21 Aug This Town Reviewed
As an avid reader, one of my favorite reading “sensations”, if you will, is when you begin a book that so captivates you and interests you (for whatever reason) that you just do not want to put it down. Reading a 350-page book virtually straight through is not something many people get to do in life, but I have done it on multiple occasions and the reason is always the same: I can not move on until the book is done. This Town was one of those books for me, and I suppose the reason I could not put it down says more about me than I would like, but I digress.
What Mark Leibovich has done is give readers a thrilling inside look at the sickening debacle that is our nation’s capital. From lifetime politicians, to political staffers and aides, to lobbyists and cronies, and of course to media “celebrities”, the town has become a modern day Sodom, only not necessarily in a sexual debauchery kind of way, as much as a giant pot of greed, covetousness, inside dealing, hypocrisy, vanity, and moral depravity. Leibovich confesses to writing as a member of the club, to some degree (he is the political editor at the New York Times Magazine and was a long time correspondent at the Washington Post). He is a gifted writer, but he embarks upon this project with a clear non-partisan intentionality.
Fans of Bill and Hillary Clinton would be appalled at some of what he says, as would blind devotees to our current President. Leibovich seems to start off in 2008 buying the “Obama as a D.C. outsider” that so many also fell for, but early into the Presidency Leibovich sees the extraordinary hypocrisy of a President claiming to be anti-lobbyist, and yet running a virtual assembly line of special interests and lobbyist employment opps out of his own administration. If one only read his vicious (but empirical) assault on the antics of Christopher Dodd (a putrid little hypocrite if there ever was one), the aforementioned Presidential names, and other Democratic stars like Robert Rubin you might be tempted to see this book as a GOP-driven hit piece. However, before us Republicans get too smug, the basic indisputable facts presented on the likes of Trent Lott and Haley Barbour do not exactly flatter themselves. There is no partisan agenda to the book, and frankly I would bet my tickets to the next DC cocktail party I am invited to that Leibovich himself is a Democrat. But for these 350 pages, he shelves whatever his political inclinations are and just focuses on showing D.C. as the self-absorbed, incestous, totally removed from real life den it has become.
By far his greatest condemnation is reserved not just for the political elite and conflicted lobbyist crowd, but for the press corps. Criticizing the press corps of Washington D.C. would seemingly require no creativity or talent whatsoever, but Leibovich executes the craft with precision and flair. From exposing the excess and narcissism of the annual correspondents’ dinner affair (which Tom Brokaw has, to his credit, lambasted in recent years), to providing an inside scoop at the way in which media personalities used Cystic Fibrosis to “get in” with Obama right-hand man, David Axelrod (whose daughter suffers from the disease), you can not read this book’s treatment of the D.C. press and maintain any respect for them (if you were ever silly enough to have any to begin with). In fact, you really can not read the documented treatment of how they behave without wanting to take a shower.
The book is not a “tell all” gossip rag, but rather a clever (and entertaining) evaluation of what can best be described as a rotted tree. The idea that politicians are often egotistical, power-hungry tools is about as novel an idea as the fact that many adult bullies harbor high school locker room frustrations. But where we may have already known something going into this book, we come out of it with a totally improved appreciation for how bad it has gotten, how extreme the excesses now are, and most importantly, how appalling the money is in the political world of claiming to not be about the money. Leibovich points out that a very lucrative career awaits a redistributionist politician who yells and screams about the evils of capitalism throughout his legislative career. Read the Al Gore section or Chris Dodd section and understand what I am talking about. (As an aside, Trent Lott was a Republican Senate Majority Leader who now is a $7 million per year lobbyist whore, but I am unaware of Trent Lott ever pretending to be anything other than a D.C. insider whore; I like my villains honest and transparent).
There is no great moral takeaway from this movie. D.C. has created a sort of legal and economic dependency on itself that is a result of the behemoth regulatory framework known as the federal government. What This Town shows us, though, is how thoroughly cultural that parliament of whores has become.