Under my byline

American idol-breaker

Posted in Books by Rrishi on 30 October 2008

Michael Moore strikes again

Mike’s Election Guide 2008
Michael Moore
Penguin
xii + 184

What is Michael Moore’s problem? The man’s apparently a stranger to civilised discourse, to fair, balanced and profanity-free discussion of the issues, to not printing words in great big rude capital letters, even to not putting his own face on the front of his own, immodestly titled book.

Is it all presidents Bush and their Republican party that get Mike’s goat? Five books and five films by Moore since 2000 have taken a cudgel to this administration and the constituency the president and his party are alleged to represent — that is, big business and friends of the family.

A survey of Moore’s oeuvre will show that he sees himself as a fighter for the underdog, those ordinary, working-class, unionised or un-unionised Americans who are ill served and exploited by greedy corporations and an over-powerful government. In the service of this constituency, Moore hasn’t hesitated in the past to point his polemical machine gun at the Democrats — so it’s not only the Republicans he can’t stand. It’s just that it’s been a while since the Democrats ran his country, and Moore really wants to give them a chance to improve on the Bush years.

Look at what Moore says in this pocket-sized and super-timely book. The first chapter, “‘Ask Mike!’”, is full of silly/serious answers from Moore to silly questions from (fake) concerned citizens. Billy McKenzie from Zanesville, Ohio (the place actually exists), asks: “Which presidential candidate do I want to have a beer with?” That’s a real question from the Bush-Kerry contest of 2004. Moore counters it with an equally idiotic one: “Who Do I Want to Have Sex With?” The answer, he says, is obvious, and there’s a little photo of Barack Obama in swimming trunks to clinch the argument.

But before getting to this knockout punch, Moore points out how foolish it is that “Americans don’t want to elect someone smarter than we are”, accusing both Hillary Clinton and John McCain of pandering to that self-defeating notion. Moore’s not the first to see this flaw in the polity, but he’s among the few who can outline it with such acid ridicule.

Likewise, Moore revisits all the crises of the times (in our high-stress age it’s no longer sufficient to call them “issues”), from the “war on terror” to Iraq, Iran and Israel, the erosion of American power, immigration, health care, obesity, education, the ridiculously unfair American tax system that penalises the middle class and rewards the rich … the list is long, familiar and depressing.

Because this is a book about the election and not just the issues/crises, the next chapter is called “How to Elect John McCain”. Moore’s advice includes “Keep saying nice things about McCain” and “Show up to a gunfight with a peashooter”.

His point? That even though the vast majority of American voters want what the Democrats want — “They are pro-environment, pro-women’s rights, pro-choice, they don’t like war, they want the minimum wage raised, and they want a single-payer universal healthcare system” — the Dems are “professional losers” who, at the first hint of opposition, cave in and grovel unattractively. Of course, it’s a gross falsehood to suggest that the Republicans want only the opposite of these things, but Moore’s never been adept with complexity.

Even so, tasting a potential Obama victory, Moore suggests 10 things the new president should do. “Draft the rich” to forestall military adventurism is merely silly, but the rest are admirably utopian (i.e., European) — nationalise health care, make the rich pay more tax, ban high-fructose corn syrup, ban commercials in cinema halls, and so on. Is this guy really American?

Next, “six modest proposals” to revamp elections, from holding them on weekends rather than weekdays, to avoiding inaccurate electronic voting machines, limiting the campaign season and finances. Great, but… mandatory limits and a uniform, federally imposed code? In America?

Now, perhaps, we can answer the question: What is Michael Moore’s problem? Here’s the answer, on page 63: as a nation, he says, “We have turned into a bunch of sickly, clueless, useless wimps”. Really, his problem is his fellow Americans. He’s appalled that they are so wilfully complicit in their own exploitation and infantilisation. He wants to really rile them, to get their dander up, so they will stand up and be counted — in favour of Obama and the promise of change. (And thence to Moore’s last chapter: why a President Obama should impeach ex-President Bush.)

Moore tried this kind of rabble-rousing the last time as well, with the hard-hitting but deeply illogical superhit film Fahrenheit 9/11. Despite the pundits’ predictions, though, the film didn’t help John Kerry into the White House. Will Moore be a bad-luck charm this time around too?

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2 Responses

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  1. […] American idol-breaker But before getting to this knockout punch, Moore points out how foolish it is that “Americans don’t want to elect someone smarter than we are”, accusing both Hillary Clinton and John McCain of pandering to that self-defeating notion. … […]

  2. Sunny said, on 3 November 2008 at 10:16 am

    Enjoyed this review, Rrishi! I hope the answer to your closing question is a ‘no’…we’ll find out in 2 days.


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