NYT Movie Critic Praises "Sicko," Wonders About Lack of "Social Welfare" in U.S.

A.O. Scott called Michael Moore "a credit to the Republic" after "Fahrenheit 9-11" and thinks "Sicko" is his "funniest," "most broadly appealing" film yet.

Movie critic A.O. Scott again defended (in a markedly defensive manner) dubious left-wing documentarian Michael Moore in his glowing review on Friday of "Sicko," Moore's new documentary on the U.S. health care system. Scott thinks it's Moore's "least controversial and most broadly appealing" movie, and "the funniest."

That's pretty strong praise from Scott. After the fatally flawed "Fahrenheit 9-11," Scott called Moore "a credit to the republic."

"His regular-guy, happy-warrior personality plays a large part in the movies and in their publicity campaigns, and he has no use for neutrality, balance or objectivity. More than that, his polemical, left-populist manner seems calculated to drive guardians of conventional wisdom bananas. That is because conventional wisdom seems to hold, against much available evidence, that liberalism is an elite ideology, and that the authentic vox populi always comes from the right. Mr. Moore, therefore, must be an oxymoron or a hypocrite of some kind."

Scott got defensive about his hero's praise of France and even Cuba (while talking in misleading fashion about "free medical care" in countries with high marginal tax rates or are Communist countries): "Here is our way, and here is another way, variously applied in Canada, France, Britain and yes, Cuba. The salient difference is that, in those countries, where much of the second half of 'Sicko' takes place, the state provides free medical care....Yes, the utopian picture of France in 'Sicko' may be overstated, but show me the filmmaker - especially a two-time Cannes prizewinner - who isn't a Francophile of one kind or another. Mr. Moore's funny valentine to a country where the government will send someone to a new mother's house to do laundry and make carrot soup turns out to be as central to his purpose as his chat with Tony Benn, an old lion of Old Labor in Britain. Mr. Benn reads from a pamphlet announcing the creation of the British National Health Service in 1948, and explains it not as an instance of state paternalism but as a triumph of democracy."

(Where was that vaunted French compassion during the 2003 heat wave that claimed over 10,000 elderly lives, a cynic might wonder.)

In the next, concludingparagraph, Scott pushed socialism in America and wondered why it wasn't here already: "More precisely, of social democracy, a phrase that has long seemed foreign to the American political lexicon. Why this has been so is the subject of much scholarship and speculation, but Mr. Moore is less interested in tracing the history of American exceptionalism than in opposing it. He wants us to be more like everybody else. When he plaintively asks, 'Who are we?,' he is not really wondering why our traditions of neighborliness and generosity have not found political expression in an expansive system of social welfare. He is insisting that such a system should exist, and also, rather ingeniously, daring his critics to explain why it shouldn't."