Warner, 2003, 249 pages, C$36.95 hc, ISBN 0-446-53223-1
2001-2003 have been a couple of weird and wonderful years for Michael Moore. From a relatively obscure documentary filmmaker (ROGER AND ME, etc.) with one rather poor fiction film (CANADIAN BACON) to his credit, he has now become, thanks to BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, Stupid White Men and a well-received Oscar acceptance speech (heh-heh), a leading figure of the American left-wing movement. His scathing denunciations of the Bush administration continue to leave few indifferent.
And so Dude, Where’s My Country? comes along as the book-length expansion of Moore’s shtick over the last few years. By now, he’s got the “everyday man” routine down to a science: Ask superficially silly questions, be angry from time to time and don’t let a lot of research deter you from speaking at your audience’s level. I’m not doubting his honesty; on their other hand, he does make a good foil to similar tactics as practiced by other figures on the American right.
What is discussed in Moore’s latest book shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the news: The Bush response to September 11th, the frantic race leading to the invasion of Iraq, knee-jerk paranoia to whiffs of potential terrorism, America’s counter-productive foreign policy and Bush’s billionaire-friendly actions are all discussed. If you’ve been following left-wing blogs on the web, you’ll find a lot of the same material here, maybe packaged with a little more coherency but not radically new information by any case. Good? Bad? It depends on your level of understanding of today’s American political spectrum. Someone like me may already know all of this stuff already, but unplugged Americans may read this and feel the scales come off their eyes.
So think of this as “2003-liberalism 101”, rehashing why Bush is bad, bad, bad for everyone and how to take back the political system from the far-right interests. For non-Americans, it’s important to note that Dude, Where’s My Country? is published in a rabidly polarized political context, in which both left and right are trying to grab pre-electoral mindspace, to the delight of publishers. (This has been going on for at least ten years, and reams of writing now exist on how Republicans have been remarkably successful in translating this polarization into political power)
That Moore’s book is published by none other than Warner Books is sign enough that there’s a lot of money to be made by fanning the flames of political discourse. In this context, Moore is neither better or worse than Ann Coulter, Al Franken or Rush Limbaugh: All of them are not exactly contributing to a culture of compromise and understanding, not when Coulter and Franken are trading off “traitor!” and “liar!” as casual greetings. This being said, Moore includes a rather amusing pair of chapters (9 and 10) in which he argues that deep down, America is liberal, and then gives out tips on how to convert a conservative brother-in-law to liberal thinking (hint; it’s all about what good for him). Jolly good stuff, and already a step closer to a gentler, more inclusive brand of politics.
Voluntarily provocative, smoothly readable, often laugh-out-funny, Moore’s book was nevertheless dated even before it came out. It wouldn’t be out of place to wish it a rapid descent to historical curio, a sign of a troubled time where partisan debate ruled over reasonable policy-making. If I may be so corny, let’s hope that all Americans end up finding the country so poignantly wondered about in the book’s title.