Can the left communicate to a wide popular audience? Can it free itself of the prison of jargon? Can it reach out to the unconverted? New Labour and its co-thinkers in the Democratic party decided the only answer was to stop being on the left. Michael Moore has chosen the opposite route, and proved that it can work. His Stupid White Men sold 600,000 in the UK and several million in the US, which, he dryly recounts in his new book, qualified him for Bush's infamous tax cut. He helpfully provides a copy of the federal tax form for refunds of $1 million or more, and promises his benefactor, George W, that he'll "spend it all to get rid of you".
In Bowling for Columbine, Moore showed that he is a film-maker of technical facility and emotional depth. As a writer, he's not quite in that class. But a book like this is more than its blunt, two-fisted prose: it's a tool to be used as part of a multi-pronged movement.
Dude, Where's My Country? is more focused than Stupid White Men: a sustained assault on Bush and his war on terror, rich with facts, gags, self-deprecation and righteous indignation. Drawing from a wide range of sources, Moore explores Bush's links with the Bin Ladens and the Saudis, the attack on civil liberties, the avalanche of lies justifying war on Iraq, the sociopathic behaviour of the corporate sector. There's a sharp word for us in a forward addressed to UK and Australian readers: "What is your excuse? You know better."
Moore is excellent on the use of the two "religions" - the religion of fear and the myth of individual success - that keep the majority of Americans in thrall to "conniving, thieving, smug pricks". The system controlled by the few is supported by the many because "It holds the carrot so close to their faces they can smell it."
As Moore is aware, the precondition for his own success was a receptive audience. He rightly argues that US public opinion is not nearly as reactionary as is sometimes assumed. Opinion polls routinely report majorities in favour of universal health insurance, gun control, tougher environmental regulation. Moore makes some telling arguments about how to reach out to that majority ("admit the left has made mistakes") but, considering options for a challenge to Bush, he reveals the limitations of his own political imagination. He wants Oprah Winfrey to run for President, or Tom Hanks or the Dixie Chicks. Less whimsically, he called on General Wesley Clark to carry the banner. Clark obliged, but soon retreated on his opposition to the war.
Moore stakes himself firmly to the ground of common sense and decency, and isn't afraid to ask obvious but necessary questions. He sometimes oversimplifies (especially on the world outside the US, but then, as he says, "that we know nothing about you should be the scariest thing about us"). He doesn't always hit the nail on the head. But his accessible, entertaining, DIY challenge to our rulers will rouse readers here and in the US to timely revolt.
Mike Marqusee's 'Chimes of Freedom: the politics of Bob Dylan's art' has just been published by the New PressReuse content