Michael Moore could be an even more fearsome critical voice for the American populist left if he wasn't such a pathetic sentimentalist. After all, he's got genuine (if not sloppy) working-class credibility, his intelligence isn't undermined by the affected hucksterisms that Jim Hightower employs as proof of his down-home roots, and the guy knows how to call a hypocritical spade a spade with baffling, entertaining ease.
Remember that scene in Bowling for Columbine when Moore visits Lockheed-Martin in Littleton to interview the guy who, standing in front of a ballistic missile, just couldn't seem to understand why Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris went on a murderous rampage at Columbine High School? Such ironies are Moore's particular genius.
But then there's his compulsion to drive points home with a jackhammer -- e.g., the photo of the young shooting victim he left at Charlton Heston's doorstep as a pity-party closure to his otherwise superb documentary.
Moore's latest book, Dude, Where's My Country, is a similar exercise in easily digestible, lefty agitprop -- pointedly insightful and relevant at moments, excruciatingly over the top at others.
Taking 9/11 as his departure point, Moore launches into Chapter 1, "7 Questions for George of Arabia," intellect unsheathed. With the mainstream news media as his primary source material, Moore presents G.W. (assuming he's reading it) with a series of unsettling questions about the attack on the World Trade Center.
Among the potentially incriminating and well-documented questions are: Why was a private Saudi jet allowed to pick up members of the bin Laden family who were in the United States on the day after the attacks (despite the fact that air travel was prohibited)? Why were they then flown back to Saudi Arabia without being interrogated?
And why did Bush do absolutely nothing almost 45 minutes after the FAA knew there were hijacked planes in the air? In another of Moore's moments of acidic irony, he points out that, 48 hours after the attack, Bush was smoking cigars and having a drink on the Truman balcony of the White House with none other than his close friend, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia (documented by The New Yorker, as it were).
In subsequent chapters, Moore beats the still-breathing, but almost-dead horse of the lies the administration told the nation to build popular support for war and writes a sappy imaginary interview with his great-granddaughter Anne Coulter-Moore in which he waxes annoyingly about the world before environmental destruction. He then chronicles our culture of fear and the way politicians use it to quickly and effectively manipulate us, details the too-common-sensical ways we could get ourselves out of the whole terrorism quagmire, and lots of other opinions and advice about how to get rid of Bush and convince other Americans to join the cause.
Far and away the most interesting moment in the book comes in Chapter 7, "Horatio Alger Must Die." Here, Moore points out the way Americans remain complicit in corporate greed by believing the myth that they, too, can be rich. He also details an appalling corporate scam known as "Dead Peasants Insurance."
"During the past 20 years," he writes, "companies including Disney, Nestl, Proctor and Gamble, Dow Chemical, JP Morgan Chase, and Wal-Mart have been secretly taking out life insurance policies on their low- and mid-level employees and then naming themselves -- the Corporation -- as the beneficiary!"
Again, it's not some manic conspiracy story, but a real practice that Moore learned about in (of all places) The Wall Street Journal.
Ultimately, the well-informed readability of Moore's books far outweighs the schlock. Agitprop or not, Moore is still smarter than his populist peers on the left and right, and he's far more entertaining.
-- Noel Black
Dude, Where's My Country by Michael Moore (Warner Books: New York) $24.95/ hardcover