Capitols of Venality

27 Aug
This Town by Mark Liebovich

This Town by Mark Liebovich

Unlike Teddy White, who faithfully chronicled three presidential elections( 1960, 1964, 1968), the inimitable Hunter Thompson was the first journalist that I can recall who made political reportage fun — when he got close to the poobahs of the ruling class he took obvious delight in revealing their blemishes and imperfections and inanities. No doubt our ehanced intimacy with the vacancy of Imperial clothing was inevitable with advent of 24/7 cable and a citizenry armed and at the ready with videographic devices—still it does require special credentials for entre into rarified venues of powerbrokering and elite chest-bumping.

Thus Mark Le1bovich, who touts the rank of National Political Correspondent for the New York Times Magazine (for what its worth, I first encountered Mark when he was a fledgling assistant to the editor of the departed Boston Phoenix, where I was a publisher of the Phoenix Company’s Stuff Magazine) has written an amusing anthropological tract focused on the denizens who troll of one of America’s two capitols of venality, Washington DC. This Town (Blue Rider Press),if you pay attention to such things as books and journalism, has been extensively reviewed and extolled, especially by people who delight in intimating their own familiarity and expertise with the national’s capitol’s eco-system. That’s a bit distracting (the me-tooism of the reviews) but it does add to the amusement that obtains from such stories of powerful people behaving badly

Here some gems from his coverage of the deceased host of Meet the Press Tim Russert’s memorial which is the opens the book:

Alan Greenspan former Federal Reserve Board chairman, who helped to usher in the latest economic debacle is referred as a “monetary oracle”

“Bill and Hillary Clinton walk stiffly down the left side.Heads lutrch and the collective effects are unmistakable: that exotic D.D tingle falls over the room, the kind that comes with proximity to Superpowers.”

“Now true to her stoic and gritty precent, Hillary is keeping her smile affixed like hardened gum sending out powerful “Stay away from this vehicle” vibes”

And merrily and on and on.

Though I am not a serious scholar of American political history, my sense of the value of Leibovich’s scrutiny of this well-explored terrain and its flora and fauna is his mordant vision of the genus he freely admits includes him. Other chroniclers of Washington inside baseball have provided accounts of shadowy intricacies— Leibovich distinguishes himself with a keen eye, expressed with (a dolop of humility and) a deft linguistic palette.

I leave it to your initiative to search out the assorted (positive) critiques of This Town. My own assessment stems from both my amusement and accord with the observations Leibovich makes about things I know something about. For instance, I agree that President Obama’s first speech after the Newtowne Massacre was his best while in office. And his reading off of the names of the murdered children as it did Mark Leibovich made me cry.

Washington’s bio sphere is also ably and entertainingly dramatized in the Netflix series House of Cards( loosely based on a vastly inferior BBC series of the same name) which seems to discredit the canard that “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people” (but then it is in large part fictional).Excellent writing and creditable acting —Kevin Spacey, Robin Penn Wright with an accomplished supporting cast. Devotees of House of Cards will no doubt delight in the renewal of the series (which for what it’s worth nominated for 9 Emmies.

The American Senate by Neil MacNeil and Richard A. Baker

The American Senate by Neil MacNeil and Richard A. Baker

Oxford University Press,publisher of The American Senate: An Insider’s History
by Neil MacNeil and Richard A.Baker, observes:

The United States Senate has fallen on hard times. Once known as the greatest deliberative body in the world, it now has a reputation as a partisan, dysfunctional chamber. What happened to the house that forged American history’s great compromises?

One answer could be people like former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, as political journalist Joe Conason opined,”…Mr. Lott- has run the Senate like a jukebox since 1996.” This is, of course, a glib partisan view.Which is why historian emeritus of the Senate, Richard A. Baker collaborated with ace congressional correspondent the late Neil MacNeil to exhaustively chronicle what is commonly referred to as DC’s millionaire’s club

Washington Independent Review of Books notes:

MacNeil and Baker are at their best when placing the modern Senate in historical context. They contend that the nation’s founders didn’t envision the partisan rancor many say has hobbled the modern Senate. As they explain, “The intent of the Philadelphia delegates was obvious. They wanted the Senate composed of men little tempted to react hurriedly to any passing craze. How better to assure that than to have them elected by already elected state legislators. The longer and staggered terms for senators would further guarantee that the Senate would make its judgments with appropriate deliberation.”

Look what we have instead.

Currently reading The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Lloyd (Picador)

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