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Barnstorming

In the final pages of his New York Times best-seller Stupid White Men, liberal standard-bearer Michael Moore breaks cadence amid a reasoned defense of his qualified support for Ralph Nader in the 2000 election -- and a series of controversial last-minute e-mails that Democrats are still fuming over -- to launch into a mock apology:

“OKAY! ALL RIGHT! IT’S TRUE!! IT WAS ME -- YES ME! ME! ME! IT‘S ALL MY FAULT!! WHAT WAS I THINKING???”

But then, it may well have been Moore who was also responsible for the outcome of the 1998 midterm elections, and the liberal groundswell that unseated Al D’Amato, derailed the Gingrich revolution and ultimately broke the back of the impeachment process. Beginning three weeks before that election, on October 8, he sent out a series of electronic “newsletters,” admonishing the great disenfranchised majority that doesn‘t vote to forgo its cynicism and vote Democratic -- “It’s about us using them to whack the right wing for good.” Afterward, the pundits were uniformly at a loss to explain how none of the weather men had known which way the wind would blow -- all except Moore and his 100,000-name e-mail list, which with all the attendant listserves, he estimates “probably reaches close to a million people.”

Now he‘s at it again, with a cause that’s closer to home -- the attempted compulsory remaindering of his latest comic diatribe by publisher HarperCollins, after he refused to tone down his criticisms of the “Bush junta” following the events of September 11. A signature missive widely circulated to rally the troops has led to the book‘s posting at number two on The New York Times best-seller list for hardcover nonfiction and number one on Amazon.com. Even so, he still had to prevail upon Bill Maher and Politically Incorrect for a free plane ticket to extend his limited book tour this far.

“HarperCollins says I’m out of touch with the country,” Moore confides during a 15-minute stopover in the lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel, before a scheduled appearance at UCLA‘s Ackerman Grand Ballroom. “’But, Mike -- Bush has an 80 percent approval rating.‘ Well, I think I’m in touch with the country. And obviously a lot of people agree with me.” Of course, Moore is the only source of information on this narrowly averted book burning, since HarperCollins isn‘t talking, faced with the prospect of a runaway best-seller.

Still, for a book stacked up in warehouses on September 10, this one seems dramatically prescient about the new world order. Moore indicts Enron chief Kenneth Lay as a “shadow adviser to the president.” He urges Arafat to stop the suicide bombers and pursue a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, a la Gandhi, King and Mandela, and for Israel to end its state-sponsored terrorism and establish a Palestinian state, under threat of sacrificing its $3 billion in annual U.S. foreign aid. And as part of “Mike’s Comprehensive Peace Plan,” he makes the following observation: “So whether it‘s simply the right thing to do, or it’s because we don‘t want to end up with a bin Laden lurking in every airport in America, we need to help set some things right in the world.”

“In fact,” says Moore today, “there was a struggle when I was writing the book to get in what I wanted. I probably got in 95 percent of what I wanted to get in. But I had written a chapter called ’Late-Night Instant Messaging with Osama bin Laden‘ that fell by the wayside. I have a chapter that I’m writing now anyway -- I‘m going to put it up on my Web site as a free online addition to the book -- called ’The Sad and Sordid Whereabouts of bin Cheney and bin Bush.‘ And basically, I’m going to raise a number of questions about the connections between the Bush and bin Laden families, and between Halliburton and the Taliban. I don‘t draw any conclusions, but I want to ask some questions.”

Presumably, these will focus on the Carlyle Group, the company formed by former President George Bush Sr. after he left office, and funded in part by the bin Laden family; and the proposed Unocal pipeline, to have been built by Dick Cheney’s Halliburton Corp. across the center of Afghanistan (with the complicity of the Taliban), which would connect a cheap natural-gas source in Turkmenistan to Pakistan, with a possible offshoot to the Dabhol power plant in India -- owned by Enron.

Over at UCLA, preaching to an overflow crowd of the converted (450, up from an estimated 200), Moore incorporates many of the same timely laugh lines I‘ve just taped in our brief face time: Bush seizing the election is “like that Australian speed skater, the guy who was in last place, who hung back and let the others crash into the wall, then skates in and gets the gold medal.” The revelation that bin Laden is on dialysis means “not only doesn’t he have a pot to piss in, but he can‘t piss in a pot.” And over and over, like a mantra, his circuit-rider delivery returns to the phrase “80 percent approval rating.” He takes questions from the audience, vexing the overachievers lining up down front by starting with “the slackers in the back row,” and then speeds through a special “lightning round” of rapid-fire five-word answers before labeling Los Angeles “the most racist, segregated city in the country,” and calling upon those who will enter the film industry to “unsuck the movies.” And then it’s off to sign more books.

With two brief television series behind him and his third documentary on its way to Cannes in May (Bowling for Columbine, which takes its title from the fact that Trench-coat Mafia members attended bowling class the morning before their homegrown inferno), Moore seems like a man who can have a day job just as long as there is a loyal opposition to hound from office. So it comes as a surprise to see him quite so sanguine about the alternative:

“I don‘t think he’ll finish this term,” he says about his nemesis-in-chief -- by implication, the stupidest white man of them all. Does that mean he anticipates another impeachment process? “Oh no. You saw what that does. Big waste of time. No, he‘ll have to step down. I think that he is just waiting to unravel. The Enron debacle is just the first, I think, of many debacles -- the tip of the iceberg. I don’t think he‘ll make it. And frankly, I’ve asked that he resign on the opening day of baseball season. I think that would be appropriate -- at Enron Field in Houston. And bring Cheney with you. He‘s got to go too.”

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