Michael Moore's new book is called "Mike's Election Guide 2008," and it's a nice combination of the comical and the useful. The comical comes first. Chapter One consists of Mike's answers to random election-related questions, and his answers are for the most part funny, insightful, informative, and sometimes brilliant.
The background Moore provides on John McCain's fits of temper is frightening, and includes this "statement from McCain, spoken loudly and freely while riding in 2000 with the press in his Straight Talk Express: 'I hated the gooks and will continue to hate them as long as I live,'" and this one made by McCain to his wife in response to a comment from her about his hair: "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt."
Moore also provides good answers to such key questions as "Is it true Democrats drink from a sippy cup and sleep with the light on?"
But there are some sloppy moments in Chapter One, including a claim that Kerry lost Ohio to Bush in 2004. Later in the book, Moore proposes paper ballots as one of the very few key reforms needed by our nation, and yet he repeatedly makes clear his unargued belief that electronic voting machines have not yet done any damage.
Moore also provides a good description of the hideous crime in which McCain was involved when shot down and imprisoned in Vietnam. He was bombing civilian areas in a war of aggression. Yet, Moore begins this section with these grotesque lines:
"[McCain] was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our nation. And for that, he was tortured and then imprisoned in a North Vietnamese POW camp for nearly five-and-a-half years."
While Moore contradicts this nonsense in the very next sentence, the wise advice he offers in the following chapter begins with an admonition against saying untrue but positive things of just this sort about McCain even if followed by explanations.
Moore also proposes a questionable solution to the prevalence of bad politicians:
"Remember those weaselly weird kids who always ran for class president or student council? They should have been stopped right then and there. Because they grow up to be the awful politicians we can't stand. It was our responsibility back in junior high to smack the devil out of them and give them a good swirly -- but we didn't."
This from a man who elsewhere in the book calls himself a pacifist and whose awareness of the crazy violent potential of American young people is made clear in his film "Bowling for Columbine."
Moore also wants children to be less supervised and thinks they should play "Al Qaeda vs. Army" as a way to toughen them up. But he would impose mandatory firearms training on them. Again, this is the guy who made "Bowling for Columbine." How irresponsible can one man be?
Fortunately, Moore's ideas make more sense as he grows more serious in chapters Two through Six. Chapter Two is called "How to Elect John McCain: Or, How Many Democrats Does It Take to Lose the Most Winnable Presidential Election in U.S. History?" Moore's theme is toughness, and he nails it.
Chapter Three is 10 things Moore would like President Obama to do right away after his inauguration. Some of them are things Congress should do, rather than the president. Some of them are things Obama would never ever do without a massive public movement to compel him. Some of them are absurd trivialities apparently thrown in for comic relief. But most of them are dead-on and crucially important.
Chapter Four is six proposals to fix our electoral system. Now Moore is firing on all cylinders. He nails what I consider six of the most important systemic reforms needed, and includes as one of them a reform I favor but rarely find authors supporting: limitation on the length of election seasons.
Chapter Five advocates prosecuting Bush, Cheney, and their co-conspirators, and it even includes an admirable passage opposing hate and retribution while arguing for punishment as deterrence and precedent.
Chapter Six is the longest and most useful, if least comical, part of the book. Moore presents very brief synopses of 12 Senate and 30 House races in which he thinks a seat can be moved to the Democratic column. Of course, Moore elsewhere expresses contempt and disgust for Democratic leadership. He proposes reforms backed by very few Democrats. He insists that only a threat of electoral defeat can influence a Congress member. And yet, here he gives glowing portraits of, in some cases, very questionable candidates because they are Democrats. The oddity of this is highlighted by the fact that this week more Democrats than Republicans voted for Paulson's Plunder.
But Moore, to his credit, is proposing lesser-evilism as an electoral strategy within a system he wants to reform, and is proposing citizen engagement in between and apart from elections as well. And to his credit, and consistent with his reform proposals, Moore has released this book only weeks before the elections. While I consider elections to usually rank very low on the list of priorities for civic involvement, I place them very high during the next four weeks. If you want to know which candidates to help, or even just want to start familiarizing yourself with the likely new characters in the 111th Congress, get this book.