After sixteen days, the federal government shutdown is officially over. Weary Americans, however, remain just that – weary. In Mark Leibovich’s bestselling account of “Political Washington,” titled This Town, he counters today’s oversaturation of headlines and sound bites with an in-depth investigation of the social doings of our leaders and storytellers. So cling to your idealism as he provides behind-the-scenes details of the oft-disingenuous business brewing in our nation’s capital.
Leibovich, himself a sixteen-year resident of D.C., begins his report at the 2008 funeral of the beloved Tim Russert, former NBC Washington Bureau Chief and “Meet the Press” host. For home viewers, it was a televised spectacle suited for the highest dignitary. But apparently, all is not what it seems in “This Town.” As Leibovich bluntly states, “the big-ticket Washington departure rite can be such a great networking opportunity.”
It is via Russert’s funeral that we are introduced to The Club, “that spinning cabal of ‘people in politics and media’ and the supporting sectors that never get voted out or term-limited … They become part of a system that rewards, more than anything, self-perpetuation.” With a roster of high-profile players, Leibovich gives us one piercing anecdote after another, as he first recollects Russert himself – the multifaceted, populist “mayor.”
Leibovich believes these days “punditry has replaced reporting as journalism’s highest calling,” yet his own style remains decidedly old school. Now at The New York Times, and previously at The Washington Post, his writing is at times biting, humorous, or affectionate. Readers are granted insider access to Club-members such as the Obama camp’s Robert Gibbs, David Axelrod, and Valerie Jarrett; NBC journalist Andrea Mitchell; “superlawyer/dealmaker” Robert Barnett; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Politico PLAYBOOK’s Mike Allen; former Senator-turned-lobbyist Trent Lott; and Clintons-chum, the late Richard Holbrooke, among others. It’s a town of “Washington friends and also some real ones.”
Perhaps most revelatory is President Obama’s own disdain for the trespassing media, a central component of his two campaigns and terms in office. In an extremely astute description of the President, Leibovich says, “Obama is impressively self-contained. That is a strength, but it can also exacerbate the isolation of his job and make him impatient with the fragile egos of the city.” Nevertheless, for an apt moment of history and schmooze colliding, Leibovich turns to Obama’s performance at the 2011 Correspondents’ Association dinner, as plans were underway to raid a suspicious compound in Pakistan the next morning.
While Leibovich freely admits he’s a member of The Club, he has no intention of leaving Washington anytime soon. Quite simply, he and his wife have built a nice life for their family. As he relates, a sighting of the Vice-Presidential motorcade can still induce awe in both him and his kindergarten daughter – her nose pressed against the window of their own car as she catches view. And it’s that small piece of idealism that keeps the weariness at bay, even in This Town.
Citation: Leibovich, Mark. This Town. New York, Blue Rider, 2013. Digital.