Feature

Book of the week: This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—Plus Plenty of Valet Parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich

“If you hate Washington, you really ought to read this book to hate it with more clarity and specificity.”

(Blue Rider, $28)

“If you hate Washington, you really ought to read this book to hate it with more clarity and specificity,” said Alex Pareene in Salon.com. In the eyes of New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich, a deep partisan divide is the least of Washington, D.C.’s problems. Instead, the elite Washingtonians Leibovich so colorfully skewers care far less about ideology than accumulating personal wealth. Rather than savage his smug, self-serving targets directly or express his own moral outrage, Leibovich’s “preferred method is to let his subjects hang themselves with their words and actions.” It’s quite effective, and a host of elected officials, beat journalists, and hangers-on all come off badly here. “This is basically a society of leeches” who long ago traded doing good for doing well.

The first three pages alone will make most normal folks cringe, said Matt Purple in The American Spectator. In Leibovich’s description of a 2008 memorial service for Tim Russert, fellow TV journalists and an array of politicians briefly don grave faces before partaking in an orgy of networking. Refreshingly, Leibovich never repeats the liberal media’s “somnambulant clichés” about Washington’s being ruined by Republican zealots. His targets instead are the moderates who speak proudly of across-the-aisle cooperation while feeding on lobbyists’ largesse. Indeed, “the only people who come off well here” are those we see scorning the game-playing, said David Weigel in Slate.com. That group includes Hillary Clinton, who, when an unnamed official worried that Obama’s absence from a White House Correspondents’ Dinner would raise eyebrows, replied, “F--- the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.”

Predictably, Washington insiders have tried to act scandalized by This Town’s revelations, said Andrew Ferguson in The Wall Street Journal. Yet that’s “harder than it sounds.” For all the catty gossip Leibovich shares, where is his disgust over the corruption he describes? Washington hardly holds a monopoly on shameless opportunism, but it’s “unique because its human pageant is played out entirely on someone else’s dime.” While sniggering at the parasites of “Suck Up City,’’ Leibovich makes sure he’ll still be invited to dinner there. “For whatever reason, he has chosen to be just a naughty boy—bravely brandishing his peashooter and aiming two clicks off target so that no one important gets stung.”

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