Book Reviews

Book Reveiw: Stupid White Men by Michael Moore – When I Read This in 2004 I Knew We Were in Big Trouble

I’ve used to state that I really don’t consider myself a liberal; more of a middle-of-the-roader with distinctly left leanings at times. Sixteen years after first reading this book, I’m proud to now call myself a Liberal with some Libertarian leanings. If I needed any reassurance of that position, it came with the book Stupid White Men …and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation by Michael Moore.

The main premise of the book – that Dubya stole the election in 2000 – is one I certainly agree with, although unlike Moore I do harbor some blame at those who voted for Nader. However, many of the other insults he hurls under the banner of “satire” make me as uncomfortable as those I’ve heard coming from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura. Right away in the introduction, I was uncomfortable when he labeled television anchor Brit Hume an “idiot”. What is the basis for this? Moore doesn’t say, but the insult is lobbed out there.

In many ways, Moore is dead on with his assessments of problems in our society. He manages to identify many of the social injustices which take place in this country under the guise of capitalism and patriotism.

Can we ever again send our sons off into battle to give their lives defending “our way of life” – when all that really means is the lifestyle of the gray old men holed up in the headquarters that seized on the Potomac?

This phrase stuck out to me reading the book. It was published in 2001 following the terrorist attacks, although the final draft had been submitted before the attack on the WTC and the ensuing wars against Afghanistan and now Iraq. This really struck home in 2004 with a background of an ad by John Kerry where he talks about how “our children should never have to fight a war for oil…”

If it sounds like Moore just attacks Republicans as evil and Democrats as good, think again. Moore calls Bill Clinton “one of the best Republicans we’ve ever had”. He cites the record of what bills were passed during Clinton’s time in office. Now, Moore is supposed to be a pretty knowledgeable guy, so I can’t believe that he doesn’t realize that electing someone President doesn’t mean you’re electing a dictator (present administration excepted). A President cannot just set forth his agenda and everyone goes along with it (present administration excepted). For the majority of his tenure, Clinton had to deal with a Republican Congress, a fact that Moore never brings up.

This convenient ignoring of certain facts in order to present his ideas the way he wants to stuck out in several instances. I had a great deal of problem with what seemed to be a sensationalistic approach to his subject along the lines that I expect from Conservative pundits at the opposite end of the spectrum. How much of this is tongue-in-cheek and how much he is serious about can be hard to tell at times.

In the fourth chapter titled Kill Whitey, Moore talks about racism in our society today. Keep in mind, that this was written almost 20 years ago. I don’t (and never would) deny that it exists, but to listen to Moore’s rant, you’d think that black people in the U.S. only work at fast-food restaurants and as custodians and receptionists. That hasn’t been the experience I’ve had in New York or what I’ve seen elsewhere. When he talks about the Los Angeles riots back in 1992, he speaks of walking through NYC and having it seem almost deserted, as well as walking into a store where a man was brandishing a baseball bat, fearful of being attacked by “them”. I can’t remember anything like that during that time period. I sure didn’t go home early from work, and my husband (then a bus driver for NYC schools) sure didn’t get any respite either. I can’t remember any inordinate amount of fear, either. Might there have been talking about rioting possibilities? Sure, by the same news outlets who boost their ratings by fear-filled soundbites luring viewers to “tune in at 5″. Many of his other comments are right on the mark, but his generalizations in areas such as this really cast a shadow over the rest of the good points he makes.

Because of this, to me, the point he’s trying to make here completely misses the mark. It’s not white America trying to enslave the black man again, but rather the rich and powerful capitalists in this country trying to subjugate the middle class and working poor underneath them, no matter what the color. In the past twenty years, we’ve seen the complete disappearance of pensions from the workplace (except maybe for those with strong unions, and even then….) As well as more companies hiring people as “indefinite temporary workers” or “independent contractors” to get around having to pay health benefits or – in some cases – payroll taxes.

The other problem I have is Moore identifying issues, but offering no real solutions to the problem. This is another place where it’s hard to understand at times when he’s been satirical and when he’s being serious.

In the fifth chapter titled Idiot Nation Moore goes on a rant against the problems currently in our schools. Although I think he identifies a lot of the problems, many of the solutions he proposes are outright ridiculous. For instance, to any students who might pick up the book, he invites them to Mock the Vote. They should run for student council positions just to “drive the administration crazy”. He sounds serious to me, and I’m sure this will go a long way to helping out the teachers he just seemingly sympathized with a few pages earlier. Even with the generous salary offering we have on Long Island, there’s currently a shortage of qualified administrators, and I don’t think having kids following Moore’s suggestions will do anything to make the situation any better.

In chapter eight, titled We’re Number One, Moore talks about the conflicts within other nations. When he talks of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, he seemingly has a good solution when he “writes a letter to Arafat” in which he urges the Palestinians to call for a general strike and have non-violent demonstrations in the same way that Martin Luther King Jr. had in this country. His solution here, although presented in a satirical “letter” really seems like something that might work. However, a few pages later when he’s talking about the Protestant/Roman Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland, his solution is to have everyone convert to Catholicism. I hope he truly is being satirical here, as many Protestant denominations cannot even agree within the denomination, nevermind with each other and with Roman Catholics (as a side note, Moore shows his lack of religious knowledge when he cites the “one true Catholic church” to back up his argument. There’s a difference between Catholic and Roman Catholic.)

In his Notes and Sources at the end of the book (although it was something I began referring to right from the beginning), most of his sources are magazine and newspaper articles as well as websites. Very few of the actual support for his arguments comes from the actual source; instead of citing the actual court decision that was leveled against Katherine Harris and the state of Florida in the 2000 election where many people with Democratic leanings were illegally purged from the Florida voting rolls, he cites other reports (news articles) on them. I would have liked to have seen him do a bit more in the research department.

Though I did enjoy the book, and I have enjoyed Moore’s films, I don’t think I could ever take Michael Moore seriously as a political writer. The book is too schizophrenic as it treads the line between being constructive and satire. I also feel that Moore played too loose with the facts in order for the tone of the book to sound the way he wanted it. This is another case where I wish there was a MAYBE button when it comes to recommending it because I have such mixed feelings. I agree with many of his points, but because of the problems I have with the book, I just can’t recommend it.

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