I’m over two-thirds of the way into Mark Leibovich’s This Town and I’m ready to rip the book in half, a la the kung-fu dynamos who promise to tear phone books in half for your entertainment. This is not at all a knock against the quality of the book but might be an endorsement.
Leibovich, for those not aware of him, is a well heeled journalist on Capitol Hill. His recent book is a pseduo-tell all that, basically, tells us all what we’ve suspected for some time, that life in the Wash DC is a constant circus of faux conflict, cigar smoking backslapping, and lots, lots, of money exchanging hands.
It details the greased revolving door between public and private spheres where people get paid a whole lot to be a “strategist” or “adviser” or”consultant” or, fuck me “senior strategist” if they happen to know, or have worked, for the right people. And it makes me very angry.
What makes this reading bearable is Leibovich’s sardonic tone. He constantly references (even renders himself a party to) the incestuousness circle jerk that is Washington (This Town, to the trendy and in-the-know) politics. Consider this passage on page 224, where Very Important Person Richard Holbrooke confronts a White House Staffer, posed at the urinal, in the men’s room :
“Now here was Dick Holbrooke standing next to [Eric] Lesser, gatekeeper to one of the president’s gatekeepers, announcing that he was disappointed in him. Why?/ Because, Holbrooke said, ‘You haven’t gotten me in to see David [Axelrod].’ Holbrooke had been trying to get in to see Axelrod for some time. Holbrooke figured Axelrod was his best hope for scoring his elusive one-on-one with Obama./ When I asked Lesser about the urinal episode, which I heard about secondhand, he declined to comment except to say, ‘I prefer to keep my urinal discussion private.'”
Leibovich’s sense of humor is endemic in this section. Aside from the obvious wordplay at play here between two men in a bathroom, “Dick,” “private,” “disappointed,” “one-on-one,” “secondhand,” it is his ability to deftly showcase the absurd, onanic, masturbatory elements of This Town politics in a short scene that makes this book a winner. One can quickly envision the image of Alec Bladwin, tweaking the ear of a peeing junior staffer in the washroom, in this excerpt.
Despite this tone, This Town is not a comedy. I get the sense that Leibovich spends so much time snarking his colleagues, getting us to laugh alongside him, so we don’t read the entire book in tears.
There are some definite villains. Politico is, undoubtedly, a major culprit in the constant cycling of “news.” Mike Allen comes off as a man-child who runs around This Town, mouth agape, taking selfies with Very Important People (the trend to craft innocuous adjectives into formal titles is a wonderful texty tool of Leibovich’s). The Clintons (Bill and Hill) are clearly huge instigators, and beneficiaries, of the W.D.C. scene and are, undeniably, slimy.
Perhaps a key moment in the book is after Richard “Dick” Holbrooke (a Hillary Clinton favorite) passes away from a torn aorta, so overworked is the aged, wannabe statesman trying to keep his status up. “In March, Kati [Holbrooke’s wife] received a postcard in the mail addressed to ‘Richard C. Holbrooke’ from the Democratic National Committee. ‘Your membership has expired.'”
Once you’re in This Town, you can never leave, unless, of course, you die. As Leibovich points out, This Town is a place you will always have lunch again, regardless of what you’ve fucked up on. The check only comes when you check out, permanently.