Mark Leibovich’s This Town has received lavish praise from The Daily Kos, The New York Times, The New Republic, New York magazine, The Washington Post, Salon.com, Slate.com, Buzzfeed, Politico and Margaret Carlson on Bloomberg. I don’t normally endorse the views of sources so deeply infected with liberalism as that lot, but I’m making an exception in this case.
What inspired me to shell out $27.95 for the volume in the first place were pre-publication articles about a White House memo entitled “The Magic of Valerie Jarrett,” disclosed in its pages. Valerie is the long-time Obama consigliere, and a bumkisser in the West Wing circulated this document in order to collect and propagate talking points to enrich anticipated journalistic profiles about the woman.
Some sample lines from the document:
“The magic of Valerie is her intellect and her heart. She is an incredibly kind, caring and thoughtful person with a unique ability to pinpoint the voiceless and shine a light on them and the issues they and the President care about with the ultimate goal of making a difference in people’s lives.”
“Valerie is the perfect combination of smart, savvy and innovative.”
“Valerie is someone here who other people inside the building know they can trust. (need examples.)”
This fluff prompted immediate imaginings about appropriate historical parallels, e.g., “Louis XIV is someone here who the courtiers inside Versailles know they can trust (need examples)”....”General Secretary Stalin is the perfect combination of smart, savvy, and innovative.”.... “The magic of Martin Bormann is his intellect and his heart. He is an incredibly kind, caring and thoughtful person with a unique ability to pinpoint the voiceless and shine a light on them and the issues they and der Fuehrer care about with the ultimate goal of making a difference in Jewish lives.”
My imagination was so stimulated that I e-mailed Al Diamon suggesting that if he wrote a column entitled “The Magic of John Frary” I would reciprocated with one entitled “The Magic of Al Diamon.” Al threw cold water on my enthusiasm, disclaiming any magical properties for himself and pointing out that the magic of John Frary is too elusive for adequate description.
Oh well, never mind. I agree with the reviewers above (who all agree with each other) that Mark Leibovich is a treat to read. I offer a selection of enthusiastic comments: “Washington in all its splendid, sordid glory… brilliant portrait [of] its big mouths, big shots, big machers, and big jerks....rollicking fun and sharply written....a wildly entertaining anthropological tour...a very funny book about how horrible his industry [the media] can be...Uncommonly honest.... a master of the political profile… source material for your book about what’s wrong with these horrible people.”
Here are a couple examples of the author’s wit that most reviewers singled out. About Walter Isaacson, the Aspen Institute president, who “always blows right past” him at parties, eyes questing for more important folks, he writes “...and if he greets me at all, he calls me ‘Matthew,’ which I’ve never bothered to correct because Walter is so smart, for all I know my name IS Matthew.” And here’s Ken Duberstein, “riding the D.C. carousel for years, his Rolodex flipping with billable connections... [he] talks constantly on the phone to his close friend Colin Powell, and even more constantly to everyone else about what ‘Colin was just telling me’....The standard line on Duberstein is that he spent six and a half months as Reagan’s chief of staff and twenty-four years (and counting) dining out on it.”
Those liberal writers may have singled out these comments because they all belong in Isaacson’s blow-by category of insignificant humanity, and because they find snappy cracks about former Reaganauts especially tasty; but they are not wrong to identify them as prime examples of Leibovich wit.
Reading This Town populists of all stripes and spots, OWSers and Tea Partyers alike, will begin to think of pitchforks, tar, and feathers. The more ardent among them may even dream of the gallows and the guillotine. Liberals will see a problem requiring another hundred pages of FEC rules and regulations. True Leftists will conclude that capitalism must be curbed or crushed to free Washington from the corrupting influence of corporate and special interest money. Libertarians may think the solution lies in replacing the scoundrels Leibovich exposes with the Good and the Virtuous (e.g., Ron Paul).
The author proposes no solutions. His mission is to provide an anthropological study of what we may call the BoodleSphere. Washington think tanks like The Brookings Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation are scarcely mentioned. The professional civil service escapes his scrutiny. With the exception of a few current office-holders his study is concerned with those who make huge sums influencing government, not with the men and women who nominally run the government.
The aftermath of BP’s Deep Horizon oil spill provides a prime example. He writes “Washington becomes a determinedly bipartisan team when there is money to be made—sorry, I mean a hopeful exemplar of Americans pulling together in a time of crisis.” Here he shows the BoodleSphere springing into action; with the oil company “moving to secure every Republican and Democratic flack and lobbyist they could soak up to help with their ‘positioning’ problem.”
BP employed Ken Duberstein, Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, a Dick Cheney spokesmammal, and a long-time spokesmammal for Dennis Hastert, former GOP speaker. Purple Strategies, a partnership of Democratic media mastermind Steve MacMahon and Republican media guru Alex Castellanos, spearheaded a $50 million TV campaign on the company’s behalf. Hilary Rosen, a devout Democrat and leading advocate of same-sex marriage, who runs the Washington office of the Brunswick Group, a London-based PR firm, recruited Purple Strategies for the BP team.
The name “Purple Strategies” is obviously meant advertise expertise in Red-Blue bipartisan lobbying and this is exactly what this distinguished member of the BoodleSphere worked at on behalf of BP. It fought for that “common ground” Olympia! Snowe champions and made a very good job of it. It’s worth mentioning that senators Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) and John Breaux (D-Louisiana) are repeatedly spoken of as exemplars of genial bipartisanship in Senator Snowe’s Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress. In This Town we learn that former senators Lott and Breaux now have a lobbying partnership which earned $11,000,000 in 2011.
No stalemate for those fellows. They know how to move a bipartisan agenda.