Review of “This Town” by Mark Leibovich

This book purports to explain how Washington really works. In a sense it does – though only by omission.

The book is a chronicle of the most noticeable people in DC – the most “important” politicians, lobbyists, reporters, consultants, etc. From this viewpoint, you get great insight into what these people are doing. Unfortunately, you therefore get absolutely no insight into anything else.

For example, 10% of the book is devoted to Tim Russert’s funeral. This sort of event is extremely important to these people. A few pages are devoted to David Axelrod shaving his mustache. Also an incredibly important event, apparently. (By the way, Axelrod may be the only guy ever who looks like more of a perv without a mustache).

On the other hand, this book takes place during a time of momentous developments that go completely unmentioned. (The book basically covers the time Obama has been in office). A grand total of zero words are devoted to financial reform, Obamacare, or any other policy initiatives. One sentence would suggest that Tom Coburn really cares about the debt and another would suggest that Obama supported gay marriage from the start. Otherwise, it’s all parties, jostling for TV time, and other vapid stuff. As Leibovich notes,

There was little slog to it, as there is in so much of political office: the policy debates, the town meetings, the committee hearings, the constituent visits. Screw that. Press is immediate gratification. It’s where most politicians truly live, the realm of how others see and judge them, the hour-to-hour score sheet of their massively external definition.

In other words, in six years of chronicling the important events of the most notable and important people in Washington, zero words of the book are devoted to any processes that even remotely resemble a legislative, executive or judicial process.

You can come to Washington, achieve complete success and never actually have to govern anything, other than perhaps a campaign. Even when he discusses campaign, it quickly becomes about how people will be portrayed by HBO.

Through this massive omission, which – also tellingly – the author doesn’t even notice, you learn more about Washington than you do from anything that’s actually written in the book.

Leibovich’s thesis is that “This Town” is run by what he calls “The Club.” The Club consists of 500 or so of the most influential people from a collection of reporters, public figures, politicians, appointees, consultants and lobbyists. The group includes “formers,” i.e. former politicians that make lots of money “advising.” These people don’t perform any obvious function beyond self-perpetuating:

But their membership in The Club becomes paramount and defining. They become part of a system that rewards, more than anything, self-perpetuation.

In this case the initial focus on Tim Russert is instructive. He’s basically treated like a god by those in The Club, but what did Russert actually do? I have no idea – is being on TV and asking innate questions all that impressive? And the funeral itself makes Leibovich’s point that:

No matter how disappointed people are in their capital, even the most tuned-in consumers have no idea what the modern cinematic version [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that there is any other version] of This Town really looks like . . . It misses that the city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has democratized the political conversation while accentuating Washington’s insular, myopic, and self-loving tendencies.

Alternatively:

Political Washington is an inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club. Policy arguments can often devolve into the trivial slap fights of televised debate [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that they start anywhere else]: everyone playing a role, putting on a show, and then introducing a plot twist.

Leibovich does a very nice job demonstrating how insular and unchanging this class is. You can’t get rid of any of these people. Many haven’t held office in a decade and yet they hang around when Congress starts a new session.

Washington—like high school—used to be a transient culture. People would expect to graduate eventually or drop out. But almost no one leaves here anymore.

The book chronicles party after party and jostling for spots on TV, or whatever, but it’s probably at its best when Leibovich follows around some specific members of The Club, including: Bob Barnett, “the doorman to the revolving door”; Harry Reid; Tom Coburn, who initially seems the most outside of The Club, but apparently has a mushy-spot for his relationship to the President; Kurt Bardella; Richard Holbrooke; Tammy Haddad; Mike Allen; and Trent Lott.

An anecdote from his time with Lott is insightful:

[Lott’s] tone shifted when I mentioned that [Ted] Kennedy had kept a letter from Lott hanging in his Senate conference room. It was a thank-you note Lott had sent to Kennedy after Kennedy had purchased a painting for Lott on Cape Cod. “Really?” Lott said quietly. “Did Teddy really keep that hanging up? I had no idea.” There was a pause on the line, and it occurred to me that Lott was choking up.

