- The Washington Times - Friday, July 9, 2004

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle — embroiled in a tough re-election campaign in South Dakota — distanced himself this week from documentary film director Michael Moore, whose “Fahrenheit 9/11” D.C. premiere he attended last month.

Mr. Daschle disputes a claim by Mr. Moore that he — as the highest elected Democratic official in the nation — hugged the filmmaker after the screening and promised to fight more vigilantly against the policies of President Bush.

“I know we senators all tend to look alike,” Mr. Daschle said, according to the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota. “But I arrived late and I had to leave early for Senate votes. I didn’t meet Mr. Moore.”

His recollection directly disputes assertions made by Mr. Moore, who sat a few rows behind Mr. Daschle at the premiere.

After watching the movie, Mr. Daschle “gave me a hug and said he felt bad and that we were all gonna fight from now on,” Mr. Moore told Time magazine. “I thanked him for being a good sport.”

Dick Wadhams, campaign manager for Daschle challenger John Thune, said Mr. Daschle trotted out the case-of-mistaken-identity excuse only after being criticized for his coziness with Mr. Moore from voters in South Dakota, where Mr. Bush received 60 percent of the vote in 2000.

“As usual, Tom Daschle wants it both ways,” he said. “He wants to go to the premiere and lend credence to the movie, but he doesn’t want to be judged for it by voters. It’s typical Daschle doublespeak.”

If Mr. Daschle’s excuse is accurate, Mr. Wadhams said, “it says something about Michael Moore’s credibility.”

As one of the most strident and unceasing critics of Mr. Bush and the war in Iraq, Mr. Moore — and his movie critical of the war — has become something of an awkward problem for Democratic politicians.

Though he relentlessly attacks Mr. Bush for the handling of the war, presidential hopeful John Kerry has not seen the movie and said he has no plans to do so.

Asked this week by CNN’s Larry King show why he hadn’t seen the movie, Mr. Kerry said, “I’ve watched it for the last four years.”

“But you haven’t seen it put together like Moore put it together,” countered Mr. King.

“I’ve got it put together in my head, Larry, and I know why I’m running for president,” Mr. Kerry replied. “I believe we can do better.”

In his movie, Mr. Moore goes beyond criticizing the war and portrays the administration as warmongers no better than the terrorists they pursue. His movie also depicts Mr. Bush as a dolt more interested in golfing than governing.

His penchant for the provocative — if not radical — goes back years, accusing the United States of terrorism and comparing the Iraqi insurgents killing U.S. soldiers to the American patriots of the Revolutionary War.

“The Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ or ‘the enemy,’” Mr. Moore wrote in April. “They are the revolution, the Minutemen and their numbers will grow — and they will win.”

And, on his Web site, he said, “We, the United States of America, are culpable in committing so many acts of terror and bloodshed that we had better get a clue about the culture of violence in which we have been active participants.”

Just as disturbing, Mr. Wadhams said, are the words Mr. Moore has used — “stupid,” for instance — to describe the American people.

All of this spells trouble for Democrats, many of whom attended the Washington premiere of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” but who face American voters whose political views aren’t neccessarily in line with those of Mr. Moore.

“The typical patriotic, hard-working South Dakotan would be appalled by this movie and that Tom Daschle lent credibility to the movie by going to its premiere,” Mr. Wadhams said.

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