Michael Moore is a lot like conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Bulky guys with plenty of sass, they never let facts _ or taste _ get in the way of a good argument. Unlike Limbaugh, however, the creator and host of TV Nation and director of Roger & Me doesn't defend corporate America, but speaks up for a group we haven't heard much from lately: the downsized worker.
"Remember the American Dream: If you work hard, and your company prospers, you, too shall prosper?" Moore asks in Downsize This (Crown, $21). "That dream . . . has been turned into the American Bad Dream: If you work hard, and the company prospers _ you lose your job!"
General Motors made $34-billion in profits over the past 15 years _ and eliminated more than 240,000 jobs. "And with each round of firings, the societal problems we must deal with rise at a corresponding rate," Moore writes.
"There is no more telling sign about the state of the union than this one simple fact: Manpower, Inc. _ the nationwide temp agency _ has surpassed General Motors as the number one employer in America. More people now work for a company that guarantees you employment only for a day at a time than the company that once proclaimed, "What's good for General Motors is good for the country.'
In the documentary film Roger & Me, Moore told the story of the devastation of Flint, Mich., his hometown, after General Motors closed down its factory there. Throughout the film, the largest grossing documentary of all time, Moore searches for Roger Smith, GM's CEO, to ask him why he continues to live high on the hog while former GM workers in Flint are left to pick up the pieces of their lives. More political satire than serious documentary _ images were often unfairly juxtaposed and the order of events juggled for greater effect _ the film presented a hilarious but ultimately heart-breaking portrait of downsized America.
Downsize This continues Moore's time-honored satirical tradition of seeking truth through absurdity.
In one chapter, Moore calls the Mexican authorities to get information about moving a company to Tijuana. He has the federal government in mind. After all, he says, if NAFTA is good for the American worker, it ought to be good for Washington bureaucrats. He also tries to get right-to-life groups to recognize the sperm's right to life, forms Mike's Militia (composed of unarmed Americans), and offers to swap "Corporate Crook Trading Cards" (Roger Smith isn't included but the heads of Dow Chemical and Nike are).
At first, some of Moore's shenanigans seem over the top. During the early stages of the current presidential campaign, for example, he sent $75 and $100 checks to all the leading candidates from a number of phony organizations, including the John Wayne Gacey Fan Club, Satan Worshipers for Dole and Abortionists for Buchanan, to see if politicians would accept money from just anybody. (Buchanan cashed the checks from the John Wayne Gacey Fan Club and Abortionists for Buchanan).
But, as Moore points out, he merely got the idea from Buchanan himself who in 1972 proposed sending donations to a Nixon challenger, Rep. Pete McCloskey, to link him to "peace money, New York Jewish money and California fat cat money."
Actually, Moore is as disenchanted with Democrats as he is with Republicans. The two parties are really only one party now, the Republicrats, says Moore in a chapter titled "Don't Vote _ It Only Encourages Them." The choice is between "Tweedledum and Tweedledumber." And then they wonder why nobody votes.
"If the politicians really want to get more people interested in the election, maybe they should be forced to participate in some real contests," Moore suggests, "different kind of races that would test their mettle far better than answering inane questions from Bernard Shaw."
A monster truck race.
A drive-by shooting contest.
Or why not just make them sit down and retake their SAT test?
Or better yet, have each presidential candidate name a female vice-presidential running mate and then, when he wins the election, shoot himself.
"This isn't really a contest, just a point," Moore quickly clarifies. "It appears a guy would have to get shot before we ever see a woman president."
Rooted in the Midwestern love of the incongruous, Moore is a master at such lampooning. But his barbs are rarely gratuitous. Even when he's suggesting that Steve Forbes is an alien (Have you ever seen him blink?) or arguing that O.
J. Simpson didn't commit any murders (Have you ever seen a celebrity do anything for himself?), he is subtly _ or not so subtly _ using humor to make a political point about wealth and power in America.
People cannot be sacrificed for unlimited corporate gains without enormous cost to all of society, Moore is telling us. If we think downsizing only effects the other guy, he warns, think again. Or we may eventually open our newspapers to an article like the one Moore teasingly includes at the end of Downsize This:
Wall Street Reacts Favorably
Dow Pushes Past 10,000.