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Why Did Sicko Fizzle Out?

Michael Moore’s Sicko has had a respectable box office performance for a documentary film. But it has drawn only a small fraction of the audience that turned out for his previous film, Fahrenheit 9/11. Sicko opened in a relatively small number of theaters, with a plan to grow to a much larger audience by fall. Instead it quickly declined from small to smaller. Why?

Perhaps a subject as personally relevant and complex as our national health care does not lend itself as well to Moore’s documentary approach: crude–even juvenile–propaganda that is almost hysterically one-sided and does not even pretend to be objective.

For one thing, viewers of the film who are not already strongly committed to medical socialism must be aware at some level that they are being flimflammed, even when the diatribe is going by very fast. Seeing a highly emotional condemnation of the “greed” of an insurance company that did not approve a half-million dollar procedure in the 1980s that might have saved a life has an impact. But would anyone who has submitted claims to Medicare–or helped an elderly relative try to make sense out of a statement from Medicare–really think that Medicare would pay for such a procedure now–let alone twenty years ago? Would Medicare’s refusal have been based on greed? Or on reality?

The Medicare Prescription Drug Program passed by Congress in 2003 was the largest expansion of government health care in forty years. It has many shortcomings and has yet to be funded, while it spends a great deal of money. But according to a number of surveys, a large majority of seniors say they are happy with it. Even the New York Times now concedes that. Yet Sicko made the ridiculous claim that the bill resulted in higher drug costs for seniors. Any of the millions of seniors in the program who saw the film would know better. It is always a mistake to lie to the eyewitnesses.

How many of the people who saw Sicko would accept the idea that all Cubans receive excellent free health care all the time, and not just in front of Moore’s camera crews? How many other boats were bobbing alongside Moore’s as he sailed for Cuba to seek its allegedly superior health care? Did he by any chance notice the boats going in the other direction and film some of them?

When Moore quotes a ranking of health care around the world by United Nations bureaucrats, who gave government bureaucrats around the world a survey to rank their own system based on such factors as how “fair”–i.e., socialist–its funding is, does he think his audience will be impressed that French government bureaucrats agreed their system was the very best?

When Moore claims in the film that all health care should be managed by government because our government runs a public education system, did he quote any of the surveys showing that foreign students do better than American public school students, even though American governments spend much more per student?

Movie audiences do not laugh quite as much, nor do they take serious subjects less seriously, if they think the moviemaker is taking them for a group of gullible idiots.

Most American audiences do not respond well to Sicko‘s broader, underlying theme of the superiority of other societies over America’s. Pick a country, and Moore maintains that it has superior social, political, cultural, economic, educational, and medical institutions–and is thus morally superior to America. His consistent message is that Americans should be more like them and less like us. We should be more like Cuba. Heaven help us, we should even be more like France.

That becomes tiresome for most Americans after an hour or two. That is why Sicko fizzled out.