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Stupid White Men ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!
by Michael Moore
Reviewed 2002-08-05: If you don't go Green, Michael Moore will kick your butt... rhetorically, of course. Stupid White Men, subtitled, "...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation!" features a smugly smiling Michael Moore on the cover, brandishing what looks like a long knife... relax, it's the Washington Monument. Or don't relax: Moore's mission, as it was in his 1989 film Roger & Me, and his TV show "The Awful Truth," is to afflict the comfortable. This means you.
As expected, Moore devotes the major portion of his text to trashing George W. Bush ("Thief-in-Chief," for stealing the 2000 election) and his crony capitalist backers. I can find little fault with that. Yet he doesn't tread lightly around Bill Clinton ("one of the best Republican presidents we've ever had"), and not for his private sexual behavior, but for being the commander-in-chief who not only co-opted Republican issues, but spoke pretty words while the foxes raided the hen house. The difference, says Moore, is that the Republicans are honest about being the party of the corporations and the rich; the Democrats talk a populist game, but play for the other team (hint: it's not the team most people are on). Moore sees no alternative, to be honest, but to merge the two parties, since they represent the same corporate, moneyed interests. (He's a little unclear on how a party without money can be anything but marginalized.)
The two chapters about which I have reservations are the one on race relations ("Kill Whitey") and the one on women ("The End of Men"). I find Moore's touting of the racial spoils system, and the too-easy acceptance of racism as the sole impediment to black people's progress (it hasn't stopped Cubans or Asians), to be just the sort of ahistorical, statistically suspect, bleeding-heart rhetoric that makes conservatives think we liberals are soft in the head. Set-asides, quotas, and other forms of race-conscious remedies for past discrimination only ensure the race problem will never go away. In a just society, or in a rational business model, there is no substitute for a race-blind meritocracy. The Civil Rights Act wasn't about preferential treatment, after all: it was about equality. This White Guilt is not helpful.
As for the chapter on women, Moore endorses victimology. This is not to say that women (or blacks) can't ever be victims, but equality comes when you rise above victim status, not when you excuse every failing because of it. Comparing wages, political power, and social status is an old statistical game, and not at all enlightening. And, yes, men can be feminist. They just don't buy into the notion (see the paragraph above) that equality means preferential treatment. This Male Guilt is not helpful.
Even though Ralph Nader fired him when he started making films on the side, Moore spends many pages absolving the consumer-advocate of spoiling the 2000 election. Granted, Al Gore ran a flawed campaign, but had Nader acknowledged he could never win, and made a deal with Gore in exchange for his support, I think the better man would have won -- in spite of the Florida shenanigans and the partisan Supreme Court. Al Gore is not Bill Clinton, after all, and might have run a more honest administration than either Clinton or his court-appointed successor.
Overall, Moore's critique of the corporate buy-out of America -- where the nation's business is business, but business doesn't pay any taxes, the media don't report the "rest of the story" (because they're big business, too) and the two-party system is a fraud -- in Stupid White Men is full-mouthed, funny and fair. It is his strongest suit -- not that he ever wears a suit. If Moore had dropped the two whiny chapters noted above, and softened his hagiography of Ralph Nader, I would have said, "hear hear!"
Stupid White Men ...and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! by Michael Moore. 277pp. New York: HarperCollins, 2001. ISBN 0-06-039245-2.
Note: MM has added a much-needed post-911 chapter to his book. You can find it here.
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.