I’m behind the curve and just getting around to watching the TV series The House of Cards from Netflix. It has fitted neatly with reading This Town that also dissects Washington, DC. Although the series has many characters, the leads are a couple played by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in the persona of Francis and Claire Underwood. They are the strongest and most volatile political marriage since Bill & Hillary Clinton. Kevin is a 21st Century Machiavelli who can chill with a deadpan cold look. He is not so much overtly hostile as he holds a grudge forever and deftly delivers with knife in the back silently. He is LBJ with more savoir-faire and cool but apparently equally effective in getting what he wants. We are treated to a collage of DC backdrops supposedly frequented by the rich and famous that at least is recognized in the tour guides. Most of the characters are politically cruel and ruthless and supposedly without heart, which makes them somewhat more like cardboard rather than real people who are both good and bad.
I’m not a regular reader of The New York Times Magazine so I don’t know Mark Leibovich’s profiles, but I presume that he used a lot of the interviews and research for them for his book. The contrast between that film and this book is like the difference between hardball and softball. The book starts with a lengthy description of Tim Russert’s funeral describing everyone in attendance as well as giving a sketchy profile of the deceased. It seems just like a larger scale cocktail party with everyone jockeying to make connections, to be noticed, or to do the usual networking routine even though it may seem a bit crass in the circumstances. The little snippets are tantalizing but not very revealing — more like a celebrity gossip column in Vanity Fair than a political memoir. It’s a satire of the political, lobbyist and journalistic elite in DC who forms “The Club” that is amusing if you like inside jokes and clever cattiness.
The big news in journalism, with a big impact on Washington media, was the announcement Monday of the sale of The Washington Post to Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon. Apparently it came as a big surprise to everyone, and the pundits already are speculating about its impact. It will take years to play out so at this point it’s just anyone’s guess, but it does make This Town already out-of-date.
I sneaked out of Washington 16 years ago so with a few exceptions my contacts are hopelessly out-of-date and never were part of The Club, or whatever it was called at that time. I worked inside a number of DC establishments, but it was at such a low level that I wasn’t privy to what was really going on. I saw enough to learn that the system was corrupt even then, and it’s only gotten worse.