The Blog

Review of 'This Town'

1:18 PM, Jul 15, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Andrew Ferguson reviews Mark Leibovich's This Town in the Wall Street Journal:

[T]he real problem with "This Town" isn't its triviality or phony-baloney fearlessness. It's the flattened view of politics that Mr. Leibovich shares with other members of The Club, their near-total lack of interest in the ideas that are supposed to shape the political arrangements of a contentious but self-governing country. What he thinks is uniquely interesting about official Washington isn't unique. There's nothing wrong with people living well, after all—rich people have been doing it for years, all over the place. And Washington isn't the only city of bee-hiving opportunists; my hunch is that there are lots of brazen self-promoters in Omaha, too. Even blameless Topeka has endured hypocrites! It's pretty much the same human nature no matter what side of the Beltway you're on.

No, Washington is unique because its human pageant is played out entirely on someone else's dime. Mr. Leibovich isn't the first professional observer to notice that Washington's economy is from top to bottom parasitic, but he is one of the first not to be especially bothered by it. The money that Suck-Up City sucks up is wealth created by the productive labor of faraway citizens who send it to the capital under penalty of law, according to whatever pretenses the political class can get away with, and that is then passed around as transaction fees. Moneymaking Washington-style is a many-layered version of the ditch digger who shovels across your front yard and then demands you pay him to fill up the hole. Though always a derivative enterprise, journalism might be expected to stand as at least a partial check on the unappetizing spectacle. Instead, in Washington, journalism is the most dubious trade of all—leeches fastened upon leeches.

There was reason to hope that Mr. Leibovich would tell this story with a gimlet eye. "This Town" is based on a 2010 profile he wrote of a Politico reporter called Mike Allen. It was a pitiless picture of Washington self-absorption. Perhaps an entire book written at such a pitch would have been too exhausting, for both reader and writer, and, for Mr. Leibovich, a career-ender in the bargain. 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.

Whole thing here.

Recent Blog Posts