The Wild World of Bush
Sore Winners (And the Rest of Us) in George Bush's AmericaJohn Powers
(Doubleday · hardcover · $24.95)
It's a pity the Bush-bashing book genre is dominated by screeds that have as much to do with their author's vanity as with their politics. While this vituperative oeuvre took its cue from the spate of titles birthed during those seemingly innocent years when Clinton hatred comprised an ideology unto itself, they're hardly the most substantive reads. In the context of today's starkly polarized electorate—where pollsters claim only about 18 percent remain persuadable—a book that, albeit anti-Bush, offers eloquent bitch slaps to everyone from milquetoast Democrats (paging Sen. Daschle!) to robotic radicals (is there a Dr. Chomsky in the hizzouse?) ... well, such a work seems destined to be pulped in the rush toward partisan fervor.
Which is too bad because Sore Winners is a great read, wickedly funny but not at the expense of depth. Powers is the resident media critic at the LA Weekly who also pinch hits on NPR as a film critic for Teri Gross' "Fresh Air." Though it doesn't contain much by way of new information, the analysis is first rate. The title is Powers' term for what might be called the cultural politics of gloating. Being a sore winner is not just limited to a president who has no compunction telling Bob Woodward that, "I do not need to explain why I say things. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation."
No, in George Bush's ugly America, or Bush World as Powers dubs it, sore winners are everywhere. Take the NFL, where after scoring a touchdown, Terrell Owens of the 49ers busts a marker from his sock, signs the ball and hands it to his financial advisor. Or Random House's CEO Peter Olson who shamelessly brags to a New York Times Magazine reporter about the reams of people he's fired at an industry confab. And then there's reality TV, which, though often compulsively watchable, is rooted in humiliation. As Powers says, "Bush Culture has become one long schadenfreude spree."
Sore Winners is stronger in its casual observations than in any overarching analysis. From a lesser writer such an effort might grow tiresome, but Powers packs more sense in a quick sentence than others can fit into an entire book. Discussing the post 9-11 fatwa that the age of irony is over, Powers notes how such a statement is really indicative of the tumor of sanctimony in the mainstream media. "As the British demonstrated during the Blitz, you can fight the enemy and be ironic at the very same time; in fact, humor helped keep things bearable when the bombs were hitting London. 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 an intellectual scrapbook, a thoughtful and irreverent critique that holds a mirror to what American culture has become when ruled by a man who thought "Friends" was a movie yet still manages to convince half the country that he's a man of the people.
Only in Bush World.