In This Town, Mark Leibovich explains by example. The institutions in our nation’s capital foster an incestuous, circular self-chosen elite. As Leibovich tells it, there is barely any difference between the actual members of Congress and the ex-members who become lobbyists or pundits or executives (or all of the above). This amoral mixture has no fundamental beliefs outside of itself … Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, everyone serves the corporate world. Our current president differs from the other people in the book primarily because he doesn’t like any of them. You never get the feeling that he approves of the revolving door between government and corporations, although his own people are just as guilty as anyone else. If we take This Town at its word, the United States is run by a bunch of insecure, self-absorbed people who attend each other’s social events and obsess about power and their place in the pecking order. The media lets them get away with this because they are hangers-on themselves.
Leibovich uses a breezy style that blends commentary with the kind of gossip he knows we want to hear. He isn’t afraid to step on toes, but he does so in an almost light-hearted way … at one point, he tips his cap to Matt Taibbi, “a wicked screed artist and one of the few legitimate heirs to Hunter S. Thompson in a blog-inspired generation of gonzo wannabes”, but Leibovich never indulges in the kind of excess that makes Taibbi so much fun to read. In the latter parts of the book, Leibovitz relies more on snark … maybe it was just that I hadn’t noticed it before, but it reads as if he is finally just tired of all the residents in This Town. But overall, he is rather gentle, considering the stories he is telling.
Does it help Leibovich’s case that he admits to being a participant observer? His portrait of Washington, D.C. (at least the part that revolves around political institutions) is cutting, depressing, seemingly trust-worthy. In the end, Leibovich at least partly convinces us that he has just enough distance to maintain an honest vision.