There’s lots of stories like this. Club members are flattered that other members actually like them. It’s mutual flattery all the way down. There’s no other there there.

Once in The Club, you basically can’t get kicked out and it’s incredibly easy to monetize your status. For example, when General McChrystal “resigned” following a sexual scandal, some comments he made about the administration to an “embedded” reporter, he immediately started a political consultancy, got a book deal (courtesy of Barnett), ended up on the boards of a couple large corporations, taught a graduate seminar at Yale, and made $60,000 per speaking gig.

Leibovich has some interesting asides on the Obama administrations relationship with This Town. The administration fancies itself as more substantive than those in The Club. It wants to remain above it all.

On the other hand, everyone in The Club worships the administration (“comic levels” of sucking up, as Leibovich puts it) and Obama’s style seems to work really well for those in The Club (particularly the lobbyists the administration seems to disdain and then appoint to good jobs). It creates an odd and interesting dynamic that someone will eventually be able to explain. Leibovich at least identifies the potential story, even if he fails to follow-up very well.

Leibovich also criticizes the media’s role in The Club. Their membership in The Club creates constant conflicts of interest. Maintaining their status requires them to not actually conduct any . . . journalism. Any they can’t seem to get enough of glorifying themselves:

Perhaps more than anything, Watergate—and All the President’s Men—made journalists a celebrated class in This Town unlike in any other.

Near the end, Leibovich touches the third rail of examining The Club’s view of the electorate. In short, the view is characterized by disdain. As Leibovich puts it, the consensus is that “The basis of our democracy is Forrest Gump.”

Frankly, that seems about right to me. Perhaps it’s generous.

If you’re looking for an explanation of how the US is actually governed, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of this book. No one seems to have any beliefs or opinions of any kind, but they’d all be happy to develop which ever one you want if it’ll get them on the Meet the Press.

In that sense, the book begs a fascinating question: if the people that are supposedly running the country aren’t actually performing any of the functions of governing, who is?

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45 Responses to Review of “This Town” by Mark Leibovich

  1. Tarl says:

    when General McChrystal “resigned” following a sexual scandal, he immediately started a political consultancy, got a book deal (courtesy of Barnett), ended up on the boards of a couple large corporations, taught a graduate seminar at Yale, and made $60,000 per speaking gig.

    Petraeus resigned for a sex scandal. McC because he said bad things about Obama to a reporter.

    Leibovich touches the third rail of examining The Club’s view of the electorate. In short, the view is characterized by disdain. As Leibovich puts it, the consensus is that “The basis of our democracy is Forrest Gump.”

    Of course. And the political establishment will make sure Forrest’s political views never, never, never get represented in Washington. Eff you, proles, your job is to pay taxes and vote for the people we let you vote for, nothing else.

  2. RS says:

    Wars: pnac. Govt medical love ‘n care: cosmic mom avatars from the sky, age 28. Bailouts: grizzled suits with convincing frowns.

    Just speculating, sort of. But yeah, anyone a hair more earnest than those who are not earnest at all.

    How much does it matter?

    Do the 500 lighter-than-air overgrown ‘class presidents’ exert some kind of Versailles wu-wei at the heart of it all? –How much does that matter — how long?

    Carlos Castaneda was insightful in some his books (not the bleary middle-period books). Most stuff is just self-esteem theater . . . in late DC, late Rome . . . probably early Tulsa to no mean extent. He pondered that at least as long as any author, presumably drawing on Zen, Nietzsche, Chuang-tze — he was a lover not a citer.

    Some true evil might fetch up, or not, from posturing and posing, camera and mirror — in public, in private, all alone — but it’s certainly the most furious, fantastic drain of energy. Askesis is one well of anti-decadence, but another big one is to just stfu before oneself and to oneself about one’s alleged whatev.

    Not that I buy morbid self-abasement. I buy Chuang-tze’s or Lao-tze’s golden stfu to the extent that it fits into, probably already is in, my golden Hellas.

