“This town”–a really short review

Mark Leibovich’s book This Town has been receiving outsized attention for its account of official Washington. This really isn’t my thing, and I don’t live or work in Washington. Having listened to the author being interviewed, though, I do believe this book reminds me of something: A detailed set of clinical case-notes compiled in an asylum by an expert who has conducted years of interviews and research, and yet somehow never figured out that he, himself, is also a patient there.

Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect, tnr.com, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

9 thoughts on ““This town”–a really short review”

    1. It is indeed an outstanding line, but it’s somewhat derivative. Incorrectly attributed to Charlie Chaplin, this line really belonged to Richard Rowland, head of Metro Pictures: “The inmates have taken over the asylum.” (1919, upon signing of the papers to create United Artists)

  1. It is a nice line. OTOH, the author apparently pokes fun at himself a few times, although he’s also known to go easy on his employers by not mentioning them a whole lot.

  2. I saw Leibovitch speak at Politics and Prose in Northwest DC last week and I was appalled — not least by his straight-faced allegation that “Bay Buchanan is a nice person.” I decided not to buy the book because it’s obviously right-wing crap. Leibovitch disapproves of his peers for all the wrong reasons: they’re ambitious, hedonistic, greedy, and shameless — unlike his true-blue self. They had the temerity to talk business and drink Heinekens at Saint Tim Russert’s funeral. Not mentioned, of course is the fact that Tim was a bloviating overpaid hack, much beloved by Dick Cheney for his willingness to provide a megaphone and to “catapult the propaganda.”

    Not having read much of the book, I have been interested nonetheless by the reviews of This Town. All the hacks really love that it’s so even-handed, which to me signals something terribly wrong with it. If both left and right come in for equal slagging, there’s some serious denial going on. Granted, there are very few paragons among our journalists and politicians; but there are vast differences in fundamental projects. Leibovitch said, the other night, that he wasn’t going “to pick on a particular party.” And he said approvingly in Salon that the Republicans in this town ‘know how the game is played.’ So,to him and his ilk clearly it’s like Red Socks v Yankees – only a fool puts any moral weight on the outcome. Thus the party of Elizabeth Warren and John Lewis is the moral equivalent of the party of Mitch McConnell and Steve King. The party of that wants to kill all government health care and public education, that wants to roll back civil rights and gender equality, the party that spearheads climate-change denial and champions every form of unbridled mineral extraction, sponsors stand-your-ground laws and every type of coded racism imaginable, the party of forever-war, torture, warrantless wiretaps, extra-judicial imprisonment (yes I know, Obama is a Republican on some of these scores)… well you certainly don’t want to “pick on” the henchmen of a party like that for any little ethical lapses. That might not be a good career move.

    It is very much worth noting that, though he’s been in DC for 16 years, Leibovitch begins his slam book with the first Obama campaign, conveniently dropping into the memory-hole hole W’s entire criminal administration and how it was abetted at every turn by an utterly craven, obsequious, despicable press corps. Yes indeed, if one were to start the story in 1999 it’d be a lot harder to represent journalistic complicity as a venial sin.

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