Diana Sheets: Is “Our Town Really Their Town”?

Dec 10, 2013 by

Michael F . Shaughnessy –

1) Diana, tell us about your essay about “This Town” . . . . I think it is entitled: “Leibovich’s This Town: The Tittle-Tattle Flibbertigibbet Musing of a Fashionisto Political Reporter in the Washington Beltway”.

The short version is my opinion essay published in “The Huffington Post” that assesses Mark Leibovich’s “This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—plus plenty of valet parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital”, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-diana-e-sheets/leibovichs-this-town-the-_b_4178997.html.   The long-form version of my essay, published on Literary Gulag, examines in detail why the book and its analysis of politics is tragically flawed, http://www.literarygulag.com/blog/show/83.  The perspective of “This Town” mimics the TV show “The West Wing”.  That is, reality has become a simulacrum of the Hollywood entertainment we watch.  When does a Washington beat reporter sink to gossip and innuendo? Answer: When he wants his book to be a best seller and, hopefully, be optioned for the movies.  Substance has given way to distraction and amusement.  Leibovich jettisons journalistic standards and replaces them with high-gloss celebrity-biz entertainment.  To camouflage this deception he gives his narrative a sheen of moral righteousness—passing judgment on politicians who become beltway consultants—so as to give the appearance of journalistic impartiality even as he is forced to acknowledge that his personal story has become embedded in the very “news” he’s covering.  Therefore, he’s ipso facto incapable of impartial and rigorous judgment.

“This Town” may be fun to read, but it marks a new low in how “smart” political reporters frame national politics.  Some of the questions your readers should consider when reading “This Town” are the following: What are the implications for a society in which its journalists divest themselves of substance?  How does our civilization devolve when its citizens no longer understand their history and its significance?  By what means do we hold our leaders accountable? Why has breaking news been reduced to beltway gossip, and why are politicians treated as if they’re celebrities?

2) For the past few years, it seems the media has been bending over backwards to portray Obama in a favorable light. How do you account for what I am going to call BIAS?

In the aftermath of the Civil Rights era, Democrats have been looking for an African-American savior that would bring social justice to America and make liberal/progressive Americans feel good about themselves.  It’s a way of demonstrating to fellow Americans, if not the world, their sanctimony: “I believe in social justice.  I am not a racist”.  The subtext is “I’m a good person”.  According to this worldview, failing to support Obama’s policies is tantamount to being evil, namely, those who oppose Obama’s initiatives are bigots and bullies.  To do so conveys the stench of power held by privileged white America.  To question Obama’s credentials, his motives, his track record, his ability to lead America through this economic crisis to an era of new prosperity is seen as un-American.  What does this suggest?  The answer, painfully, is that Obama has been anointed our “Messiah”.  His election was supposed to part the political waters, end world strife, revive the economy, relieve hunger and social inequities, as well as allow the luminosity of virtue to shine down upon his magical kingdom.

But what has actually happened?  The economy has stalled and debt has risen dramatically.  Meanwhile Obama’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act—the health care many Americans tend to refer to as “Obamacare”—is threatening to topple due to bureaucratic incompetence and mismanagement.  Meanwhile, Americans are discovering every day the depths of deception to which this administration is prepared to resort in order to implement Obamacare.

Put differently, how can a man who never managed any business be expected to bring about a transition of our medical care system estimated to account for one-sixth of our economy?  If you embrace ameliorative social justice—a redistribution of resources from the privileged to the disadvantaged—you may forgive Obama his failings, except when you lose your job or your medical coverage or the economy collapses under the weight of its fiscal debt.  Then, painful reality becomes clear.  Or maybe not.  Maybe then you’ll still blame Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush while failing to acknowledge the fact that the world order has changed, and the means of sustaining the welfare society, which is built upon the engine of economic success, has collapsed.

Obama made that fateful promise: “If you like your private health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period”.  How, then, will Obama be held accountable for the potential loss of medical coverage by an estimated 52 million Americans?  That’s the number of Americans that reporters Kevin G. Hall and Anita Kumar, in an article published in McClatchy DC on November 7, 2013, estimate are at risk of losing their health care, http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/11/07/207909/analysis-tens-of-millions-could.html.

Avik Roy, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who writes for “Forbes”, makes an even bolder assessment.  He suggests that as many as 93 million Americans could be impacted in 2014 based on  the estimates of governmental experts, as well as figures obtained from the Congressional Budget Office.  Potentially 75 percent of Americans receiving individual coverage could be dropped, as well as 66 percent of individuals who have policies offered by small employers, and even conceivably 45 percent of workers with plans provided by large companies, http://www.forbes.com/sites/theapothecary/2013/10/31/obama-officials-in-2010-93-million-americans-will-be-unable-to-keep-their-health-plans-under-obamacare/.

