Michael Moore’s aiming for America’s heart in his new film “Sicko.”
He’s taken our pulse and decided that our blood pressure is ready to burst over health care, and that the time is right to mainstream socialized medicine. Already “Sicko,” which premiered in New York and Washington, D.C. this week, is receiving applause from trendy Republicans as well as Democrats. The film is a paean to Hillary Clinton’s initial attempt to socialize medicine when Bill Clinton was president. But it also represents Moore’s attempt to appeal to America’s center.
After pulling on our heart strings by showing the consequences of horrendous injustices by U.S. hospitals, insurance companies and HMOs, Moore travels to Canada, England and France and is "overwhelmed" by how much better everything is over there. His European travels culminate in a dinner with American expatriates in Paris, during which he gets an earful not only about the wonders of nationalized health care, but also about the French 35-hour work week, their 5-week vacation schedule, unlimited sick time, and just about every cradle-to-grave subsidy known to man. “And it’s all Free??!!” Michael keeps exclaiming, as though he’s hearing this for the first time.
It’s a skillful performance by Moore, but my bet is that most viewers won’t be fooled. First, In Moore’s grand allusions to French welfare programs, he conveniently fails to mention their last elections, in which the socialist candidate was trounced by a conservative, who wants to reduce if not eliminate many of the “free lunches.” One is left to wonder why the French would vote overwhelmingly to change what Moore describes as the perfect system.
The French discovered the hard way what Americans understand in their gut: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Somebody pays somehow, and government services are usually twice as expensive and half as efficient as private services. And that’s not even to mention the corruption that can be hidden in layers of inefficient bureaucracies.
Fraud within our $275 billion Medicare program was last estimated (when it was a smaller program) at over $50 billion a year. Throw in the entire health care industry, estimated in 2003 to cost $1.67 trillion dollars (National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association) and one can only begin to imagine the variations and amounts of fraud that could be hidden within a bureaucracy with no bottom line.
But Moore is a skillful propagandist and cannot be dismissed lightly. He succeeds in preaching without sounding preachy. And he reaches out beyond the socialist base for support of his socialist message.
He gets a member of the Canadian Conservative Party to speak out for socialized health care. He emphasizes that British doctors make a fair amount of money and that they even get paid according to how successful they are (incentives work!). He’s reaching out to the center, and one can almost see him marching arm-in-arm with the CEO of Wal-Mart, which recently came close to a full endorsement of universal health care. And if Michael Moore had left it right there, he might have pulled even more converts from the center. But he got greedy. Rather than settle for a polite handshake with socialism, he went for a full bear hug.
At the end of the film Moore takes a group of “gringos,” all of whom have been terribly mistreated by the U.S. health care system, to be treated in communist Cuba. The hospital Moore and his companions are taken to in Cuba appears cleaner and more orderly than many U.S. hospitals, with semi-private rooms, crisp, clean sheets, state-of-the-art equipment and upright, English-speaking doctors. The not so subtle message: Even communist health care is better than what we’ve got.
Now I’ve been to hospitals in Cuba, and they don’t look at all like the one in Moore's film. I can only guess that the facilities we are shown in “Sicko” are reserved for the communist hierarchy and foreign VIPs. The contrast between what we see in the film and Cuban reality is dramatic.
In the two Cuban hospitals I visited, the lack of the most basic materials in Cuba was readily apparent. Hospital personnel were literally begging me for anything I had that could be used to help the sick. One hospital I visited asked me for dental floss because they’d run out of suture material.
But in “Sicko,” a $150 inhaler is easily found in a local pharmacy and several are given to one of Moore’s sick U.S. companions for about 5 cents each. I have never seen or heard of readily available medicines like this for anyone in Cuba, and it seemed strangely coincidental that this particular brand just happened to be within easy reach of the first Cuban pharmacist that Moore and his crew walked in on. This scene was either set up by one of Moore’s Cuban “minders,” or Moore was a party to a fabricated scene. The only other possibility is that there has been a monumental effort in Cuba to clean up its hospitals that has gone largely unreported.
It probably won't take much to refute the "Potemkin village" view that the Cubans created for Moore's film. It was so over-the-top that any Cuban or Nicaraguan familiar with the bitter reality of Cuban health care will be able to easily refute these images. As it happened, I happened to be sitting next to one such individual during the screening: my wife, who came here from socialist Nicaragua in 1988. During one round of applause from the audience (comprised mostly of rich celebrities), she leaned over to me and whispered: “Why doesn’t someone ask: ‘If it is so bad here, why are people still dying to get in?’"
My wife went on to make a point that went to the heart of the nation’s move to the left that, no matter how awkwardly, Michael Moore is trying to exploit. Many Americans have forgotten how well off they are. They complain at the slightest pain, because they're told that virtually ALL their problems can and should be taken care of by a nanny state. Most immigrants, on the other hand, know that the nanny state is a lie. They know that the more powerful a state becomes, the more liberties and choices they all lose. And that's why they flock to the U.S.
And that's why immigrants may be the last bulwark against the growth of big government. Not the kind of immigrants who come here illegally looking for a handout. But legal, driven, brave immigrants, who are willing to work hard and eventually eschew the kind of patronizing hand holding that seems to be coming back in vogue among politicians and pundits.
As my wife says: “Legal immigrants have backbone and don't feel sorry for themselves because they have to work hard. That's because we know the difference between working hard and having no job at all. We are not suckers when it comes to the false promises of politicians and hucksters like Michael Moore, and we appreciate freedom.”
Michael may be reaching for the heart of America. But I prefer to believe that my immigrant wife has a better idea of where it is.
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David Asman is the host of "Forbes on FOX" which airs on the FOX News Channel, Saturdays at 11 a.m. ET.