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Michael Moore 

Regan
Books/HarperCollins, 2002 


Review
by Tom Gallagher 

With
a bestselling book and a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival,
Michael Moore has definitely arrived, occupying a niche in American
politics and culture somewhere between Ralph Nader and Al Franken.
If you’re looking for historical parallels, Will Rogers might
come to mind, but ultimately Rogers was more of a cynic about politics
in general than any kind of radical. Not that long ago, most people
would not have suspected that the spot Moore has carved out for
himself was even a possibility. 

Books
are not his forte—film and television are—but books allow
Moore to be somewhat more specific about what he actually thinks,
and selling this many copies of a book with politics this radical
is no small achievement, even if the politics come wrapped in shtick.
Stupid White Men continues the story of the central character
of all of Michael Moore’s published and filmed work since Roger
and Me
—Michael Moore. 

Being
Michael Moore these days means that phone calls you and I might
dream of making just may go through if he makes them—like the
one to right-wing magazine columnist Fred Barnes. Moore was somewhat
inexplicably watching “The McLaughlin Group”—“hyenas
on Dexedrine” as he refers to them—when he witnessed Barnes
bemoaning a state of American education so debased that, “These
kids don’t even know what The Iliad and The Odyssey
are.” We must give Moore credit for realizing that a person
like Barnes might have the chutzpah to publicly blather about the
works of Homer, without actually knowing what they were about himself.
When Moore asked Barnes to discuss them, he “started hemming
and hawing, ‘Well, they’re…uh…you know… uh…okay,
fine, you got me. I don’t know what they’re about. Happy
now?’” 

The
book generally reads like it was written by a celebrity rushing
to print while he’s still “in.” The satire is not
always the sharpest, for instance, the proposal that Northern Ireland
be fixed by converting Irish Protestants to Catholicism. On the
other hand, Moore gets serious from time to time. Levity may be
okay for Ireland and the former Yugoslavia, but he won’t treat
the Mideast as a laughing matter. His suggestion that the adoption
of nonviolent tactics by Palestinians would enhance their chance
of success in forcing Israel to yield the occupied territories is
not original to Moore, but it certainly bears repeating, even if
it has as much chance of coming to fruition as his proposal for
Yugoslavia—bringing Tito back to life. 

Although
he was a prominent Nader supporter, he declined an invitation to
join a Nader tour of states in which Gore and Bush were neck-in-neck
late in the 2000 campaign because he didn’t want to tip the
election to Bush. His proposal that Nader advocate a vote for Gore
in the swing states in exchange for a public Gore shift to the left
on one major issue picked from a list that Nader would provide seems
worth the attention of Monday morning electoral quarterbacks. While
it seems unlikely that Gore would have agreed, Nader had little
to lose from being unconventional and even a rejected offer might
have quieted the pundits who thought Nader “egotistical”
for insisting that the most important issues actually be addressed
in a presidential election campaign. 

Moore
is in good form in his rant about what kind of president expands
the death penalty, outlaws gay marriages, kicks ten million people
off of welfare, supports “three strikes” legislation,
and refuses to sign the International Land Mines Ban Treaty (that’s
Clinton, of course), but he’s really at his best when it comes
to George Bush, for whom he has designed a little Presidential Clip
‘n Carry to help him remember the names of the heads of state
he may encounter in his travels. 

Some
of Moore’s ideas, like his offer to pay the filing fees for
the merger of the Republican and Democratic Parties that he hopes
would allow the emergence of a party to represent the other 90 percent
of us will play better on film, but some readers will learn of outrageous
subjects that had previously escaped them, like the United Nations
Convention on the Rights of the Child that only two nations in the
world have refused to sign. 

Your
test questions are: (1) Which is the other nation that has refused
to sign? (2) Why wouldn’t the U.S. sign? 

Answers:
(1) Somalia. They don’t really have a functioning government,
so there may have been some legitimate confusion as to who got to
go to the signing ceremony. (2) It prohibits the execution of children
under 18. 

If
your choice is between a Moore movie or a Moore book, see the movie,
but if you flunked the test and feel the need to study, Stupid
White Men
will entertain you for awhile. Don’t stop until
the very end—it’s got the funniest “About this typeface”
section I’ve ever read. 


Tom
Gallagher is an activist and frelance writer based in California.