    Possibly lost on some people is that the artist in the Chuang-tze, who diligently exsanguinates his vanity and ambition prior to working, does so for essentially ambitious purposes. There’s ambition and then there’s ambition. He could have gone through all that same spiritual and psychological preparation and then not made art.

    • Kgaard says:

      What does any of this actually mean? I kept thinking it was making sense until I realized none of it did.

      • RS says:

        Just that people diligently fill up their minds with narratives assigning esteem and value to themselves and their circle, whether it be merited or not, and all unmerited, uncritical esteem is an enervating narcosis.

        I guess Trent Lott is considerably oriented toward having the esteem of others. Castaneda always used the term ‘self-importance’, which must reflect his more introverted nature (and mine). Obama sounds like he is the introverted or self-involved spirit in this picture.

        As indisciplined, indulgent narratives can fill up most of an individual’s mind, so too they can probably occupy the whole collective consciousness of a class of people. So if DC has a glamor class that exists under the thin cover of some purpose other than pure glamor, no surprise — and if they seem kind of empty-headed, empty-hearted, a bit like the French aristoi after Louis herded them all to Versailles to be cordoned off and enervated, no surprise. Except there’s no Louis in DC. So maybe there isn’t really anything at all in DC that resists inertia, exerts acceleration — but just engineers that keep things running and do the expected consensus thing — occasionally finishing up minor novelties like (explicit) state medicine, that have been expected for decades now. Meanwhile inertial, partly emergent/mindless celestial processes like PC and our low-grade fiscal-monetary-financial psychosis continue to grind away in a bad, bad way.

        If a politician, broadly defined, wanted to actually change American life, he would have to gain some substance and depth by resisting these various modes of vanity (mutual admiration and Castaneda’s self-importance). He might even have to seek out, or just find, some heavy difficult experiences (askesis). But conditions now seem unfavorable for this. Even a regrettable person like FDR probably had substance (I don’t know him well). Obviously Hitler had it. Lincoln, Napoleon, Bismarck — Parnell, Churchill: they had leadership. I don’t know just how principled or unprincipled she was, but Benazir Bhutto seemed to have some gravitas as far as I know. Ron Paul kind of had some, and obviously I would say Pat Buchanan didn’t get his ideas from focus groups or electioneers or a mutual admiration society. While these are all individuals, it’s probably better to have a small class of high-aristoi, an oligarchy.

        Is leadership even a good thing? One might ask that ; I think postmoderns have asked it with great suspicion. It sure cuts more than one way, but I think I’m a statist (though possibly a federalist-multizionist one). I suspect that without it things just drift, and not in a way that’s good or even just safe — many average people appear to feel as though it is safe — so accordingly I think leadership is good and needful on average and on balance. Anyway, we don’t have it now. People don’t care about Obama or whoever: their attachment to such leadership has a negative logical structure, deriving almost solely from their abhorrence of Bush and the rethuglicans. And so it is for Romney of course. People seem to have been interested positively in Reagan, but in a bit of a cheesy way, or so it seems to me looking at it historically (I was a little kid so I didn’t witness it). I suppose the only positive political feeling I have ever witnessed was that after 9/11. It mainly empowered Cheney, Rove, Wolfowitz — who do seem to exhibit a moderate heft, but not in a good way — so no wonder everyone is now even more soured on the leadership of persons of substance. (Bush appeared hefty at least to the extent of possessing marked doggedness, but I suspect this was psychologically sustained by the others and that he is in reality a person of average suggestibility.)

        IMO that’s too bad on the larger picture — the picture that matters — because if we just go with inertia, things will probably get worse, as they have for all my adult life. In a frontier society that might not hold true ; this is not a frontier society.

  3. James says:

    Great summary.

    Something I’m not sure I understand is the efficacy of “lobbying”. Officially, I guess the idea is that politicians and bureaucrats are starved of the information necessary for them to do their jobs, and lobbyists compete to supply unique, distributed information. In return, public policy can be somewhat biased in the lobbyist’s favour.

