Monday, August 26, 2013

Mark Leibovich: Behind the scenes in Washington...a culture of narcissism, insouciance and extreme conformity to caution

On PBS yesterday, Bill Moyers interviewed Mark Leibovich on his new book, This Town, essentially a scathing indictment of the political culture in Washington. Leibovich cited examples like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which caused millions of public relations, lobbying and bi-partisan dollars to flow into public relations firms owned and operated jointly by key figures in both Republican and Democratic parties. Given the size of the bounty, and the constant flow of money, whenever there is a political problem that requires public massaging, no one leaves.
In fact, according to Leibovich, people now going to Washington to "get rich" and the city has the largest number of billionaires in the United States.
On the legislative front, extreme caution is the guiding principle. Here is a segment of the interview, from the Moyers and Company website:
MARK LEIBOVICH: .....everything about the Congressional system, whether it's leadership, whether it's how money is raised, is going to reward cowardice. The true mavericks are going to be punished in some ways. If you are going-- if you want to build a career outside of office when you're done, when you're voted out as a lobbyist, as a consultant, as many of them do, you are absolutely in-- you are absolutely encouraged not anger too many people. Not--
BILL MOYERS: Not take a big stand?
MARK LEIBOVICH: Not take a big stand, right. No truth is going to be told here by-- based on any sort of cowardly go along, get along way. And I think that there are many ways in which the money, the system is financed-- the politics are financed the way the media works, that will not under any circumstances reward someone who takes a stand.
Members of Congress especially are never far from a vision of their own answer to the question, "What am I going to do once I leave Congress?" As one former Senator put it, "This is where the money is," when asked why he hasn't left although he retired from his elected post years ago. (His name is Trent Lott, former Republican Senator.)
If the public debate is little more than another piece of theatrics, generating more heat that light, and if the men and women elected to "govern" (that is pass needed legislation for the benefit of both their constituents and the nation) are more guided, even forced to conform to the "cautionary principle" and not indicate any maverick tendencies, in order to pave their "escalator ride" into the lobbying business following their stint at public "service" how can we be surprised when we see nothing really being accomplished in both houses of Congress, and dozens of high profile politicians now occupying cushy and highly remunerative executive posts in the very companies and sectors they once wrote and passed legislation, that favoured those 'special interests'?
We cannot; however, just because the U.S. has the biggest sling-shot on the block of world nations does not make it the most honourable, the most ethical and the most dependable voice of insight, and power when the community of nations seeks to confront an international problem, such as Syria.
If Leibovich is to be believed, and his Senior Editorship of the New York Times Magazine would seem to provide some evidence of credibility, then Washington is not only "out of touch" with ordinary Americans, it is out of touch with most matters that do not directly impact their individual wealth acquisition.
As I listened to Leibovich, I could not help but think of the phrase "political incest" that has overtaken the capital of the "greatest country on the planet" it describes itself for and to anyone who will listen. A revolving door nudges former administration staffers of considerable rank out the door to much more lucrative positions, without all the public scrutiny, on Wall Street. A similar revolving door cushions the exit of elected officials from especially "Appropriations Committees of Congress" where the money is spent, and their respective landings in swank, and highly lucrative positions because of who they know, and what they know about how Washington works.
If the truth is constantly and deliberately trumped by the cowardice and caution and "fitting in" motive of those elected to "serve", then how can the people,  both inside and outside the U.S. borders expect effective leadership to emerge from the votes taken, the bills proposed and the decisions taken by the leaders of the nation.
P.T. Barnum would fit right in; so would Walt Disney! And so would all the playwrights of all the dramatic productions that have come to provide the cultural signature of the United Sates of America.
The only problem with these pictures is that the lives of real people are crimped, repressed, and possibly even ignored while those elected to look out for those very people are narcissistically addicted to their own acquisition of wealth, based on their brief stint "inside" the circles of power.
Little wonder that no one expects any kind of significant change to come from a 50th anniversary march of the original March on Washington, even if the current president stands on the same spot from which Dr. King delivered his famous speech to deliver his one commemorative address.
It will be critiqued as poetic, inspiring, literate, intellectual and hopeful.....and it will likely amount to little more than a mouse roaring, while behind the scenes, the subjection of the first black president to vitriol, to hate, to obstruction, and even to open talk of impeachment, and erasing the nation's first health care bill will continue.
And for this charade, the taxpayer pays billions....and wonders why s/he gets so little for his hard work and playing by the rules.

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