Perhaps a more apt title for author Mark Leibovich’s new book, “This Town,” would be “Mad Money,” as he makes it clear our nation’s capitol is about money and power and little else. While the rest of the country suffered through the recession, Washington’s unemployment rate was one of the lowest in the country and the city became a money-making engine for its residents, which is unusual for a town without any major industry (aside from politics and press). Leibovich is the Chief National Correspondent for “The New York Times Magazine.” Although I was initially suspicious of the author’s intentions, he has actually done the country a great service by spelling out what is wrong with politics in the capitol.
From a journalist’s perspective, Leibovich reveals the true culture of DC, where an incestuous relationship exists between Government, Journalists, and Lobbyists. All scratch each other’s backs in order to climb their respective totem polls and grab as much money as possible along the way. He paints a picture of unadulterated collusion. He makes it clear Washington exists not to solve the problems of the country but to line the pockets of the residents there. From this perspective, we shouldn’t be surprised other than how widespread the problem really is. Whether you are a government official, lobbyist, or a member of the press, it’s about making money and control of the system. All three parties require love to stroke their ego, lots of it, and sees themselves as celebrities on the same level as Hollywood (or higher) which explains why they get along so well. They are so consumed by climbing the tree of power, they have lost sight of why they were sent to Washington.
Publicity and the press play a vital role in Washington, not so much to represent the nation’s interests but those of government officials who spend more time on re-election as opposed to administering or governing. It is not so much important to report on what is accomplished in Washington, but who said what about whom which, of course, is indicative of an irresponsible sensationalist press. Instead of a 24 hour news cycle, journalists today make active use of social media (e.g., Tweeting, blogging, Facebook, etc.) to report anything of insignificance instantaneously. Through Leibovich, we begin to see how the media perceives themselves as elitists and the American public as cattle. They are above it all. They are megalomaniacs, smug, in love with their brilliance, and herein lies their Achilles’ Heel. They have no true perception of reality, no ethics, only how witty and politically correct they can be and whom they can either build up or take down in Washington. If this isn’t “Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” I do not know what is.
Pandering to the media, politicians do likewise and concentrate on facade, not substance. They focus only on those topics that make fodder for the press, not to those topics that might help the American public, such as balancing the federal budget. Being fully cognizant of their power, a sense of thugery has emerged in the press. Leibovich himself often refers to the press as “The Mob” and reporters as “Wise Guys.” Understand this, most of the political rhetoric being produced from Washington, particularly during the 2012 presidential campaign, is by Millennials trying to make a name for themselves, not veteran reporters.
Prior to his 2008 election, Barack Obama promised to become the most transparent president of all time, where lobbyists would hold no sway and the administration would come forward with all pertinent news, facts and figures. Even Leibovich admits this didn’t exactly happen, but rather, lobbyist influence continued to grow unabated and the administration became more secretive with the press. He also reveals, both political parties have secret “Opposition Files” used to smear politicians, which is reminiscent of those possessed by J.Edgar Hoover.
Through the book, Leibovich slips and reveals the Democratic bias of the press. Regardless of President Obama’s problems, he can do no wrong in the eyes of the mainstream media. In their eyes, the president is blameless for everything and genuinely the most brilliant president there has ever been. This is only surpassed by the media’s love affair with the Clintons. For some unknown reason, they are totally in awe of Hillary as well as her husband. Through the book it becomes rather obvious who the press will be working for in 2016.
On the other hand, Republicans are held in contempt and portrayed as foolish bumpkins, particularly by Leibovich. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are favorite targets, probably because the press feels most threatened by them. Conservatives are dismissed outright without listening to their side of the story. During the 2012 presidential election, Leibovich constantly refers to the “Romney-bots,” meaning Romney supporters are unthinking and clueless as to how the country runs. Again, we see how the press “knows better” than the public. Throughout the campaign, the press focused on what Governor Romney said, as opposed to the president’s track record.
Leibovich is also an unashamed name dropper, thereby providing a “Who’s Who” of Washington, DC, and by doing so, reveals the identities of the liberal left in the media, particularly within NBC and its affiliate MSNBC. Prominently mentioned are: Andrea Mitchell, David Gregory, Tom Brokaw, Savannah Guthrie, Chris Matthews, and many others. The book begins with the funeral of Tim Russert, the appointed “Mayor” of “This Town.” Remarkably, Leibovich has little to say about Fox News and conservative talk radio.
If the book teaches us anything, it is that the system is broken and in need of major repair. The only way to fix it is to somehow stop the money flow. This can be done several ways, such as term limits for politicians, prohibiting politicians and their aids from joining lobbyists, capping campaign spending, or requiring a 50/50 split of all campaign spending between the media and charities, or paying off the federal debt.
This is an important book which everyone should read, not necessarily for its entertainment value, but as a confirmation of the mess we are in. As you read Leibovich’s book, you may not like what he has to say or how he says it, but he has actually performed an important public service: confirming our belief of what is wrong in Washington, DC.