What really goes on among the power-brokers of Washington, D.C.? New York Times Magazine correspondent Mark Leibovich tells us in a book that is as dark as it is wildly entertaining.
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Let us not lapse into cliché and say that such things happen only in Washington. After all, who remembers or cares about Robert Downey Jr.’s former transgressions now that he is an Avenger? Or, for that matter, the travails of Kobe Bryant? What was it he did, or didn’t do, in Colorado lo those many years ago? Again and again, Leibovich demonstrates the short-term scandal memory inside the Beltway. It’s enough to make one think former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards, last seen cheating on his dying wife, might have a comeback in his future. (Let’s hope not.)Skip to next paragraph
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The tics and mannerisms of Beltway life provide plenty of fodder, too: Pols and others describing scandals and other peccadilloes as “saddening” and “troubling,” journalists who slip free of poor judgment by asserting instead that they are “just asking the question,” and the epidemic of humble-brags polluting the Potomac. Of the latter, many examples can be found, starting with the late “Meet the Press” host being eulogized at the start of the book.
“Russert – Tim – reached the top of the pecking order while shrouding a cutthroat ambition in his slovenly nonchalance,” Leibovich writes. He goes on to list many of the affectations indulged in by Russert to further burnish his reputation: the branding of his own father as “Big Russ,” the endless mentions of his Buffalo hometown, his blue-collar love of the NFL Bills, his frequent paeans to millionaire populist Bruce Springsteen, and the Russert machine’s paid speeches, “where he would tell the same jokes and stories over and over, like a politician does.”
In similar fashion, Arianna Huffington, she of the improbable online media empire, hosts a book-release party for a tome called “Third World America” that includes, yes, valet parking. What, people are supposed to park themselves because others are less fortunate? Don’t be silly.
If all of this makes the federal government’s leaders and its attendant parasites sound like ambitious, entitled children playing a game, a winking, nodding affair where everyone in the know gets richer (Washington became the most prosperous city while income plummeted across the rest of the nation), why, that’s because they are. They bond in the same cable TV green rooms before going on-air for a few minutes of partisan shtick, but, as the nexus lawyer-agent Bob Barnett illustrates, everything here is post-partisan. What began with James Carville and Mary Matalin merging their political “brands” in marriage and multi-million-dollar endorsements and speeches has become a way of life for all concerned in The Club.
Even the federal debt makes has-beens richer. To wit: Just after one of many rounds of fiscal cliff stalemates, former Republican Senator Alan Simpson and former Clinton chief of staff Erskine Bowles took their failed budget-reform recommendations on the road, charging $40,000 a pop to enlighten the masses. Tim Russert must have been, yes, smiling up in heaven, as does every D.C. Luminary who passes into the afterworld.
Erik Spanberg is a regular contributor to Monitor Books.