Under the weight of these seismic changes, our health care would coalesce into a single-payer system.  Quality care would devolve to palliative care.  Just as we’ve lost our technological and manufacturing capabilities, our medical care would become part of the service economy, offering basic health care for large numbers of people, but the ability to foster state-of-the-art, research-oriented, and highly technological  medical care would disappear.  In other words, the medical and technological marvel of best practices would cease to be.  Statistically more people will survive but developing complicated, highly technological treatments for diseases that are difficult to diagnose and treat would be greatly compromised.  Just as America  is threatening to lose its strategic advantages in pharmaceutical, military, aerospace, electronic, computer, software, and Internet-related innovations, our path-breaking medical care would be in jeopardy.  Leading-edge care would give way as our hospitals and clinics struggled to meet the day-to-day needs of most Americans.  Certainly, that might be advantageous to millions of Americans who have no resources and who become sick, but in terms of furthering the advancement of medicine, the outcome would be nothing short of catastrophic.

Even if we discount Roy’s estimates as excessive, the question remains: If any Republican president so misrepresented the health care legislation and the extent to which coverage would be dropped in order to drive public-sector health care, would he or she be subject to impeachment?  Bill Clinton had an affair—a liaison in the White House with a member of his staff—that reflected badly on the presidency, but had only questionable bearing on governance and its impact on Americans.  Barack Obama, on the other hand,  is either grossly incompetent or willfully engaging in some of the most deceitful practices of government since Nixon and the Watergate Scandal (1972-74).  Why?  Because honesty and transparency would not have ensured the passage of the Affordable Care Act.  Hard working Americans with good medical coverage would not willingly forgo their first world health care in order to have second world health care even if that ensured coverage for millions of struggling Americans.  Everyone wants to be generous, but no one is willing to sacrifice his or her health or that of his or her family in order to care for those in need.

The actions of the Obama administration will impact millions of Americans.  At every turn the Obama administration seeks to circumvent the legislative process via executive fiat so as to ensure implementation the Affordable Care Act.  Would any Republican president who attempted to do the same be spared the criticism and censure that Obama has largely escaped?

Yes, there is BIAS.  Obama must be made accountable for his lies and deceptions.  Obamacare must be shuttered.  Start over.  Do it right.  Fix it.  Throw those responsible for this charade we refer to as the Affordable Care Act out of office.  Let them fall upon their duplicitous sword of transparency.  In the Liberal world, you are never held accountable for your actions.  Other people pay the price.  It’s time that the Democrats were held responsible.  Let them feel a measure of the pain they have inflicted upon millions of Americans.

3)  What is really driving politics today? Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi?

Here’s where we part company.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is the driving force in congressional politics today.  Nancy Pelosi certainly helped Obama pass the Affordable Care Act through her marshaling of support from the House of Representatives when it was Democratically controlled.  But it’s no accident that Leibovich featured no prolife of Pelosi in “This Town”.  She has no substance.  She’s not one of the “go-to” political players of Washington.  It’s embarrassing to hear her speak because there’s no “there there”.  She is to Republicans what Sarah Palin is to Democrats: an empty vessel saturated with political conviction.

4) Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi remind me of a fictitious ailment entitled mono-bio psychosis, Two bodies—but one mind—Is this possible?

A wonderful concept.  But no one would ever accuse those two of sharing one mind.  Their psyches come from different hemispheres.  Nancy Pelosi comes from privilege and derives her support from her San Francisco constituency.  Harry Reid came from nothing.  He’s a hardscrabble fighter, a loner, but one that knows how to marshal his Democratic Senators.  There’s a reason why Leibovich devoted  time and energy to developing a profile of Reid in “This Town”.  Not only is he colorful in his sour, dour way, Reid knows how to wield power.  He was the congressional force behind the Obama agenda.

5) A lot of people, particularly in New Jersey just say “forget about it”—meaning the people in Washington are going to do what they want to do and the public be damned. Your thoughts or are you going to tell me to “forget about it”.

As a former New Yorker, you know better.  The proper pronunciation is “Fugeddaboudit!”—and I know because I’ve lived in New Jersey for twenty-two years.  Think Tony Soprano. . . . All the syllables run together and the word—remember it is said and thought of as a single word that then becomes its own sentence—is delivered with great oomph.

