LOS ANGELES, March 24 (UPI) — Michael Moore’s anti-war, anti-Bush tirade was one of the more watchable moments at the 75th Academy Awards — but whether it changed minds is another question.

The telecast would have been memorable on its own merits for its elegant celebration of 75 years of Oscars history. It was always meant to be a celebration of the best of an art form, but it turned out more like a test of the tensile strength of our civility.

Like so many family celebrations that have been marred by the contentious behavior of “certain people,” the Academy Awards diamond jubilee may well be more lamented than fondly recalled. Members of the academy community will no doubt console one another with reminders that the ceremony showed uncommon grace under a set of pressures that would not have applied during peacetime.

But with the world stage dominated by war and dissidence, the Oscars came to be seen by large numbers of Americans as, at worst, in bad taste or, at best, irrelevant.

The show began life as a balancing act. Producer Gil Cates kept his fingers crossed that the talent would stay with the spirit of the evening, but he always understood that it was impossible to sanitize the expressions of winners on the Oscar stage.

He simply hoped to avoid the indecorous.

Best Supporting Actor winner Chris Cooper was the first to say something from the podium on the subject of war and peace.

“In light of all the trouble in this world, I wish us all peace,” said Cooper.

While Cooper and others offered reflective, gentle reminders of the importance of peace, Moore shook up the joint.

“We live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president,” said Moore. “We have a man who is leading us to war for fictitious reasons. We’re against this war, Mr. Bush. Shame on you, Mr. Bush. Shame on you.”

By some accounts, Moore got a standing ovation and a few boos. Others reported that he was booed off the stage.

Actually, he was played off the stage by Music Director Bill Conti. Winners were permitted 45 seconds of free speech, and his ration was used up.

A reporter backstage asked Moore why he took off on Bush during his acceptance speech.

“I’m an American,” said Moore.

“That’s it?” asked the reporter.

“That’s a lot,” said Moore. “You don’t leave your citizenship when you enter the doors of the Kodak Theatre.”

Moore insisted that America has been hijacked “and there’s a squatter on federal land” at the White House.

“We need to reclaim our country,” he said. “I love my country. I love democracy.”

Moore would get an argument on that from Thomas Bond, the head of Biograph Motion Pictures in Hollywood. He called Moore’s remarks anti-American.

“I have no problems with opinions,” said Bond, “but last night’s outburst by Moore was sickening and uncalled for. I am very supportive of all views, but not derogatory rantings, especially when Americans are dying and being tortured as we speak. I am very happy he was booed off stage by rational people in the entertainment industry.”

Bond would get an argument from Moore on that last point.

“Don’t report that there was a split decision in the hall because five wild people booed,” Moore admonished reporters backstage.

Moore specializes in populist expressions, such as his demand that the U.S. military withdraw its troops from ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News. The Oscar speech was not the first time he took off on Bush.

He gave roughly the same speech one day earlier in Santa Monica, when “Bowling for Columbine” won for best documentary at the IFP Independent Spirit Awards. Actually, Moore has been challenging the legitimacy of the Bush presidency since the 2000 election.

His major opus in this regard is “Stupid White Men: And Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation.”

The book is loaded with statistical evidence supporting many of Moore’s arguments against Bush. In the book, Moore also calls Bush names — such as “thief-in-chief” and “idiot-in-chief.”

Moore’s statistical content has been called into question by numerous critics. The name-calling is subjective, and therefore open to endless argument about its accuracy — but name-calling seems not to contribute in a constructive way to serious discussions about crucial issues.

Moore supports his case by pointing out that the book is the best-selling nonfiction book in America over the past year. But if he is going to use sales figures to argue for the legitimacy of a political argument, he would have to concede that Bernard Goldberg’s “Bias” and Ann Coulter’s anti-liberal best-sellers have just as much merit as “Stupid White Men.”

It’s doubtful that Moore would carry populism quite that far.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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