    Unofficially, is that also how it works? And what kind of limits exist on the type of lobbying that takes place?

    • Tarl says:

      Nah, lobbying is not about providing information (unless it is of the “vote for this because it means X jobs in your district” variety).

      Mainly it is about promising money and votes.

    • Foseti says:

      “Officially, I guess the idea is that politicians and bureaucrats are starved of the information necessary for them to do their jobs, and lobbyists compete to supply unique, distributed information. In return, public policy can be somewhat biased in the lobbyist’s favour.”

      That’s the sort of lobbying I get.

      Elected officials seem to get more aggressive (and lucrative) stuff. For example, I know of several sections of actual legislation that we drafted by “lobbyists.” That goes a bit beyond supplying information.

      • Handle says:

        And it gets more complicated too when government agencies themselves have to ‘lobby’ or (more frequently in my case) counter the lobbying of other governmental units or private actors which leads an uninformed Congressman to be conned into sponsoring various disasters.

        What makes it especially … interesting … is when two organizations that, ostensibly, both work for the President and could, theoretically, appeal to him to resolve their dispute, instead seek to avoid the boss (sometimes at the behest of the boss) and get a congressman to move the ball in their direction.

        Lest you think this is a “run around the system”, it isn’t; it’s a built-in function. Everybody’s got an Office of Legislative Affairs these days. Half of what mine does is pursue the legislative agenda, and the other half is pouncing like a tiger on anyone else’s efforts to tread on our turf or steal our resources.

        If you go to Govtrack.us you can see their ‘prognosis’ on a lot of billls and when they’re really low is usually when the affected agency has let it be know that Rep. X’s bill needs to die on the vine before it even gets voted upon. There’s a particular bill that was lobbied hard for by many State governments and had a good deal of support when it was announced in April. My OLA found out about and began to work their magic. It’s since been frozen. Prognosis, “4% chance of getting past committee. 1% chance of being enacted.” Actually, I think that’s too generous.

  4. VXXC says:

    It runs on inertia. Such a huge inheritance takes quite a long time to squander. No, it’s not you.

    And apparently a positive balance of smug, which is dripping from Reaction’s envious fangs. Remember however these are your masters, not Forrests. He’d quit. Forrest being a decent fellow.

    They’re not actually Forrest Gump. They simply seek to be decent people and avoid such creatures. Which is what decent people do..

  5. VXXC says:

    DC poisons the soul worse than organized crime. Really.

    Leave. Do something that doesn’t fill you with contempt for all men.

    Gump is what’s elected because very, very carefully character is weeded out. If somehow it makes it past the media gauntlet it’s suborned in town.

    How many Tea Party Repubs at the “parhtees”? None? right?

    They’re sitting grumpily on their voters instructions. Or Gumpily.

    Sooner or later the lights come on in the Club. Leave.

  6. spandrell says:

    Well monarchists and aristocratists should read this and see what it all means.

    Once you earn power, why would you bother with actually running the country? Just hire some guys, get paid and party. That’s what all ruling classes have always done. And that’s why power always ends up in a bureaucracy that doesn’t care or understand what the polity really needs.

    If there’s a way out of this besides revolution or a coup I’d like to hear it.

    • Handle says:

      Any evidence that it’s ‘revolution’? Luttwak’s “Coup d’Etat” is awesome reading, and the junta of 67-74 seemed to be one Greece’s better periods of modern governance. Some instances of British Colonialism (I’m thinking Lord Cromer in Egypt) are essentially Coups From Without.

      In my experience, there is indeed a class of folks at the higher, non-politically-appointed level of management in the military, corporate world, and government (Senior Executives, Full Colonels and above, Chief Officers, etc.) who do indeed form a decent ruling class. Or certainly could, if they were coordinated towards rational objectives free of delusional progressive ideology and democratic dynamics. Often times they do a good job despite these dynamics, and the modern structure exists mostly to insulate effectiveness from unpopularity.

