Alan Keyes and the Mosh Pit
I got a better way to choose the president.
Michael Moore, The Awful Truth
Here's the premise. In 1999-2000, filmmaker/satirist/activist Michael Moore, as part of his television series The Awful Truth (airing on the Bravo cable channel), took a look at the slate of potential presidential candidates for the 2000 election and noticed that the men (of course, they were men) being offered the American public were essentially the same. Using the main contenders vying for the Republican and Democratic nominations (Gary Bauer, Bill Bradley, George W. Bush, Steve Forbes, Al Gore, Orrin Hatch, Alan Keyes, and John McCain), he noted that they were all for many of the same things: cutting taxes, the death penalty, expanding the Pentagon, increasing military spending. So Moore made a short documentary about an alternate way of picking a president when the differences seem minimal (the original idea came from a viewer).
The candidates appear to love pretending they are "of the people" and able to relate to the common man. Film clips are shown with Bush showing his quasi-bilingualism ("¡Silencio!") and perhaps more disquieting (from the man Moore refers to as the "Manchurian Candidate") McCain: "I'm just like Luke Skywalker trying to get out of the Death Star!"1 So it was decided: "If you want my vote, you gotta mosh."
Why not? A mosh pit is "that one place where America's youth can express their deepest feelings by beating each other stupid" and there's "no better place to put the candidates." So he implements his plan. He gets a flatbed truck which orange netting on the sides to hold the group of "degenerate" but registered Ames and Des Moines Iowa high school students (who skipped class to participate and were probably not insured, Moore confesses via DVD commentary) and gets the band Rage Against the Machine to offer them a song to mosh to (according to Moore, it's "Guerilla Radio" and the band members are friends of his).
On to the Iowa Caucus!
First up, Christian conservative Gary Bauer. Moore drives up with the music blasting and the kids slamming away on the back of the truck. After asking a spokesperson if she will get Bauer out to jump in the portable mosh pit, she turns and goes back inside the building. A couple of young Republican-type kids show up and quickly move past Moore, ignoring him. So they set up the orange netting in the parking lot next door and mosh away. Until the police show up. Moore asks if there is an ordinance against moshing and is told it is too loud. So he asks what if they do some "quiet" moshing. Now, it seems, the problem isn't noise but trespassing.
Candidates 1, Moore & the Pit 0.
Perhaps there will be better luck with Utah senator Orrin Hatch. The representative Moore meets first thinks he's talking about a "'moss' pit." When Hatch makes his appearance, the pit is explained to himthe kids dive into it and body surf. The somewhat amused Hatch is told that it will be the "easiest endorsement" he would ever get. It doesn't "require any favors, no back room deals, no dirty moneyjust ten seconds in the pit with the kids." He declines, but before he leaves, Moore tries to convince him to "body slam" him (Moore is using the wrong term). Hatch actually agrees (still looking somewhat amused) and they thump their chests together.
But the score worsens to: Candidates 2, Moore & the Pit 0.
Attempt #3: Republican front-runner and eventual "winner," George W. Bush. Moore has trouble getting even close, with the crush of supporters and the mass media. He is able to call out to Bush through the crowd and ask him to participate. Bush calls back, demonstrating his quick and devastating wit (at least he and the crowd thought so): "Behave yourself, will you?" (pause for audience) "Go find real work."
Crushed by Bush's comedically critical comeback, Moore calls home on a payphone (unscriptedhis father didn't know he was calling):
"How ya' doin', Mike?"
"Hi, good. Hey listenI was wondering...do you have, like, an oil company to give me to run...or, or maybe a major league baseball team or something like that?"
"Uh, say that again?"
Candidates 3, Moore & the Pit 0. Things don't look promising.
He tracks down billionaire Steve Forbes (looking like a grinning chicken pox-scarred waxwork as usual) at a radio station. He tells Forbes that he has the kids outside and they've been there for an hour talking about the flat tax (cut to the moshers chanting "Flat tax! Flat tax!") and "I think you'd like them, seriously," to which Forbes replies "especially if they're voters." (Way to go Steve.) Apparently denied, the next shot shows Forbes and Moore leaving the sound booth as Moore asks if he can get Who Wants to be a Millionaire? on more nights a week (at the time it was airing three or four nights a week).
Another loss: Candidates 4, Moore & the Pit 0.
