Because nobody else will defend Washington, I guess I’ll have to.
No, I’m not talking about the Washington portrayed in Mark Leibovich’s explosive new book This Town. Except to say this: on one level, Leibovich gets it absolutely right. He paints a deadly picture of a town filled with more self-important, self-absorbed, self-promoting people per square inch than any other city on the planet. Read it and weep.
But, as Leibovich shows, that sucking-up, self-seeking of glory is now also standard, and acceptable, behavior on the part of congressional staffers, for many of whom the ultimate ambition is getting their birthday mentioned in Mike Allen’s Playbook.
In the annals of This Town, nobody better personifies what’s wrong with Washington than Kurt Bardella, one-time flack for Congressman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who secretly shared with Leibovich copies of his email correspondence with reporters. From the book, it’s clear that Bardella’s narcissistic lust for recognition is exceeded only by that of his boss Issa, who hired Bardella, then fired him, then hired him back. Because the show must go on!
Yes, this is the Washington, awash in and controlled by corporate money. This is the Washington, where lobbyists rake in more money than ever before. This is the Washington where lawmakers don’t end their careers and go home; instead, 50 percent of them now hang around and use any leftover influence to suck more money out of the system. Making matters worse, this is the Washington most members of the media don’t complain or report about, because they’re too busy themselves with self-aggrandizement. No reporter is taken seriously today unless he or she has a contributor deal with CNN, MSNBC or FOX.
But this is not the real Washington. The real Washington is a city of unparalleled beauty and majesty. The real Washington is home to hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants who keep the wheels of government turning, no matter who’s in the White House. The real Washington is a cosmopolitan city with great ethnic diversity, a highly educated population and a rich mosaic of vibrant neighborhoods.
When I think of the real Washington, I think of Capitol Hill. When the historic Eastern Market was destroyed by fire in April 2007, local residents raised $550,000 to support vendors and their employees until they could relocate to a temporary location. I think of 2,000 volunteers from all over Washington turning out on Earth Day 2013 to clean up trash along the Anacostia River. I think of the magnificent new library in Anacostia that the city built, which revitalized an entire neighborhood.
You can’t deny that Mark Leibovich’s city of preening peacocks exists. But that’s not the real Washington those of us who live here know and love. That’s the phony Washington we all deplore.
Press is host of “The Full-Court Press” on Current TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.