      They have intelligence and competence, a ridiculous work ethic, none of Moynihan’s social pathologies, and do their work for merely upper-middle-class compensation, perks, and lifestyles (the Mercedes-BMW-Lexus tier, but not beyond). They’re not partying and they’re invisible at the celebrity-press level. They are mostly very politically savvy people, but that’s what you’d expect. Their character is decent, and you’d be happy to have such people working under you.

      It is these people who do most of the ruling and governing and management of operations. They also write most of the rules. They wield a great degree of power, but the problem is the set of ends to which that power is put. If you could actually harness these fine horses to your neoreactionary wagon of sanity and lead them, you’d easily win your chariot race.

      It just so happens that instead of placing a CEO or a General or a National Director (with incentives aligned to the national interest) over all of them, we pretend that The Club, and the absurd processes by which they maintain popularity (with each other as much as with the public) and formal power, ought to hold the reigns.

      Sometimes I think that not even The Club believes in The Club – they only believe in the importance of other people believing in The Club. I think it was Marx who made a similar observation about the Germans.

      • VXXC says:

        At last a plan. May we call it “Chariot”?.

        You’re right as far as it goes.

        The problem is “getting into harness” shall we say. Now if this were a Windows OS – which would be a marked improvement – you’d not keep screwing around with the registry and REBOOT.

        The other problem and hence chief object at times of vilification is THE PEOPLE and the Cult of Democracy…which of course the smarter ones have now realized is a scam.

        The solution to the problem of Democracy having actually been solved along Constitutional Lines in the 19th century, a restoration would seem to be the most likely and least costly path, it also gets one round that greasy/sticky problem of the OATH.

        But that’s the most positive post in months Sir Handle, so thank you.

      • spandrell says:

        if they were coordinated towards rational objectives free of delusional progressive ideology and democratic dynamics.

        That’s a huge, humongous, overbearing “if”.

        And the problem is still that if you kill the Club, and put new people on top, after a couple generations they will form another club, start partying hard, and hire some nerds with a ridiculous work ethic to run the country for them.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        And the problem is still that if you kill the Club, and put new people on top, after a couple generations they will form another club, start partying hard, and hire some nerds with a ridiculous work ethic to run the country for them.

        Thus it is a stable, although cyclic, system. Until some external stimulus pushes it to another point of stability or destroys it.

  7. asdf says:

    The Head Girl Syndrome – the opposite of creative genius

    *

    The ideal Head Girl is an all-rounder: performs extremely well in all school subjects and has a very high Grade Point Average. She is excellent at sports, Captaining all the major teams. She is also pretty, popular, sociable and well-behaved.

    The Head Girl will probably be a big success in life, in whatever terms being a big success happens to be framed (she will gravitate towards such aspects of life) – so she might in some times and places make a Good Marriage and do a great job of raising a family; in another time and place she might go to a top-notch college and get a top-notch job – and pursue a glamorous and infertile lifestyle of ‘serial monogamy’; with desirable mates.

    But the Head Girl is not, cannot be, a creative genius.

    *

    Modern society is run by Head Girls, of both sexes, hence there is no place for the creative genius.

    Modern Colleges aim at recruiting Head Girls, so do universities, so does science, so do the arts, so does the mass media, so does the legal profession, so does medicine, so does the military…

    And in doing so, they filter-out and exclude creative genius.

    *

    The genius is pretty much everything the Head Girl is not. He is lop-sided in his abilities – truly excellent at some things or maybe just one thing, he is either hopeless or bored by many others. He won’t work hard for long periods at things he does not want to do. He will not gravitate to the prestige areas of life, or cannot or will not do the networking necessary to get-on.

    *

    The Head Girl can never be a creative genius because she does what other people want by the standards they most value. She will worker harder and at a higher standard in doing whatever it is that social pressure tells her to do – and she will do this by whatever social standards prevail, only more thoroughly.

    Meanwhile the creative genius will do what he does because he must.

    *

    The Head Girl will not ever want to alienate potentially powerful allies.

    Meanwhile the creative genius is indifferent or hostile to the opinions of others so long as he knows he is right.

