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Taking on the stupid-white-man-in-chief

Review by Tristin Adie | March 29, 2002 | Page 9

BOOKS: Michael Moore, Stupid White Men...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! HarperCollins, 2001, 304 pages, $24.95.

WONDERING IF you're alone in your outrage and disgust with our government these days? Thankfully, along comes Michael Moore's Stupid White Men.

Written before September 11, this book takes aim at George W. Bush's theft of the presidential election, the Republicans' lunatic positions on the environment, defense and taxes, the Democrats' spinelessness and much more.

Moore first made a name for himself with the 1986 documentary Roger and Me, which exposed the heartless greed of General Motors CEO Roger Smith. He built a career lampooning the rich and powerful and exposing the cruel realities of life for poor and working-class Americans.

Many of us were treated to his derring-do in confronting politicians and bosses on his TV series TV Nation and The Awful Truth. His first book, Downsize This!, quickly became a bestseller in the wake of massive layoffs during the 1990s boom.

Moore's latest book doesn't disappoint. Stupid White Men opens with a thorough dissection of the racism, nepotism and dirty tricks that characterized Republican maneuvers in the 2000 Florida presidential election.

And in a moving passage, he describes how egg- and tomato-wielding protesters spoiled Bush's sham inauguration: "[The inaugural] parade route…was eerily bare. Except for the 20,000 protesters who jeered Bush every inch of the way. Holding signs denouncing Bush for stealing the election, the rain-soaked demonstrators were the conscience of the nation…It might have been the finest thing I have ever witnessed in Washington, D.C.--a pretender to the American throne forced to turn tail and run from thousands of American citizens armed only with the Truth and the ingredients of a decent omelet."

But lest anyone be lulled into passivity by laughing Bush off as a harmless idiot, Moore details the backgrounds of the dangerous right-wing ideologues that make up Bush's administration.

Stupid White Men was scheduled to appear in bookstores on October 2. But after September 11, publisher HarperCollins balked at releasing something so critical of Bush.

Though 50,000 copies had already been printed, the publisher pressured Moore to remove anything "offensive" about the president. They wanted him to rewrite much of the book--and pay out of his own pocket the approximately $100,000 it would take to complete the job. The alternative, they told his lawyers, would be to destroy the existing 50,000 copies of the book.

Moore initially hesitated to stir up a public fight. But a librarian who heard about the effort to censor the book started a campaign among fellow librarians to release it, unchanged. The pressure paid off.

Stupid White Men finally hit the shelves on February 19, though many independent bookstores report difficulty in obtaining enough copies. HarperCollins has also reported a refusal from many bookstores to accept such a "controversial" book.

Yet Stupid White Men has found a massive audience, hitting number one on 11 best-seller lists. And Moore has appeared at overfilled arenas on his book-signing tour.

While much of his fire in Stupid White Men is aimed at the Republicans, Moore devotes a good number of pages to lambasting the Democrats. He calls former President Bill Clinton "one of the best Republican presidents we've ever had."

On choosing the "lesser of two evils" in the 2000 election, Moore writes that "the choice between Bush's 'compassionate conservatism' and Clintonism is no more meaningful than the choice between castor oil and cherry-flavored Robitussin."

And Moore delivers a lengthy slap at liberals who attacked him for his support for Ralph Nader in 2000.

Stupid White Men isn't perfect. His answer to the treachery of the Democrats, for example, is for working people to "take back" the party and return it to its roots.

He rightly recognizes that the Democrats take their orders from the "top 10 percent" today, but suggests it was once much closer in ideology and action to the needs of workers. But this ignores the heroic struggles waged by ordinary people that were necessary to force demands out of the "real" Democrats of the past--from FDR to JFK.

And a few chapters of Stupid White Men are downright objectionable--specifically those that deal with racism and sexism. Moore is right to highlight the fact that Blacks and women are systematically oppressed in U.S. society, but he largely misplaces the source of this oppression on all whites and all men.

And while Moore's tongue-in-cheek style works when it comes to making fun of politicians, it makes him seem flippant about the day-to-day impact of racism and sexism on people's lives.

That said, Stupid White Men is, overall, a breath of fresh air in the stale environment engineered by politicians and the media post-September 11.

And the response Moore has received at book signings around the country is a welcome reminder that thousands of people are fed up with the agenda of our "commander in thief."

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