Books In Brief // Politics

January 27, 2008

HOMO POLITICUS -- By Dana Milbank Doubleday / 288 pages / $26

Deep within the forbidding land encircled by the Washington Beltway lives the tribe known as Homo politicus. Their ways are strange, even repulsive, to civilized human beings; their arcane rites often impenetrable; their language coded and obscure. Violating their complex taboos can lead to sudden, harsh and irrevocable punishment. Normal Americans have long feared Homo politicus, with good reason. But fearless anthropologist Dana Milbank has spent many years immersed in the dark heart of Washington, and has produced this indispensable portrait of a bizarre culture whose tribal ways are as hilarious as they are outrageous.

Milbank's anthropological lens is highly illuminating, whether examining the mating rituals of Homo politicus (which have little to do with traditional concepts of romantic love), demonstrating how status is displayed in the Beltway's rigid caste system (such as displaying a wooden egg from the White House Easter Egg Roll) or detailing the precise ritual sequence of human sacrifice whenever a scandal erupts (the human sacrificed does not have to be the guiltiest party, just the lowest-ranked).

Milbank's lacerating wit mows down the pompous, the stupid, and the corrupt among Democrats, Republicans, reporters and bureaucrats by naming names. Every appalling anecdote in this book is, alas, true.

FREE LUNCH

By David Cay Johnston Portfolio / 352 pages / $24.95

How does a strong and growing economy lend itself to job uncertainty, debt, bankruptcy and economic fear for a vast number of Americans? Free Lunch provides answers to this great economic mystery of our time, revealing how today's government policies and spending reach deep into the wallets of the many for the benefit of the wealthy few.

Johnston cuts through the official version of events and shows how, under the guise of deregulation, a whole new set of regulations quietly went into effect - regulations that thwart competition, depress wages and reward misconduct. From how George W. Bush got rich off a tax increase to a $100 million taxpayer gift to Warren Buffett, Johnston puts a face on all of the dirty little tricks that business and government pull. A lot of people appear to be getting free lunches - but of course there's no such thing as a free lunch, and someone (you, the taxpayer) is picking up the bill.

Free Lunch shows how the lobbyists and lawyers representing the most powerful 0.1 percent of Americans manipulated our government at the expense of the other 99.9 percent. With his extraordinary reporting, vivid stories and sharp analysis, Johnston reveals the forces that shape our everyday economic lives - and shows us how we can finally make things better.

TRUTH AND CONSEQUENCES: Special Comments on the Bush Administration's War on American Values

By Keith Olbermann Random House / 192 pages / $24.95

In Truth and Consequences, Olbermann collects the best of his Special Comments, presented here with additional observations and other new material. Whether taking to task the likes of Vice President Dick Cheney and (the thankfully former) Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, who compare critics of the Iraq war to Nazi appeasers, or giving his impassioned perspective on why torture is un-American and what it really means to support our troops, or grilling timid lawmakers who fail to rein in presidential overreach and abuses of executive power, Olbermann's devastatingly blunt (and at times wickedly funny) commentary cuts to the core of the duplicity and cynicism of a government that has lost the ability to distinguish between leading our great nation and ruling it.

Naturally, Keith Olbermann's candor and razor-sharp polemic have earned him many detractors and enemies. His antagonists in the media, such as Bill O'Reilly, have mocked him and accused him of rank intolerance.

THE SECOND CIVIL WAR: How Extreme Partisanship Has Paralyzed Washington and Polarized America

By Ronald Brownstein Penguin Press / 496 pages / $27.95

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