    *

    The Head Girl is great to have around, everybody thinks she is wonderful.

    Meanwhile the creative genius is at best a person who divides opinion, strongly, in both directions – at worst often a signed-up member of the awkward squad.

    *

    The more selective the social system, the more it will tend to privilege the Head Girl and eliminate the creative genius.

    Committees, peer review processes, voting – anything which requires interpersonal agreement and consensus – will favour the Head Girl and exclude the creative genius.

    (Not least because committees are staffed by Head Girls, of both sexes, who naturally favour their own kind.)

    *

    We live in a Head Girl’s world – which is also a world where creative genius is marginalized and disempowered to the point of near-complete invisibility.

  8. Bill says:

    I think there is one detail missing. The Club ignores policy in roughly the way I ignore the fuel injectors in my car’s engine. I ignore them unless they force me to pay attention by failing to work. Then I hand them to a mechanic to fix. Only if a couple of mechanics fail and I can’t just buy another car do I deign to actually learn anything about fuel injectors. And if I have to learn, I am pissed.

    When the bureaucracy wanders outside the bounds of roughly what it is supposed to be doing, the Club may very well pay a brief, unpleasant bit of attention to them. The OLA and the upper officials in an agency don’t just spend their time lobbying — they also spend time taking in the boundaries of their playgrounds.

    Once upon a time, the FTC did an investigation of the whole life insurance industry. They found what every sensible person knows to be true: that whole life is a ripoff, always. Soon thereafter, it became illegal for the FTC to investigate the insurance industry.

    The FTC exists, allegedly, to stop conspiracies to restrain trade which keep prices high. The Multiple Listing Service looks an awful lot like a conspiracy in restraint of trade which keeps real estate commissions absurdly high. OTOH, the real estate industry has lotsa lotsa clout on the Hill.

  9. Jim says:

    Who is running things? – The deep state?

    • spandrell says:

      The fat bitches at the post office.

      • Handle says:

        Give new meaning to ‘the power behind the power’ – if you know what I mean (and if you’ve ever followed one in a line, you do). Ah, but who runs all the fat bitches? The Queen fat bitch? Oprah?

      • spandrell says:

        Not all countries have an Oprah, yet they all have (fat) bitches in the post office.

      • Handle says:

        Sounds like an arbitrage opportunity to me. If a country’s fat postal bitches don’t have their Oprah, you can probably make a lot of money by giving them one.

  10. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    I am disappointed that you didn’t warn us that DC is full of vibrant vagrants. Perhaps you did but I didn’t see the warning.

    The segregation in DC was very clear to me. Blacks in mostly low-level and menial positions, albeit some with power, and non-blacks in positions requiring thinking skills.

    • Tarl says:

      That used to be the case. Now we are moving towards a system in which being black, or a woman, or gay, or whatever, is more important than the ability to do the job.

      • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

        Ahhh. The end is near.

      • VXXC says:

        The near end is accelerating. Notice Huma tried to duplicate Hillary and it’s so…sooo…over already? Of course she was starting from way behind Hillary’s deficits. Bill’s member wasn’t to become an issue for 6 more years. AND YET she continued to get traction.

        The near is acccelerating, and sensing their doom their madness accelerates with it.

  11. asdf says:

    Hey DC meetup folks.

    Feel free to post your “What’s making me happy” suggestions here and I will collect them all into a blog post.

    1) It’s name
    2) Brief description
    3) How one can find/obtain it

    Example for myself:

    1) Hardcore History Podcast by Dan Carlin

    2) A podcast focusing on history usually in a political or military sense. Fantastic are getting direct quotes from source material and making you feel like you are there.

    Best collections are “Wrath of the Khans” (about Mongols), Fall of the Republic (detailing the events leading up to the fall of the Roman republic, goes way back to Marius and before), Ghosts of the Ostfront (the eastern front in WWII).

    He also does some one offs called Blitz Editions that are good. One is “History Under the Influence” about the effects of drug use on historical events and another called “Wither the Children” about how children were raised throughout history and the effect it could have had.

