only CEO who would agree to talk on camera, where he finds that Nike makes no shoes at all in the United States, but has moved everything to southeast Asia. It’s a fitting climax to a frustrating tour.

As a film, The Big One doesn’t have quite the wit, and certainly not the power, of 'Roger and Me,' where he could focus on one city and the devastation caused by the closing of one factory. And there’s a lot more of Moore’s ego on display here, which isn’t so very charming. But between this film and Warren Beatty’s 'Bulworth,' and in the face of a Republican Congress and a Republican wannabe in the White House, things have looked up a little this spring, for those of us who still believe there’s some truth in the labor theory of capital. Or maybe it’s just the liberals’ last gasp before we’re sent to that great single-payer system in the sky. Time will tell.