ONE OF THEM USED TO introduce himself by handing you a photo of him swimming naked with Allen Ginsberg in Fiji. The other hates to

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Cartoon Nation

Why Michael Moore and Michael Savage are the defining characters, and caricatures, of our political times.

ONE OF THEM USED TO introduce himself by handing you a photo of him swimming naked with Allen Ginsberg in Fiji. The other hates to appear on camera in his schlumpfy clothes, let alone naked. One is a Berkeley Ph.D. so ignorant he refers to Pope Pius XII as "Pope Pious XII," and defends him as the best friend Jews ever had in the Holocaust. The other is a Proust-reading dropout smart enough to get elected to his school board at 15, a slovenly autodidact with a prose style as polished as an Ivy League prof or a stand-up comic. One is the fourth-most-popular radio personality in America. The other is an utterly untrained filmmaker who made the most popular documentary of all time (Roger & Me), then topped himself and did it again with the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine. One affects a Mephistophelean look and strives to be as repugnant as possible. The other has a radiant, shambling charm. One probably embarrasses more conservatives than he delights. The other enrages plenty of his fellow liberals. Both are extraordinarily funny and, to varying extents, sloppily tendentious with facts. And both wrote political screeds that hit No. 1 on the nation's best-seller list. They are Michael Savage (n頍ichael Wiener) and Michael Moore (whose Tuesday, April 15 appearance at Shoreline Community College is already sold out). Their books, The Savage Nation: Saving America From the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language, and Culture (WND Books, $24.99) and Stupid White Men . . . and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation (Regan, $24.95), are a pair of bookends that define the popular spectrum of political opinion in America. THE NEW AND FAR scarier guy is Michael Savage—whom I suppose we ought to refer to as Michael "Savage" Wiener, since Wiener is his real name and this might suggest what a truculent little prick he is. He makes Rush Limbaugh look like presidential timber, sober-minded and statesmanlike. Savage is like Lynda Barry's cartoon Poodle With a Mohawk, barking mad and yearning to chomp on your ear, but he's short, so he fastens on your ankle instead. He makes all the other best-selling right-wingers sound bland and colorless. Want a few samples? I'll save you the 25 bucks. He calls CNN "TNN: Taliban Network News." Jesse Jackson is "Jesse Hijackson." Islamic folks are "men in dirty nightshirts who fabricate lies, [and] sneak, cheat, and bribe their way into this great country only to turn around and stab us in the back with our own airplanes." There is no difference between Mohammed Atta's crew and "every rotten radical left-winger in this country." But it's immigrants who really get his goat: Good, white Americans face "the tidal wave of Turd World immigrants." Another thing—pot is responsible for the Islamist revolt: "The liberal hippies probably ruined Afghanistan, when you think about it. In fact, the liberals probably were one of the reasons the Taliban came to power." QED! MOORE CAN'T HOPE to match such sheer exhilarating leaps of logic—although he's been known to stretch the truth from time to time. Film Comment busted him hard for fudging a few facts in Roger & Me, and he pulls a few boo-boos in Columbine, too. Moore waves off all such criticism, and he has a point. For all its edits of reality, Roger still clearly captures huge hunks of truth about the indifference of the rich and powerful to the poor and helpless—14 years after it was made! And the situation has only gotten worse. In his book, Moore acidly notes that people who criticized him for showing a bunny being clubbed to death and skinned in Roger had no emotional reaction whatever to the next scene, a black man in a Superman cape with a toy pistol getting gunned down by cops. Hey, it's not like he was a cute li'l bunny. In the same vein, regarding the right-wing bashing of shock rockers like Marilyn Manson, Moore asks why we don't ban Johnny Cash for singing, "I shot a man in Reno." Sarcasm is a ball-peen hammer in his blue-collar tool belt, allowing him to nail the seldom-voiced common-sense objections to the right-wing ideas that absolutely dominate our discourse. Yet Moore can play dirty, too. Stupid White Men, like everything he produces, is filled with fully unreasonable invective. In Columbine, he comes up with a summary of U.S. history so one-sided and recklessly leftist it would make William Appleman Williams cringe. It's like a cartoon—in fact, it is partly a cartoon, by Moore and animator Harold Moss. His claim that Osama bin Laden used his CIA training to bring down the World Trade Center is not quite as demented as Savage's argument that sidestream pot smoke produced the Taliban, but it's in the same ballpark of cartoonish argument. AND THAT BALLPARK is where the game of politics is now played, and Moore and Savage are like the oversized, furry mascots of its opposing teams. The nation's distinguished editorial pages can lay out all the reasoned arguments they want, but they go unread. Cartoonishly evil Fox News hits us where we live—when our putative allies were thought to be rebelling against Saddam in Basra, Fox's announcer crowed, "Don't look now, but the Shiite's about to hit the fan!" If the Gore-Bush debates were scored by intellectuals, Gore would've won hands down. Instead, we've got a president to whom the world is a cartoon. And while Moore, in his book, reminds us how Dubya took office by virtue of a right-wing coup d'鴡t of the mind, most Americans now side with Savage and the self-serving rightists who say: Get over it. (Which is what the Taliban said America should do after Sept. 11.) Cartoon thinking is everywhere, which is why Moore and Savage are best- selling authors. You could say that Moore has taken a page from the right's playbook—comic book?—to rebut its shrill, simplistic tactics. If you're going to battle a half-witted Lex Luthor, you need the comic-book powers of Superman. Because the usual earnest liberal response— responsibly weighing all points of view as if we were living in a functioning democracy—is kryptonite to the cause. It's not only white men who are stupid in America today. We have all become drooling morons reduced to supporting what Moore calls "Bush's Bite Me! Foreign Policy." The smokescreen of the war is, to Bush, essentially a distraction to enable the further cartoonization of the nation's thinking. In these times, we don't need a mind like Thomas Jefferson's. We're too dumb to actually know what's in the Constitution and why it's worth defending. What we need is a savage cartoonist of the left to counter the dozens of maleficent cartoonists of the right, who dominate all branches of government. As long as we've got Savage, we need Moore, no matter how crudely he draws. tappelo@seattleweekly.com

 
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