Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sicko: Grade B

Sicko (2007)
Michael Moore

Progressive activist and documentarian Michael Moore promotes socialized medicine as the sensible alternative to America’s shameful health care problem. There are 45 million Americans without any health insurance. And even if you have health insurance, you may not really have health insurance, since private for-profit companies are motivated to deny your claim. But this documentary gives few statistics. Instead, in his inimical style, Moore pushes a camera into someone’s face so we can watch them cry over the death of their loved one whose insurance claim was denied. Interviews with insurance company people whose job it was to simply deny claims are revealing, but not necessarily representative. Interviews with people in Canada, U.K., and France make the case that when the government pays for “free” health care for all, the quality is good and people are satisfied, if not deeply grateful. Are those widespread beliefs? We don't know. Moore’s technique of selected personal interviews combined with publicity stunts is humanly interesting but deceptive because it suggests that it is presenting an intellectual argument when in fact it is just one long sequence of rhetorical fallacies appealing to emotion and personal remarks, proving nothing. As a documentary film, it has shock value and human interest, but even though I happen to agree with its point of view, I did not find it persuasive.

Moore asks, why doesn't the American government pay for “free” health care for all? His answer is that Americans have an irrational, knee-jerk reflex against socialism of any kind. It is a step on the slippery slope to communism and tyranny. He tries feebly to counteract that fear, noting that public schools are paid by the government and free for all, yet they haven’t gone communist. Police and firefighters represent socialism in action. Highways are free for all – more socialism at work. But these analogies are not going to persuade anyone. If he wanted to explain why America doesn’t have universal coverage, he could look at comparative tax laws. America doesn't have universal coverage because we don’t want to pay for it. It’s a culture that valorizes individualism, not collectivism. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your point of view.

I would have preferred a presentation of properly sampled facts about health coverage, but that would not get the attention that this film has. I give Moore credit for raising the issue and hopefully, getting people to talk about it. The film could be quite useful for high school and college discussions.

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