This Town Just Keeps Getting Worse…

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The sun rises behind the Washington Monument on a cloudy day in Washington, DC on Sept. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

Not long after the release of This Town last summer people started asking me about writing a sequel: This Town: Continued or This Town: It’s Even Worse Now, or some such. It was of course gratifying to hear this from people, or at least be humored by them, but the reality was more depressing. This Town was pretty much updating itself every week, the modern story of our gilded capital unfurling in a mania of self-parody and soul-crushing sameness. The book writes itself, in other words.

In late 2012, after I had finished most of the This Town manuscript, I was interviewing Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Democrat, for a brief Q & A that would appear in the front of The New York Times Magazine. Feeling a bit jaded — maybe more than usual after three years’ immersion in the Washington political class — my sarcasm flowed:

“You’re retiring after serving 24 years in the Senate,” I asked Lieberman. “What lobbying firm are you going to join now?

Sen. Joseph Lieberman. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill, File)

“I’m not going to lobby,” Lieberman told me. “For sure.”

“Chris Dodd said the same thing two years ago,” I said. (Dodd, Lieberman’s longtime fellow senator from Connecticut, had left the senate in 2011 and since went on to become head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.)

“Yeah, I know,” Lieberman said. “Watch me.”

We did, and it’s no surprise how this story ends. Politico’s Byron Tau reported before Thanksgiving that Lieberman had in fact signed on to represent a Libyan businessman who might run for president of his native land. Lieberman’s firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, would include “government relations services, communication of information to the principal and as well as [communication of] information about the principal to interested persons in the public sector,” according to public documents. Such communication will include “meetings with members of Congress, executive branch officials and others.” Not lobbying per se — he would not formally register! — but certainly lobbying-ish activities.

To paraphrase the grainy refrains of Walter Cronkite, that’s the way it is in This Town at the end of 2013. As I write this, we’ve already had 2016 presidential buzz boomlets for Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Elizabeth Warren, Scott Walker and whoever the flavor of this week will be. President Obama’s first term Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who played a pivotal role in the administrations’ response to the financial crisis of 2008-09, announced he would be joining the private equity firm Warburg Pincus — and some people actually praised him because he would not be joining a big investment bank like Goldman Sachs or Citigroup, as some of his high-level former colleagues did. Crossfire made a red carpet comeback on CNN (even if CNN’s ratings did not), and I was invited to a big DC “launch party” for the new/old shout fest. It took place the day after a charity basketball game was played between members of congress and lobbyists and also a megafundraiser was thrown by the Clinton’s for their old “friends” in Washington ($25,000 a head to get to the after-party at Hillary’s house!).

This Town just loves its circular metaphors — spinning and news cycles and the revolving doors. As much as ever, it is a city of movers and shakers getting nowhere, except richer.

Mark Leibovich is the chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine. His latest book, This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral — Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking! — in America’s Gilded Capital, provides a detailed account of how Washington has been distorted by the explosion of money in politics, turning the city into a mecca for glitz, gold and greed. Prior to joining The Times in 2006, Leibovich spent nine years at The Washington Post covering technology and politics. He has also worked at The San Jose Mercury News and The Boston Phoenix, and is the author of The New Imperialists, a collection of profiles on technology pioneers.
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