So Moore takes his moshing teenswho are never seen not moshing during the entire pieceto meet McCain. He meets with McCain's chief strategist, who just might be the only one involved who actually knows what the hell a mosh pit is. Of course: "We don't do mosh pits." "He can do it, man," encourages Moore. "Oh, he'd rule a mosh pit," replies the strategist as he starts retreating into the building. Moore call back that "it'll make the Hanoi Hilton look like Motel Six," a rather crude reference to McCain's time as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War (in the DVD commentary, Moore regrets having said it and described it as "pretty dark"). Then there's a defiant shot of a kid yelling: "If you can't mosh, you can't run our country!" No one listens.
Candidates 5, Moore & the Pit 0. Perhaps he should throw in the towel.
He is denied by the secret service outside of the building when he tries to get Gore. At the same time, they run into Bradley, who looks at him, them quickly walks away. Moore asks the camera, "he kinda wanted to, didn't he?" (well, no).
Shot down twice: Candidates 7, Moore 0. Oh, the humanity.
It was at that point that Moore confides (via the DVD commentary) that he thought it was as good as it would get. That evening, as the sun was starting to set, they arrive at Alan Keyes"a black man who worked for Ronald Reagan"headquarters (there had been a 4:00 "Super Rally" there, according to the sign). Talking to Keyes' national campaign director, he tries to set the stage: "imagine Alan Keyes surfing our mosh pit for democracy." Clearly amused (and just maybe "getting" the joke), the man says "I cannot imagine." So Moore asks if he'll do it. He says "Oh, yeah." And he does. And really enjoys himself.
So, in the late January Iowa weather, the man takes off his suit jacket and dives off the side of the truck into the pit. While a small accomplishment and a moral victory, the big man has yet to make his appearance. They wait, hope returning.
The sun has set and everyone can see their breath. Keyes comes out with his family and walks down the steps to the crowd (holding what appears to be a bucket of fried chicken). He comes right over to Moore & company. Trying to sell him on the concept, Moore says that he told the kids that Keyes is the "the only one with the courage to do it." (Keyes interrupting with "he's the only one crazy enough to do it.") Further encouragement came from his teenage daughter (who they had been talking to, hoping she would convince her father to mosh): "Oh yeah, daddy, go try it."
Grinning away, Keyes (never removing his long black leather jacket) goes to the truck and is helped up where he faces away from the crowd and lets himself fall back into the arms of the moshers. Everyone goes nuts, Keyes is having fun, Moore is jumping up and down ("freaking out" according to the commentary and the "most exercise I'd had in ten years") with the crowd. Victory! The screen flashes VOTE ALAN KEYES in the appropriately patriotic red, white, and blue.
"It's a headbanger's night in America!" (Moore).
However much it was or wasn't a factor, Keyes did quite well in the caucus. Forgetting Bush, who was far and away the leader, Keyes showed a fairly strong third place finish among the Republicans after Forbes (Forbes: 30.3%, Keyes 14.3%) and under the circumstances. Further, it was one-tenth of a percent better than Bauer, McCain, and Hatch, combined. Hatch's 1% of the vote contributed to him pulling out of the race two days after (26 January).
The stunt made all the papers and televised news media in the country (as well as the expected late night talk show monologues). A clip from CNN where New York Times reporter Gail Collins is interviewed about the vote ("What did you pick up from your colleaguesother than the mosh pit?") has her admitting that "I'm sorry Jeff, the mosh pit was so great that nothing conceivably could have intervened." The power of the Pit....
Little did they know just how "big" it would become. During the New Hampshire Republican candidate debate shortly after, the "incident" came up. When asked by Bush, "what's it like to be in a mosh pit?" he chuckled and replied "I enjoyed it." But that was nothing compared to Bauer attempting to use it as a means to attack Keyes and an alleged lack of family values. (Bracketed portions are mine.)
Gary Bauer: Alan, a couple of weeks ago, you criticized my good friend John McCain because he expressed some support of or interest in a controversial music group [McCain had claimed to be a fan of Nine Inch Nails]. In view of that I was a little surprised this week to see you fall in to a mosh pit while a band called "The Machine Rages On," or "Rage Against the Machine" played [Bauer is either genuinely ignorant or trying to distance himself from actually knowing the name of such an evil bandboth seem plausible]. That band is anti-family. It's pro-cop killer, and it's pro-terrorist.
