Book Report: "This Town"
This book came to my attention somehow late last summer. There was an interview with the author on Bill Moyers and Company on PBS and after seeing that on the internet, I knew I had to read it. The author claimed his work would rat out the revolving door spinners in Washington. It would reveal to us all how Washington really works. Oh good, I thought, some real dirt on the USDA/EPA/Monsanto triangle. So off I went to the library to order it through Rhode Island’s interlibrary loan system. It might be a while I was told. There were 29 others ahead of me on the list...
So fast forward to Christmas when she who shall not be named gives me a Kindle. I’ve never been interested in owning one and I’m not buying the argument about saving paper and trees. Trees grow. We can plant them and they will grow, even if it takes a lifetime. Copper and all the other precious metals that make up these paper-saving devices cannot be planted, they can only be mined. A bit of research tells me that I will only have recovered the environmental cost of my device if I read between 50 and 100 “books” on the thing.
So not to disappoint she who thinks mommy could go a bit more “high-tech,” I decided to make “This Town” my first foray into digital readers.
As luck would have it, a few days later, I receive an email from the library system that my copy of the book has arrived. I delay picking it up for a few days. I have to give the Kindle thing a chance. After all, I can’t criticize it if I haven’t used it. I’ve managed to get 31 percent through the book the device tells me, whatever that means. Why the heck can’t this smarty little thing tell me what page I’m on, or how many there are?
But I digress. And I admit that the last 69 percent gets read on paper, hoping she who will not be named will not notice — even though it takes me over two months to read the thing. (With sincere apologies to the next reader in line at a library somewhere else in the state.) I suppose that the fact that it has taken me over two months to read “This Town” is testament to the fact that, well, the book turns out not to be all that compelling.
With approval ratings for our national Congress having dove down to less than 10 percent in the past couple of years, one might think that this book would tackle some of those issues that spawned those dismally low approval rates. You know, like Wall Street bail outs, rising income inequality, and everyone repeat after me: “Where are the jobs?” The author, Leibovich, after all, is a senior correspondent for The New York Times. However, it turns out that that is not the kind of dirt this book is focused on. Rather, Leibovich has written what appears to be the longest, most sarcastic and snarky gossip column on the face of the earth.
He does focus on the revolving doors in Washington, but not the ones I had hoped for. Instead of, say, examining the relations between government regulators and the industries that they are in charge of regulating or, say, the relationships between the Department of Education and the billionaire boys club, Leibovich focuses predominantly on the revolving doors between lobbying firms, the “press” and those who have served either in Congress and or the White House, as either elected officials or non-elected staff.
His focus is on those who simply, once having gone to Washington, never leave or just keep coming back. A stint for a couple of terms in Congress, or a staff position (however lofty) as an assistant this or that, can lead to a very lucrative career, often it seems, for doing nothing but schmoozing. We are told of the likes of Rahm Emanuel, who resigned from his job in the Clinton White House to join an investment banking firm, even though he “was not a ‘numbers guy,’ he admitted, but more of a ‘relationship banker.’ Relationship banking paid well. By the time he left to run for Congress in 2002, Emanuel had amassed more than $18 million in two and a half years and was then free to return to his life of ‘public service.’”
If you are already disgusted by the impartiality on the “news,” or the pundits masquerading as journalists and really want an excuse to rant about it, this may be the book for you. On the other hand, one could just read Jason Linkins’ most excellent, and snarky column “Eat the Press” in The Huffington Post.
The reader that this gossip column would be most suitable for would seem to be the one who wants to participate in the lush fest in D.C. — you know, one who might want to join “The Club” in “Suck up City,” (Leibovich’s terms, not mine) the reader who wants to know just which parties are important to attend and how to get invited.
As Leibovich trashes the very industry that he has spent his career in, sadly he doesn’t rise above the egoistic, self-loving reality of the everyday he makes his living from. Yes, he’s amusingly snarky but he’s thoroughly in it. He can relate to the reader the details of the Great Gatsby-ish parties, with their lavish buffets, because he is there. He can tell us what goes on in the Romney/Ryan campaign bus because he’s riding it. Ditto for the annual Washington Press Corp Dinner, which President Obama dutifully attended while, in the meantime, the final hunt-down of Osama Bin Laden was underway and being monitored in real time over at the White House. (Obama put on quite a good show, too!) He can tell us about the conflicts of interest in Washington’s political and media circles because — hey! “…the Alan-Andrea-Barbara trio remained in place, nursing their drinks.” That would be Greenspan-Mitchell-Walters for those with enquiring minds, or who might find the use of surnames more polite.
The fact that Leibovich has not risen above anything at all in Washington, especially the over-inflated egos of those he writes about, is the very warning on the back of the book: “This Town” does not contain an index. Those players wishing to know how they came out will need to read the book.” Of course, it didn’t take long before someone else would index the thing.
The best part of this book was finally finishing it.