Your Government at Work

I'm not including a recipe with this book review, because after reading it I experienced a strange combo of nausea and heartburn. Not because of the writing, of course, just the topic. It's bad enough just watching our government at work from afar (cue ridiculous filibuster news), but this behind-the-scenes look is all you imagined it could be. And more.
This Town starts with the sad event of Tim Russert's funeral. It was a time for reflection, for moments of silence ... and for Pan Cake makeup and jockeying for position.
Russert's funeral is a crass, crazy event for Washington insiders, but actually nothing different from every other interaction between the two parties and various hangers-on. And, after the first few pages, you find yourself as agog as Dorothy was when the curtain was pulled back to reveal the true Oz. Author Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, is our guide and, thanks to his inside-yet-outside post in D.C., he has a great view of the hive of activity behind the curtain. In fact, he reminded me of a Dominick Dunne for politicos, dishing the dirt while occasionally getting a bit on himself.
I find it fascinating that Leibovich can dish and still get access later for articles and exclusives. But that's part of the game – when those in the spotlight say they don't want to be mentioned, but are devastated when they really aren't.
Pollsters, politicians, pundits, and press all get the same straight-shooter treatment in This Town – and Leibovich doesn't spare himself. He recognizes the absurdity of skewering the very group that he is a part of.
Here are a few examples of the searingly funny insights:
Describing Sen. Harry Reid: "Entrusted with a Senate supermajority and endowed with all the magnetism of a dried snail." A persnickety straight shooter who can't bring himself to employ social graces like saying goodbye on the phone. When he's done, he's done.
Former Sen. Trent Lott is described as a creature of habit who likes things just so, including "his luscious helmet of senatorial hair." That paints a picture for you, right?
And then there is the insider-speak of the Congress, which includes the phrase "my friend," as the "formal bullshit of the Senate." And the word "cordial," which is used as "the bare minimum salute and Washington dog whistle for obvious hatred."
It's funny how all of this bluster and blather seems so critical on the scene and in the hothouse that is D.C., but outside the Beltway is often laughable. Except when you realize that they are playing with our money and with our futures. Not so funny at that point.
The media is all part and parcel of the game, often participating with almost too much enthusiasm. "Founding father" Tom Brokaw nailed it when he "bemoaned what the political-media culture had become. Americans, he said, had come to view the political system as a 'closed game.' In addition, the media is now less concerned with being in tune with America than they are with promoting their own brands and worshipping celebrities. 'It's all Look at Me, Look at Me, Look at Me,' he said." Yep.
This Town also offers revealing coverage of the 2008 and 2012 elections, describing an aloof President (or candidate) Obama and his "not us" crowd who get dragged into the political fray whether they want to or not.
As the saying goes, politics make for strange bedfellows, like the sometimes sticky relationships between POTUS and VPOTUS: "While Obama had come to like Biden, he often talked about him with a patronizing over fondness – as if the VP were the beloved family dog that kept peeing on the carpet."
But the old dog can bite back too, saying that "the minute you agree to be someone's running mate, you get your balls cut off."
On the bus during the campaigns, Leibovich says that Romney's eventual running mate Paul Ryan was a "bold pick they had assumed the cautious Romney would never make." Ryan was known as a "man of substance" who wore the "Halo of the Wonk." After all, he had actually studied the federal budget, which you'll be happy to know most politicians in Washington never do.
And Romney seemed "to acquire an instant lightness after his Ryan selection -- like a shy eight-year-old transformed by a new pet turtle." It's sentences like that one that made me a fan of Leibovich's writing.
As we all know, the bruising fights between the Romney-bots and Obamites got really ugly really fast. Politicians themselves said they hated what it had all become, with supporters pumping billions into political campaigns while the net worth of American families dropped to a median of $77,300, about where it was in 1990.
In reality, though, Leibovich says, "This Town loved the trickle-down payday of it all. Millions more paid to the ad makers, 'strategists,' and networks."
The insanity of the build-up to an election can be all-pervasive and seem never-ending, and then it can oh-so-quickly vanish: "The Romney campaign had filed permits to celebrate Mitten's big victory with an eight-minute fireworks display over Boston Harbor." But within minutes of POTUS winning a second term, Mitt Romney's "Secret Service detail vanished like unused fireworks."
After the scrum of months (years, really), everyone walked away feeling a little dirty.
But even with the election hangover, it just took a few aspirin and some time apart before the whole machine started kicking in again. After all: "The only certainty is that the city fathers of This Town will endure like perennials in a well-tended cemetery."
Hillary in 2016, anyone?

No comments:

Post a Comment