Recommended Reads: ‘This Town’ real-life story of Washington, D.C.’s insiders

This Town coverThis Town: Two Parties and a Funeral, by Mark Leibovich

This book is not for the faint of heart. At times it is like driving by a car accident and feeling compelled to look. This is the true story of perennial Washington insiders who are members of “The Club” in “This Town”. Insiders affectionately refer to “political” Washington as This Town. The Club’s members are the spinning cabal of people in politics and media, and the supporting sectors, that never get voted out or term-limited. The Club rewards, more than anything, self-perpetuation.

The author is a member of The Club. He is chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine based in Washington, D.C. What makes this book so fascinating is to hear the detailed story about Washington insiders by one of their own.

The book begins in June 2008, at Tim Russert’s funeral, and spans through December 2012. Most funerals are a celebration of the person’s life. This one is represented as a networking opportunity for Club members. For those of us who are uninitiated in The Club, we didn’t know that Tim Russert was the Leader. But with his untimely death, the caravan must move on. The heir apparent as Leader now is Tom Brokaw.

This book is written during the Obama administration, but because The Club is deeply entrenched you know that the incestuous politics amongst government, media, lobbyists and corporations has been going on for a long time. What can I do for you, and what can you do for me? Yet, this book makes the point that in the 21st century it has all accelerated. Vehicles for acceleration include social media, especially Twitter. As one example of this growing issue, in 1974 3 percent of retiring members became lobbyists, now 50 percent of senators and 42 percent of congressmen do.

Outside Washington, we worry that Washington, D.C. is too partisan. But perhaps the Democrats and Republicans have something underlying in common. The author argues that in Obama-era Washington, everyone is now, in effect, a special interest, a free agent, performing any number of services in any number of settings. Everyone’s interest is not the public interest but their own self-interest as a Firstnamelastname-dot-com syndrome, also known as being the CEO of the company “ME”. He notes that everyone is working toward their next career move. He describes examples in his book. He speaks of an Obama White House official, saying – “We’re lapsing into self-parody on the subject of high profile officials leaving the administration and then jumping to the corporate giants the White House had done battle with.”

“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” — Eric Hoffer, “The Temper of Our Time.” The detailed stories of these politicos’ interactions surrounding recent news events and issues are engaging. It is sometimes discouraging to hear what action a deal turns on. It is revealing to hear how much we don’t know about the other Washington, and how little we know about the people who wield influence.

The author describes The Club life in this way, “it’s about virtual reality: the video game in which we are all characters and try to be players.”

Do these powerful members of The Club care more about public relations than any other aspect of their professional lives, and maybe even personal lives? And who is it that cares more about the public?

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

– By Wendy Kendall

wendy kendallWendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.

 

  1. Along these lines I must make a shameless plug for the Netflix series House of Cards. Kevin Spacey is fantastic. It’s a wild ride through power, ambition, greed, and a collection of other vices in WA DC. I couldn’t stop watching it!

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