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This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral--plus plenty of valet parking!--in America's Gilded Capital.


Two Parties and a Funeral--plus plenty of valet parking!--in America's Gilded


BY Mark Leibovich

Blue Rider Press, N.Y.

2013, 368 PAGES, $27.95

Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, previously served for six years as a political correspondent in the Washington bureau of the Times. Earlier he worked for nine years at the Washington Post. Leibovich received a National Magazine Award in 2011. The author selected the title from a list including "Suck-up City:" "You'll Always Have Lunch in This Town Again," and "The Club." After working in Washington, D.C., for 15 years, he learned that This Town imposes on its "actors a reflex toward devious and opportunistic behavior, and a tendency to care about public relations more than any other aspect of their professional lives--and maybe even personal lives." This Town as Washingtonians refer to the place, festers "faux disgust and a wry distance--a verbal tic as a secret handshake." A play on the two-word refrain people in This Town frequently use, "This Town" functions as a cliche of "belonging, knowingness, and self-mocking civic disdain"

Then there is "The Club" made up of This Town's city fathers, whose "spinning cabal of people in politics and media can be as potent in D.C. as Congress" The club itself has been known by various names: "Permanent Washington;' "The Political Class," "The Chattering Class," "The Usual Suspects," "The Beltway Establishment," "The Chamber," "The Echo-System:' "The Gang of 500," "The Movable Mass,' and others.

Leibovich confesses he belongs to The Club. Participating in many hundreds of social and political events among members of The Club, he has profiled countless political figures and capably writes about politics in the "big media outlet." The book analyzes This Town in a time of alleged corrective action. To the author, "Suck-up City' describes the Beltway culture's depraved contamination with sycophancy--sucking up to people to please them or to get something from them. Winning in Washington means "winning people over--sometimes by argument; craft; obsequiousness and favors; pressure; or a chest-thumping, ape-type show of strength."

One of Leibovich's major Washington criticisms concerns lobbyists. The biggest shift in Washington over the last 40 years has been the arrival of "Big Money, politics as an industry, and lobbyists" During 2009, the most profitable year ever for the lobbying profession, special interests collectively spent $3,470,000,000 lobbying the Federal government. Complicated current legislation will provide profitable business for lobbyists. Despite the exorbitant cost of hiring lobbyists, corporations equate lobbyists' ability to "shape, tweak, or kill even minute legislative loopholes with saving millions of dollars." Because hundreds of lobbyists call themselves "public affairs consultants," "senior advisers," or "strategic advisers," Washington "crawls with people not registered to lobby, but who get paid to advocate fulltime for some business, organization, or industry." Leibevich suggests that no single development in the last century has "altered the workings of American democracy as much as political consulting." As consultants have replaced party bosses as "wielders of political power gained not by votes but by money," corporations "have tripled the amount of money spent on lobbying and public affairs consulting in D.C." Now a full grown and dynamic industry, lobbying has become a "self-sustaining system all its own"

In great detail, Leibovich includes his coverage of the 2008 and 2012 elections. He credits Pres. Barack Obama's success to David Axelrod, the "message maven" responsible for "devising Obama's political rise." The Obama campaign, a '"young, grassroots-oriented and data-driven machine" ran circles around the opposition. Axelrod "revered" Obama, and Obama highly respected Axelrod. Although Hillary Clinton became "indispensable" to Obama's team, the Clintons reserved a special place for Axelrod on their "dead-to-us list" for his "past sins," especially his aggressive campaigning against Hillary in 2008. Leibovich calls Bill Clinton the "star of the week" for the best speech of either convention. Obama suggested naming Bill Clinton to a new position as "Secretory for Explaining Stuff" By the end of the campaign, Bill Clinton "owned the country again; ... in fact, he owned the president."

In response to conventioneers who asked Hillary if she would be running for president in 2016, she answered, "No way" However, Bill suggested she should "not be so definitive." Hillary frequently invokes an Eleanor Roosevelt mantra: 'Woman in politics need to develop skin as tough as a rhinoceros hide." Clinton "feels herself very vulnerable," and her response is to make herself "bulletproof." Always on guard, she is a private person despite her international prestige. Hillary, "off somewhere on the planet as queen of the world" appears above the "small silliness of This Town." The Clintons always have been "grand masters of friendship"; Friends of the Clintons (FOBs and FOHs) became their "subcommittees of the political class." The convention at times "resembled a Clinton reunion, a staging area for the Clintonites gearing up for what seemed inevitable-Hillary in 2016."

The author contrasts the 2012 Republican convention with the Democratic convention at which the "Unquestioned Big Man on Campus" Chris Christie delivered the keynote address. Christie, "who tells it like it is and gives it to you straight," carries the anonyms "killer persona of charismatic crankiness" and "Governor Powder Keg." In his speech, dubbed the "Me Note Address," Christie used 1,800 words in the first 16 minutes to talk about New Jersey before mentioning the name of the nominee.

Cables news business has maintained a "celebrity aura" since the 1990s, when it created a high-profile exposure of people on TV; never before have the so-called "permanent establishment of Washington" included in the media so many "citizens of the green room." The author dislikes spin rooms in which the same people deliver the same platitudes during entire political campaigns. Many of the "machinations" formerly emanating from spin rooms now move via e-mail, blog posts, or Twitter within seconds of candidates speaking on stage. Why spin rooms? "It's a tradition." Leibovich also dislikes the Correspondents' Association dinner, the perfect symbol of Washington media--a "towering exercise in hedonism and manufactured celebrity." The "Mardi Gras" dinner resembles "a national political convention except that it occurs annually." In the last few years, This Town's "moneyed, multiday self-intoxication" has attracted "an increasingly huge showbiz contingent, a posse of N.Y. and Silicon Valley financiers, and pop culture personalities like Ozzy, Paris, and The Donald"

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Author:Fischer, Raymond L.
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2014
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