Politics / February 27, 2024

Michael Moore Says Michigan’s “Uncommitted” Campaign Can Send Biden a Vital Message About Gaza

Moore, Beto O’Rourke, and dozens of Michigan elected officials are calling for an uncommitted vote today, in a push for a cease-fire.

John Nichols

At many points over the past two decades, Academy Award–winning filmmaker Michael Moore has leapt into the political fray on behalf of Democratic causes and candidates—touring campuses in 2004. at the height of the Iraq War, to turn out the vote for Democrat John Kerry’s challenge to Republican President George W. Bush; endorsing Barack Obama at a critical point in his 2008 bid for the presidency; counseling Joe Biden’s campaign that it needed to expand its ground game in his native Michigan in 2020; and boosting the confidence of Democrats in 2022 by advancing a lonely but ultimately on-point argument that the party would beat back a broadly anticipated “Republican wave.”

This year, Moore is trying to get an urgent message to Biden about the peril that the president’s reelection bid faces if he doesn’t change his stance regarding the Israeli assault on Gaza, which has killed almost 30,000 Palestinian citizens since October. More than 12,500 of the dead are children.

Moore, along with many of Michigan’s most prominent Democrats, is advocating for voters in today’s Michigan Democratic primary to pass over Biden’s name and instead cast their ballots for the “uncommitted” option that that state permits voters to support.

“I am part of a group called Listen to Michigan” he explained in a CNN interview last week. “We’re trying to send a message to Biden and we’re voting uncommitted in the primary only.”

Moore’s not alone. Former US representative Beto O’Rourke, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who gave Biden a critical endorsement before that year’s Super Tuesday vote, traveled to Michigan over the weekend and expressed his support for the “uncommitted” campaign. “I do think it makes sense for those who want to see this administration do more, or do a better job, to exert that political pressure and get the president’s attention and the attention of those on his campaign so that the United States does better,” said O’Rourke. Activist groups such as Our Revolution and the Detroit local of Democratic Socialists of America are also urging voters to send Biden a message, while veteran progressive activist Nina Turner says that “folks across the country are standing in solidarity with Michigan’s call for a permanent ceasefire.”

On the ground in Michigan, US Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) is campaigning for an “uncommitted” vote, as is former US representative Andy Levin (D-Mich.); Dearborn Mayor Abdullah H. Hammoud; Representative Abraham Aiyash, the majority floor leader in the state House; and six other Democratic legislators. Detroit’s Metro Times has endorsed an uncommitted vote, arguing that “Arab Americans are justified in feeling once again unseen by the U.S. government.”

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“Biden cannot afford to lose their votes in Michigan, which is once again shaping up to be a swing state in 2024. In 2020, he won by more than 150,000 votes here, home to some 300,000 people of Middle Eastern ancestry. That doesn’t even cover the many more people who disapprove of the war in Gaza, especially young people,” explained the paper’s editors. “The stakes are especially high because there is no doubt in our minds that Trump would be far worse for global stability, vowing to ban refugees from Gaza from entering the U.S. and suggesting that the war must be allowed to ‘play out.’ Biden needs to change course on Gaza or else he runs the risk of losing to Trump.”

Moore shares that view, and he has been leveraging his prominence —in cable TV appearances, on his popular podcast, and via social media—to make the case for an “uncommitted” vote as a vehicle to warn Biden about the moral and political consequences of unconditional US support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the war Israel launched on Gaza following the October 7 Hamas attack.

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Last Thursday, CNN host Abby Phillip asked Moore if he thought frustration with Biden’s misguided approach to the conflict between Israel and Palestine could cost the president the support he needs to win the battleground state of Michigan—where polls have shown high levels of support for a cease-fire in Gaza—in a fall race with Trump. “Do you think that this dissatisfaction is going to hurt Biden significantly come November?” she inquired. “Or will these voters change their mind when it’s Biden against Donald Trump?”

Moore, a former Michigan newspaper editor with a long record of watching and engaging with the state’s politics, was nuanced and thoughtful in his response, explaining that “nobody I know [who] voted for Biden three years ago, almost four years ago, has changed their mind and believes that they made a mistake and they’re going to vote for Donald Trump. That’s not going to happen.”

Rather, Moore said, disenchantment with Biden’s Gaza stance could depress turnout and enthusiasm for the Democrat. Noting the polls that show young voters and people of color—two key blocks of Biden supporters in 2020—are particularly upset over the Palestinian death toll, the filmmaker said “the danger for Biden here” in Michigan is that his position will “offend and upset groups that supported [Biden] back in 2020, especially young people,”

“I’ve been saying this month that he’s going to cost himself the election,” added Moore. “If Trump has any chance, it’s the decision that [Biden’s] made to embrace slaughter, carpet bombing, babies in incubators dead because they cut off the electricity, on and on and on.”

While the president spoke about how Americans are determined “to protect our Jewish brothers and sisters, no matter where they’re at,” and about the importance of releasing Israeli hostages who were taken by Hamas in the October 7 attack, Moore said Biden’s embrace of Netanyahu sent precisely the wrong signal. And now, Biden’s got a serious political problem in a state the president needs to win.

Historically a state that backed Democrats in presidential races, Michigan gave Trump a narrow win in 2016, after the Republican appealed to blue-collar voters frustrated with deindustrialization. In 2020, Biden beat Trump by more than 150,000 votes. An EPIC-MRA poll from last week put Trump ahead 45-41 in the state. According to a Detroit Free Press analysis of that survey, “The new poll indicates that Biden’s refusal to heed calls, especially among younger, more progressive Democrats and Michigan’s large Arab American and Muslim communities, to demand an Israeli end to deadly counterattacks in the Gaza Strip, appears to be playing a role in his support or lack thereof — a situation which could potentially cost him a vital swing state Trump won in 2016 before Biden recaptured it for Democrats four years ago.”

The “uncommitted” campaign seeks to alert Biden to this reality, says Moore, who warns that “the only way [that] Biden can hand the election to Trump is if he does not understand why young people hate war, don’t want war—and they are going to not show up.”

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John Nichols

John Nichols is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation. He has written, cowritten, or edited over a dozen books on topics ranging from histories of American socialism and the Democratic Party to analyses of US and global media systems. His latest, cowritten with Senator Bernie Sanders, is the New York Times bestseller It's OK to Be Angry About Capitalism.

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