In the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Ferguson reviews This Town, the new book by the New York Times’ Mark Leibovich. Ferguson does not like what he sees — both in the anti-company town of DC, or in Leibovich’s book:
But the 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.
In Woody Allen’s 1989 movie Crimes and Misdemeanors, arguably his last great film, Allen’s character, a struggling documentary director quips, “Show business is dog-eat-dog. It’s worse than dog-eat-dog. It’s dog-doesn’t-return-other-dog’s-phone-calls.”
In Washington these days, a town devoted to own brand of kabuki performance art, the calls still don’t get returned — but your private phone number does get published by Washington Post-employed “journalists” on Twitter.