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Taking on the pro-corporate politicians...
Moore and less

Review by Adam Turl | January 23, 2004 | Page 9

Michael Moore, Dude, Where's My Country? Warner Books, 2003, 249 pages, $24.95.

WHEN FOLKS talk about Michael Moore, they frequently talk about how funny he is. Which is true, he is funny. More than that, when Moore is at his best, he gets to the marrow of what's messed up about the world we live in.

Take the segment from his 2003 movie Bowling for Columbine where Moore walks the audience through decades of U.S. imperialism--from U.S. interventions in Guatemala and Iran in 1953, to the Vietnam War--set to the tune of "What a Wonderful World." Or the final moments of his 1989 documentary Roger and Me, where he juxtaposes a corporate Christmas party for General Motors' executives with the evictions of laid-off autoworkers.

Moore's antiwar speech at last year's Oscars declared that we "live in a time where we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president...where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons. Whether it's the fiction of duct tape or orange alerts, we are against this war, Mr. Bush."

Moore is willing to ask questions and take stands that most people who get his kind of media attention won't. In one of the best chapters of his new book, Dude, Where's My Country? titled "A Liberal Paradise," he argues that "more Americans agree with the left than the right."

He goes through poll data that show a majority consistently supports abortion rights, trade unions, universal health care, legal protection for gays and lesbians and affirmative action. So, Moore asks, "after fleecing the American is it that, instead of being drawn and quartered and hung at dawn from the city gates, the rich got a big wet kiss from Congress in the form of a record tax break, and no one says a word?"

In the haze of what passes for news in the corporate media, it's no wonder that Moore's books make the New York Times bestseller lists. Folks want to hear what he has to say.

But the problem is that what he has to say can be somewhat confusing. Even though he argues in his new book that most Americans lean to the left, he complains that "the American people gobble [Bush's lies] up."

Other statements are simply bizarre. For example, he dedicates his new book to Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Movement activist who died trying to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home by Israeli tanks. But he also suggests giving $4 billion a year each to the Palestinians and the Israelis so "they can just blow each other up and leave the rest of us alone."

In the chapter "How to Talk to Your Conservative Brother-In-Law," he argues that we should admit that Pennsylvania death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal "probably killed that guy," that "drugs are bad," and that "there are only two good unions."

First of all, none of these things are true. Secondly, it points toward the underlying problem with Moore. What does this say to the workers in the United Food and Commercial Workers union--which isn't on Moore's list of "good unions"--like the Southern California grocery workers who are on strike and locked out today--and facing a real struggle against both the bosses and the conservatism of their union leaders. What about the thousands of activists who have worked for years to free Mumia Abu-Jamal?

The problem isn't simply that Moore has bad politics. It's that his politics change, whipsawing back and forth with events.

In 2000, he supported Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader's challenge to the corporate candidacies of Bush and Al Gore. At a Nader super-rally in New York City, he argued, "If you don't vote your conscience now...when will you start? We're at the place we're at because we've settled for the lesser of two evils."

Yet the solution offered in his new book is to replace Bush with any Democrat who wins the nomination (except Lieberman). And according to Moore, if we're lucky, that candidate will be his favorite, Gen. Wesley Clark. That's the same Wesley Clark who led the NATO war over Kosovo, a war that Michael Moore has criticized.

The Democrats aren't any solution, as Moore documented many times during the eight years of Clinton and Gore. But Moore can't see any other way out. One minute he describes the problems of Election 2004 quite brilliantly--and the next minute, he's grasping at straws (like drafting Oprah Winfrey).

Moore is at his best when he writes, "I don't know how to put it any gentler than to say that these bastards who run our country are a bunch of conniving, thieving, smug pricks who need to be brought down and removed and replaced with a whole new system that we control. That's what democracy is supposed to be about--we the people, in fucking charge."

But, of course, we won't get that from the Democratic Party. Workers will only get this by organizing and fighting back for ourselves. The folks who are on the front lines of battles like the Southern California grocery strike and the antiwar struggle that brought millions onto the street are showing the way forward. Not Oprah, and certainly not Wesley Clark.

People should read Michael Moore's books and watch his movies. But if you want ideas about changing the world, you shouldn't settle for the terrible compromises that he does.

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