The bully pulpit 

The Bush-bashing book genre took its cue from the spate of titles birthed during those years when Clinton hatred comprised its own ideology, but such books are rarely the most substantive of reads. Thus, a nuanced cultural survey of the Dubya years that, albeit anti-Bush, offers bitch slaps to milquetoast Democrats (paging Sen. Daschle!) and robotic radicals (is there a Dr. Chomsky in the house?) seems destined to be ignored in the stampede toward partisan fervor.

Which is too bad, because John Powers' Sore Winners is wickedly funny. The title is Powers' term for what we might call the "cultural politics of gloating." Mind you, this is not the sole province of a president with the moxie to tell Bob Woodward that, "Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

No, Powers sees the entire culture of "Bush World" as a storehouse of sore winners. Examples include the NFL, where 49er Terrell Owens scores, signs the ball and hands it to his financial adviser. In publishing, Random House CEO Peter Olson shamelessly catalogs to The New York Times the reams of people he's fired. (Note: Random House is the parent company of Sore Winners' publisher, Doubleday.) And reality TV, however watchable, serves as a carnival based on humiliating the losers. As Powers says, "Bush Culture has become one long schadenfreude spree."

Sore Winners is stronger in its casual observations than in any overarching analysis, but Powers packs more into a quick jab than others fit into a full chapter's rant. Discussing the post-9/11 media fatwa that "the age of irony is over," he says the proclamation reveals the mainstream media's cancer of sanctimony:

"As the British demonstrated during the Blitz, you can fight the enemy and be ironic at the very same time. ... Only dullards think you must be earnest to be serious."

While Sore Winners is no more likely to partisanize a swing voter than the endorsement of Bea Arthur, it serves as a useful and irreverent cultural scrapbook of an American culture ruled by a man who thought "Friends" was a movie, yet still manages to convince many of us that he's a man of the people. Only in Bush World.-- John Dicker

Sore Winners (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush's America, by John Powers. 272 pages. Doubleday. $24.95.



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