It's the kind of music that the killers at Columbine High School were immersed in.
I don't know, don't you think you owe an apology to parents and policemen on that one?
Alan Keyes: Actually I don't, because I was in noaccusing me of having some complicity in that music would be accusing me of, I don't know, being responsible for the color of my skin.
When you can't control things, Gary, you're not morally responsible for them. And I was not morally responsible for the music that was playing as I stepped out of my rally and faced Michael Moore, whatever his name was, doing whatever he was doing. That's his concern, not mine. And until you told me this fact I had no idea what that music was. Contrary to our friend John McCain, who expressed the view that this was his favorite rock group. I think telling somebody that it's your favorite thus and such is actually taking responsible [typo or what he said?] for the choice and making it clear to folks that this is something that you prefer and that this is something that you care about and so forth and so on [Obviously a master rhetorician].
To do it in a lighthearted way, rather than having it imposed on you by circumstances of whichover which you have no control is something that I think is totally unacceptable. So I think that I would beg to differ with you. I had nothing to do with that music, disclaim any knowledge of it.
Admittedly, I was willing to fall into the mosh pit, but I'll tell you something. You know why I did that? Because I think that exemplifies the kind of trust in people that is the heart and soul of the Keyes campaign. It's about time we got back to the understanding that we trust the people of this country to do what's decent. And when you trust them, they will in fact hold you up [At this point, he lifts his hands, palms up, in an appropriate gesture], whether it's in terms of giving help to you when you're falling down or caring for their own children.
So I thought that, as an emblem of that trust, it was the right thing to do. And anyway, my daughter thought it was a good idea.
Gary Bauer: Well, daughters are extremely important.
Al, let me read a quote from you. You said that one of the most important things is the dignity of the presidency [This is the man who fell off the stage during the Bisquick Pancake Presidential Primary Flip-Offto his credit, he didn't drop the pancake]. In fact, you said that it's important that those of us that aspire to be president not act like guests on "The Jerry Springer Show," which is incompatible with the dignity of politics.
Now, I'll concede from your answer you didn't know about the music. But nobody made you jump in the mosh pit. Do you think that's consistent with...
Alan Keyes: Oh, that's very true.
Gary Bauer: ... do you think that's consistent with the dignity of the presidency?
Alan Keyes: Well, I would leave that to the judgment of the American people. I do know that when I got down, one of the folks who was there with one of the news crews, looked at me and he said, You know, you're the only person I've ever seen dive into a mosh pit and come out with his tie straight.
And I think thatyou know the real test of dignity, the real test of dignity is how you carry it through hard times. I think I learned that from my people. We went through slavery when we didn't have the outward signs of what others would call dignity. Because we understood that dignity comes from within, and that whatever circumstance you are going through, you can carry that dignity with you and no one can take it away.
So, I think you may have a misunderstanding of dignity. It doesn't come from what you do in a mosh pit. It comes from what you do as a result of the convictions of your heart. And I'll leave it to the American people to judge the convictions of my heart.
(adapted from a transcript available at abcnews.go.com; The Awful Truth only showed some clips)
Like him or hate him (I seriously dislike his politics and views on most thingsI doubt this surprises anyone), you gotta admire him for saying "what the hell?" and going for it. Sure, it had practical use as a publicity stunt, but I suspect he got the joke and had fun with it. And his daughter "thought it was a good idea." There's some family values that were missing from the other campaigns.
So, what happened with the other candidates?
Hatch: out 26 January.
Bauer: out 4 February.
Forbes: out 11 February.
Bradley and McCain: out 9 March.
Keyes stuck it out until mid-July.
He may be a right-wing lunatic, but he's our right-wing lunatic.
Michael Moore, The Awful Truth
1A later clip shows McCain stomping around stage, fist pumping, ranting about how "[they're shooting at me from everywhere.] Everybody's against me. Governor Engler, Governor Bush, all the governors, all the senators. But we're going to kill them, [right? We're going to get them]" (bracketed portions did not appear in the documentary), following which Moore calls him "out of his [expletive deleted]ing mind."
(Sources: DVD of The Awful Truth: the complete second season and commentary, poll results from www.cspan.org/campaign2000/caucus.asp, debate transcript from http://abcnews.go.com/sections/politics/DailyNews/NH_debate126.html, full McCain quote from www.tnr.com/081400/notebook.html, all other quotes from the DVD)