The Impact Of "Sicko"

Filmmaker Michael Moore
American director Michael Moore talks during a press conference for his film "Sicko," at the 60th International film festival in Cannes, southern France, on Saturday, May 19, 2007. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth

It was just another movie premiere with the red carpet and the paparazzi.

But the draw on the night CBS News chief political correspondent Jeff Greenfield was there wasn't "Pirates of the Caribbean" or a "Spider-Man" film. It was filmmaker Michael Moore, whose new film, "Sicko," assails America's health care system and champions, more or less uncritically, a government-run health care system.

"We can no longer have a health care system where private health insurance is calling the shots — we have to remove the profit," Moore said.

"Sicko" features affecting stories of personal suffering at the hands of indifferent corporations, and the film celebrates the government-run systems of Canada, France, and Britain. It does not include critics of those systems. Most controversially, Moore took 9/11 rescue workers — denied health care after taking ill — to Guantanamo Bay, to demand the same care given al Qaeda suspects.

Later, at a Havana hospital, they received health care that Moore claimed was typical for Cubans — an assertion likely to be sharply challenged.

But beyond the arguments that seem to surround every Moore film — is it accurate advocacy; is it distorted propaganda — lies a bigger question. Could it help shape the direction, even the outcome, of the coming presidential campaign? Recent history says there's reason to be skeptical.

There are examples of cultural events that helped shaped politics.

In 1979, "The China Syndrome," released just after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, intensified anti-nuclear sentiment.

But in more recent years, 1983's "The Right Stuff" did nothing to advance the presidential hopes of former astronaut John Glenn. Moore himself says his 2004 smash, "Fahrenheit 9/11" didn't change many minds about President Bush

"Probably a lot of people who went to see it already didn't like what was going on," Moore said.

So far, the candidates for president have talked a lot about changing the health-care system, but no one, Democrat or Republican, has come close to advocating the kind of government-run national health-care system that Moore proposes.

Why not? Health analyst Paul Ginsburg says Americans are just — different.

"We're much less willing to have government make decisions for people than is the case in Canada and Europe. It's a cultural difference," Ginsburg said.

Moore has proven his films can draw much bigger audiences than the typical documentary. But if history is any guide, "Sicko" is likely to have a much bigger impact at the box office than at the ballot box.