PERRY/Barbour and Lott's town
Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:00 AM
Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for The New York Times Magazine, jolted establishment Washington, DC with his new book, "This Town" which explores the personal relationships, egos and social engagements of Washington's best known politicians, lobbyists, journalists and socialites. The peak behind the curtain story could send Tea Party conservatives or good government liberals frothing at the mouth; confirm the skepticism of passive political observers; and concern those in "The Club" that they might be mentioned, or worse, that they wouldn't be mentioned.
Leibovich notes in his prologue the terms referencing this insider class in Washington, DC: Permanent Washington, The Political Class, The Usual Suspects, The Beltway Establishment, The Echo Chamber, The Gang of 500, and others including, "This Town." Presidents come and go and congressmen and senators can be transient, too. Sometimes by virtue of their office or power they enter the periphery of "This Town" but most never reach true establishment status or become club members: they are more likely to be currency of the political class which doesn't care about party labels and doesn't let passion about policy get in their way of a cocktail party with their adversaries.
Two Mississippians made the cut for discussion in Leibovich's book: Haley Barbour and Trent Lott. The book was written when Barbour was a former governor and Lott was a former senator; but that does not slow their inclusion as members of "This Town."
Leibovich writes about "Nerd Prom" - the self deprecating and humble-brag term used by Washington to describe the highlight of that world's social calendar: the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. In 2010, Barbour was unable to make it due to his duties as governor.
Leibovich writes, "The human toll of BP's spill was great and far reaching. Chief among the tragedies in This Town was that it meant Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi had to stay home to monitor the crisis and could not attend the Correspondents' Association dinner." He continues, "Haley loves a good glass of wine, or six, another reason it was such a shame he could not be here. Few politicians are as fun as the former Republican National Committee chairman, political director in the Reagan white House, and legendary tobacco lobbyists. Barbour is a throwback to a time when politicians would tell dirty jokes, boast of all the cigars they smoked, and refer to their friends - on the record - as 'drinking buddies.' He speaks in a mud-mouthed Mississippi drawl and looks like a grown version of Spanky from the Little Rascals."
On Lott, Leibovich writes, "Lott is a stickler for neatness and order, loath to allow the different foods on his plate to touch. Every surface of his life is arranged just so, beginning with is luscious helmet of senatorial hair. He is a devout creature of routine, walking just after six, drinking three cups of Maxwell House, reading in his pajamas, and spraying his hair into perfect form. Upon arriving back home after work, Lott must - within seconds of walking through the front door - take off his clothes and put on his pajamas."
Leibovich tells the story of how Terry McAuliffe, former Democratic National Committee Chairman (and currently candidate for governor in Virginia) had just completed "a fund-raiser at Washington's MC Center that sucked in more than $26 million for the DNC. ('The biggest event in the history of mankind,' McAuliffe told me)" and was talking to then President Bill Clinton about an ambassadorship to the Court of St. James's (Britain). McAuliffe would need Senate approval and spoke to his friend Barbour about it. Barbour called Lott and told him the Senate should not punish McAuliffe for being Clinton's pal and that he was "qualified and effective and would represent the nation with distinction" writes Leibovich.
Barbour had other motives, according to the book: "McAuliffe later learned from Lott, his occasional hunting buddy, that when Barbour called him about the appointment, his first thought was how convenient it would be to get the best political fund-raiser in the Democratic Party out of the country in time for the 200 elections. 'Tell [McAuliffe] I'll walk him to the airplane,' Lott told Barbour, according to McAuliffe."
It may sound like Leibovich is picking on Barbour or Lott, but this is the same treatment he gives all the characters in his book, and notes frequently, he himself is part of the incestuous political-media-money family that attends the same events and plays the same game.
If you're interested in how government works, this isn't really the book for you. If you're intrigued that the same people who cuss Sarah Palin on cable, flock to chat her up at a party; or how when pundits say something stupid the scandal usually ups their standing in "This Town," then Leibovich has the gossip for you.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.