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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