By Mark Leibovich.
Blue Rider Press; 400 pages; $27.95
“This Town” may be the most pitiless examination of America’s permanent political class that has ever been conducted. With a wry touch, Mark Leibovich, a journalist with the New York Times Magazine, chronicles the tawdry work of Washington’s insiders and aspiring insiders. He refrains from presenting big thoughts about what is wrong with American politics and how it might be fixed, but it is impossible to read this book without concluding that something must be done.
Washington has always had a permanent establishment of politicians, lobbyists and journalists. But this class has exploded in size in recent decades, and has become more introspective and self-serving. The news media have produced a hydra of talking heads who are forever yelling at each other (debate) or pontificating about who is up and who is down (analysis). The lobbying industry has spent billions greasing the revolving door: in 2009 alone, special interests spent $3.47 billion lobbying the federal government.
Leibovich provides a succession of deft sketches. Bob Rubin, Bill Clinton’s first Treasury secretary and a man who has made hundreds of millions on Wall Street, is “the undisputed king of the Ritz-Carlton Democrats.” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., could “pass for an oddball taxidermist who keeps a closet full of stuffed pigeons.”
Leibovich eschews the bias that mars so many political tirades, concluding that the city’s failings are thoroughly bipartisan. He seems to have been everywhere and interviewed everyone. But it is nevertheless impossible to finish this book without feeling a bit cheated. “This Town” is more a symptom of the problems that it describes than a cure.