    3) You can get the latest 50% or so (there are 49 episodes) for free on iTunes podcast section. The older episodes are available in the Spoken Word section as albums for $3 a pop.

    You can also get them on his website:
    http://www.dancarlin.com

  12. RS says:

    Despite my not-too-concealable lack of social refinement, I actually — by way of having a mutual friend who was a lot like me and yet not — spent several hours in intimate conversation with my class prez, the lord high alpha of school. He wasn’t ‘vapid’ or something in any way ; he was totally impressive. So were two other way-‘popular’ dudes I once spent the afternoon with spontaneously, c/o the social graces of my gf. I don’t think any of them are public potentates or politicos today (even rather broadly speaking) but they probably could be — surely at least the prez could.

    This was at an elite high school and all three had some big braincases. I could take care of them though in a dust-up, so to speak.

    Years later I worked for a couple high alphas who were big men on campus — non-cog-elite versions of the other three people, though for sure noticeably smart. Same thing, they were totally impressive men. I don’t see them as trapped in vanity or insincerity or something like that at all.

    Five different guys is a halfway-meaningful sample, sort of.

    In fact they aren’t trapped or mired in much of anything — still, I don’t know how any of them would do as big, ranging intellects. Probably not too satisfactory to my mind. I think they would get ‘tangled’ somehow if they tried that. They are totally well-suited by nature to take a very leading role in any societies before something like 1850. They would be fitted out perfectly for it, mostly by instinct. But the world today is just beyond byzantine and beyond unstraightforward. I doubt whether you can model it very well without extreme ratiocination and intellectual curiosity. While there’s a lot more to leadership than modelling, you are going to need a model.

    It’s actually a fellow polymathic brain-head and head trip on wheels I knew, socially just a bit halting — in brief someone very like me — who seemed to get a little wacked out on vanity when he, toward the end of our days together, became a bit prominent.

    I can think of at least one class prez type from high school who did strike me as not so sincere or solid, a little cheesy. But the truth is I never encountered him or even knew anything about him to speak of.

  13. fnn says:

    Diana West savages FDR, Truman, Ike:

    http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/DianaWe

  14. Retired Guy says:

    Great book review and love the comments. I left DC after 35 years.
    Derbyshire tells us what the future looks like with affirmative action at work…
    (11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

    (12) There is a magnifying effect here, too, caused by affirmative action. In a pure meritocracy there would be very low proportions of blacks in cognitively demanding jobs. Because of affirmative action, the proportions are higher. In government work, they are very high. Thus, in those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent than the white. In such encounters, therefore—for example, at a government office—you will, on average, be dealt with more competently by a white than by a black. If that hostility-based magnifying effect (paragraph 8) is also in play, you will be dealt with more politely, too. “The DMV lady“ is a statistical truth, not a myth.

    (13) In that pool of forty million, there are nonetheless many intelligent and well-socialized blacks. (I’ll use IWSB as an ad hoc abbreviation.) You should consciously seek opportunities to make friends with IWSBs. In addition to the ordinary pleasures of friendship, you will gain an amulet against potentially career-destroying accusations of prejudice.

  15. […] extroverted sociopaths tend to gain power. Scale that up onto society at large and you get a club of vapid shallow extrovert sociopaths who have stumbled into power and simply use it influence their friends and screw with their foes. […]

  16. […] love, and loathe. The reality of democratic politics confirms Spandrell’s insight. Read any D.C. insider memoir. Petty social networking runs America. Justice? Founding fathers? Republican ideals? […]

  17. […] bureaucrats, scared elites desperately out holying each other, cliques operating on a Dunbar style monkey basis, lesser elites setting off holy spirals which become social revolutions; all engaging in the […]

  18. “And then he ate my pussy, Cupcake. He devoured me.” Melody shuddered. “Oh, god, it was so many sensations. They were all mixing and swirling. It made masturbation pale. He was so wonderful. My sexy man was eating me out, pleasing me, loving me. His eyes stared up at me and I knew. I knew, Alicia, that he loved me.”

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