BOOK REVIEW: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich
The #1 New York Times and Washington Post bestseller Exposes Culture of Super Greed and Uber Global Corruption
Tim Russert was dead. But the room was alive. Big Ticket Washington Funerals can make such great networking opportunities. Power mourners keep stampeding down the red carpets of the Kennedy Center, handing out business cards, touching base. And there is no time to waste in a gold rush, even (or especially) at a solemn tribal event like this.
In This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America’s Gilded Capital, Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, presents a blistering, stunning—and often hysterically funny—examination of our ruling class’s incestuous “media industrial complex.” Through his eyes, we discover how the funeral for a beloved newsman becomes the social event of the year.
How political reporters are fetishized for their ability to get their names into the predawn e-mail sent out by the city’s most powerful and puzzled-over journalist. How a disgraced Hill aide can overcome ignominy and maybe emerge with a more potent “brand” than many elected members of Congress.
And how an administration bent on “changing Washington” can be sucked into the ways of This Town with the same ease with which Tea Party insurgents can, once elected, settle into it like a warm bath.
Outrageous, fascinating, and destined to win Leibovich a whole host of, er, new friends, This Town is must reading, whether you’re inside the Beltway—or just trying to get there.
This is not an in-depth investigation into Washington corruption; it is, rather, a panoramic view of the culture of Washington, the fertile soil in which the corruption grows and flourishes. Presented in a lively, humorous manner, it is rather enjoyable to read. So much so that one tends to lose sight of the fact that these are people – Washington insiders, that is – who enrich themselves with money taxpayers are forced to send to the government.
You get the sense that these people always have a smirk on their faces, laughing at the stupid people – everyone outside of the Beltway – who support their little aristocracy upon the Potomac (‘The Club’, as it’s referred to). The author, Mark Leibovich, doesn’t draw conclusions for us, he presents the rather corrupt underbelly of Washington – politicians and their minions as they really are – and let’s us decide just how bad it really is.
The remarkable aspect of the book is the author’s ability to not take sides, politically: most books on politics end up offending readers from one side or the other but here both sides are equally hoisted on their own petards. Democrats may outnumber Republicans but only because Leibovich is writing about the last several years, with much of the book centered upon the 2012 elections. But, as a New York Times reporter, the author certainly isn’t anti-liberal, by any means; he’s simply giving an honest account of what he has seen behind the curtains.
That honesty, however, has its limits and this is my main criticism of the book. Leibovich shies away from exposing true corruption and seems to want to be friends with these people. I suppose a political reporter needs friends and allies in Washington and is disinclined to burn too many bridges by exposing the true breadth and depth of the decadence of ‘The Club’.
However, it’s often like a member of the club – which the author certainly is – having had a few drinks too many is giving us a verbal sneak peek of how Washington works behind the scenes, but giving us only a few quick glances behind the curtain before closing it again (lest he risk his membership for exposing too much). But, to his credit, Leibovich does expose the way-too-cozy relationship between politicians and the media people who cover them, which seems to be the reason why Washington never changes: the public rarely gets the whole truth.
Overall, the book is an amusing and insightful view of Washington that most people never see. Full of unflattering anecdotes about top politicians, but more so a view of the culture that breeds such people and the constellation of enablers which surrounds them. If nothing else, it’s a very entertaining book.