Michael Moore discovers the awful truth

Issue 

Stupid White Men

By Michael Moore

Harper Collins 2002

275 pages, $49.45

REVIEW BY PAUL HEMPHILL

If your name is Miranda Devine, you won't like this book because
it slanders your beloved American Dream. If you are Greg Sheridan, you
will not like this book because it exposes the US ruling cabal that you
consider the best administrative team in living memory. If your name is
Padraic McGuinness, you will hate this book because it is another case
of the deluded, misguided and uninformed elites fighting back. And if you
are Mark Latham, you will dismiss its statements on globalisation as the
ravings of Naomi Klein's mad, bad Yankee cousin.

So who will like this book? Picture

If you have followed the daggy, iconoclastic Michael Moore and his weekly
half-hour TV show, the Awful Truth, that screens periodically on
SBS, you will enjoy the verve and the cheek of his take on American power,
politics, patronage and prejudice.

Moore's in-your-face deconstruction of the “American Way” — be it the
death penalty, firearms, big tobacco corporations, the religious right
or money politics — made the show memorable. There were some brilliant
episodes: the voice-box choir serenading tobacco executives; Iraqi cab
drivers attempting to inspect the locations of where the US stores its
weapons of mass destruction; the pimp offering his services to bewildered
congressmen.

Even if you do not know Michael Moore, but you yearn to know the awful
truth, you will like this book. Not that there is much that is totally
new in the book. Serious commentators have documented, broadcast and published
similar material — but not in Moore's inimical style. It translates well
from the small screen to the printed page.

The book begins with “A Very American Coup”, Moore's account of the
Republican putsch that enabled George Bush junior to steal the November
2000 US presidential election and to stack his administration with his
father's well-heeled, well-funded and well-connected mates.

I chuckled as I read the introduction, but as I settled into chapter
one the smile faded from my face. For this is an American tragedy. While
Stupid White Men is a very funny, very revealing and very cogent
book, it is also a very sad book, a very angry book and a very dark book
indeed. It is an angry critique of US politics and corporate power and
influence.

The Georges, senior and junior, and their buddies are not the only targets.
The Republicans may have stolen the election, but the Democrats — including
the should-have-been-president Al Gore, were accessories after the fact.

These are the “stupid white men” of the title, the ones who run the
joint. And the American people (most of who did not vote) are the what-the-hell,
life-must-go-on, what-can-we-do-about-it-anyway bystanders.

Moore tells the story of the unfortunate Kerry Sanders, a schizophrenic
Los Angeles street person who the police mistook for a career criminal,
Robert Sanders, who had escaped from a New York prison. Kerry was sent
to NY to serve out Robert's sentence, and he remained in the NY penitentiary
for two years while his mother searched LA looking for him. Had it not
been for the chance arrest of the real Robert Sanders, Kerry would still
be in prison today.

There are some amazing lists. The list of initiatives and policies overturned
by the Bush administration in its first months. The list of foreign policy
“triumphs” is scary. The list of the many things that the USA is number
one would be surreal if it wasn't reality.

There are lists of billionaires, firearm deaths, CO2 emissions, lowest
voter turnouts, known executions of child offenders, recorded rapes, calories,
literacy, housing, health care, law and order, pollution and environmental
controls.

Moore details how the richest, strongest country on Earth looks after
its poor, its sick, its needy and its underprivileged.

Much of the book also deals with the presidency of Democrat Bill Clinton.
Moore will not let us forget how Clinton supported executing people, wouldn't
ban land mines, prevented abortion funding, threw the poor onto the streets,
doubled the prison population, bombed four different countries and killed
civilians, allowed a few conglomerates to own most of the media, and continually
called for increases in the Pentagon budget. There's another good list
of what Bill did or didn't do — a sort of “spot the difference”.

The book was written before the strange and mournful events of September
11 and all that has followed — the boosting of military spending, the war
on Afghanistan, rushed laws restricting legal and human rights and its
catapulting of Moore's “Great Pretender” to 82% approval ratings. It was
also written before the Enron collapse that exposed for all to see the
reach and clout of corporate power.

Rumour has it that the publisher tried to pull the book because it did
not suit the new consensus, but that Moore threatened to sue. While he
contends that the publisher has been half-hearted about promoting the book,
it has zoomed to the top of Amazon.com's best-seller list. A barnstorming
tour across the US is attracting hundreds, often thousands of readers,
notwithstanding state authorities' attempts to curb such unpatriotic enthusiasm.

But is this book relevant here in Australia? Relevant? Hey, are we not
America writ small? Ruled by the self-perpetuating, self-serving, self-justifying
cabal of the two-party system; with health and education services in free-fall;
legal and human rights under assault; “greed is good” aspirationalism on
the rise; and ethics and morality gone west.

If you care about all this, read Stupid White Men and tremble
with fear and loathing.

From Green Left Weekly, April 10, 2002.

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