Michael Moore may be too caught up in his own personality cult, says Stephanie Merritt, but Dude, Where’s my Country? proves the need for his voice to be heard
Michael Moore is the sand in the underpants of the Bush administration. Since the success of his last book, Stupid White Men, and his Oscar-winning documentary, Bowling For Columbine (a success he likes to remind you of at every opportunity), he has become the most prominent liberal agitator in the West.
He is not really a comedian, though he uses humour as the chocolate coating for some unpalatable truths. Neither is he an investigative journalist; numerous articles have been published since the release of Bowling For Columbine, by no means all of them by his political opponents, suggesting that he relies too heavily on creative editing and shuffling of facts to make his points. He can often seem a little too caught up in his own personality cult and his overblown style irritates fellow liberals as much as the conservatives he sets out to skewer (probably more, since the liberals are more likely to read the books).
But for all that, Moore remains a much-needed voice crying in a wilderness of principle, where Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ has made wool-pulling and murky half-truth the standard tools of leadership.
Dude, Where’s My Country? carries on where Stupid White Men left off in its critique of America (and, by extension, her special friend across the Atlantic) since Bush’s arrival in the White House. Perhaps in response to the fuss over Moore’s alleged fact-smudging last time, his new book is scrupulously annotated, attributing the most important and shocking exposés, fully furnished with statistics, to such reputable sources as the New Yorker, Time and the Washington Post, among others.
What Moore does is to repackage – and, to an extent, sensationalise – serious reportage on some of the corruption rife in corporate America in order to bring it to a wider audience. Stupid White Men was the bestselling non-fiction book in America last year, with more than four million copies in print worldwide, a considerably wider readership than that achieved by the more elegant and sober original articles in the New Yorker and its like.
If it takes a lick of Moore’s hyperbolic sarcasm, painful punning and rash of exclamation points to make that many people aware of how spurious Bush’s arguments for war have been, or how many civilians have died in Iraq, or quite how far-reaching the implications of the Orwellian Patriot Act have already proven, good liberals should find it in their hearts to forgive him in the interests of spreading the word.
(That said, Bush’s America can sometimes be so daft that cartoonish incomprehension is the only possible response – what kind of democracy allows the monitoring of public library records as part of a crackdown on terrorism, but not gun purchase records, lest law-abidin’, gun-totin’ Americans feel their liberties have been compromised?)
Moore is at his best and most compelling when he turns down the rhetoric and allows his dry humour to punctuate an intelligent argument, as he does in his chapters on Bush’s exploitation of the post 9/11 climate of fear, and on the dirty tricks played by corporations to undermine workers’ rights. With Bush gearing up for another election campaign, Moore’s urge to consider a more local regime change could not be more timely.