Jerseyians may be right, but that doesn’t mean we can or should allow it.  The ability to govern on behalf of citizens is essential to a functional Democracy.  We must fight to preserve that right.

6) Benghazi—brings to mind, simple images of dead people—four Americans dead. Is there any care left in Washington or has this all been a brazen cover up?

Benghazi, by my way of thinking, is very simple.  Obama had a re-election to win.  His team of political operatives determined that military intervention in Libya was too risky.  Failure would cost him the 2012 election.  In my crystal ball—which puts me at odds with most conservatives—Hillary Clinton wanted to intervene to rescue Ambassador Christopher Stevens and was prevented from doing so in her capacity as Secretary of State by Obama and his political operatives.  That’s why she has been so carefully shielded from blame.  If she goes down, Obama’s dirty secrets become exposed.  That’s the quid pro quo.

Politics is an ugly game.  Rarely are the dirty secrets fully exposed to the light of day.  Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is doing a great job overseeing the Benghazi hearings.  But the liberal bias of the press will ensure that the hearings yield little political capital for the Republicans.  Far better, for that reason, to focus on defeating the Affordable Care Act.  It’s failure—should it come to that—will ensure that Obama’s legacy turns to dust.  But in order to succeed, Republicans, independents, and fair-minded Democrats must come up with a workable health-care alternative.  Scuttle Obamacare and give us something that will ensure our well-being as Americans and our prosperity for generations to come.

One of the great ideas that Mitt Romney had as Governor was that health care should never be free.  No matter what your income, you must contribute something to your medical care.  It’s a way of instilling value.  If you want something you must pay for it.  Nothing intrinsically important is free.

7) Some recent book about Obama seems to indicate that he takes some perverse delight in killing people via drones. Is this business as usual in the Washington Beltway?

Until recently Obama pragmatically used drones to kill terrorists.  The Liberal press averted its gaze for most of his first term.  Would they have been so fair-minded and farsighted if the drone program had been deployed on that scale by President George W. Bush?  Highly doubtful.

Now, of course, the use of drones and NSA’s employment of communication surveillance are under attack.  These are essential “tools” in our defense arsenal.  The strategic intelligence we obtain from them is necessary to the preservation of democracy.  I’m afraid we won’t realize this until it’s too late.  Democratic freedoms are fragile.  They are under assault throughout the world.  But if you view every act of vigilance as superpower aggression, then you can’t take the necessary actions to preserve democracy.  When we’re occupied—economically or militarily or both—we’ll confront these consequences.  It’s hard to imagine that America will have the fortitude to resist tyranny as it did in World War II.  I define decadence as a society that is unwilling to fight for its principles.  We are that decadent culture.  And we will pay for our decrepitude.

8) Lobbyists and journalists. What do they have in common?

The flimsy substance behind “This Town” is that the former distinctions between influence-peddling lobbyists and politicians are disappearing.  But, of course, Leibovich minimizes the extent to which journalists are embedded into the very firmament of Washington’s politics.  They’re no longer impartial observers whose job is to investigate truth and expose corruption.   They’re up to their eyeballs in Washington cronyism.  Their livelihood depends upon it.  The stories they write are colored by it.  They enrich themselves professionally and financially by allowing themselves to be coopted in This Town.  They’re part of the corruption.  No wonder that Leibovich became a central character in his sordid little tale.  He’s one of them.   Chuckle as you read his book.  But Leibovich is no outsider: he’s in the thick of things.  That’s the nature of Washington “Dems” and their embedded journalists today.  Trust me, anyone with conservative stripes couldn’t help but speculate that Candy Crowley, CNN’s Chief Political Correspondent and moderator for the second debate between Obama and Romney, was effectively coached by the Obama team to deliver that debate—and by implication the election—to Obama.  Her moderation was anything but impartial, the very essence of Liberal media BIAS, as The Washington Times correctly noted, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/oct/17/curl-crowley-skews-hard-obama-disastrous-debate/?page=all.  I will acknowledge that Obama had the persona Americans sought.  However, Romney had the leadership and know-how to move this country forward. Obama won.  Now we’re paying the price.

9 ) I think I had lunch in Washington at one point, but who lunches there nowadays and what do they talk about?

Leibovich borrows from Julia Phillips’s Hollywood dirt-dishing memoir “You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town” (1992).  But if Phillips had trouble lunching after her memoir was published, the point Leibovich makes is that in Washington, if you’re somebody, you’ll “always have lunch in This Town again”, and, as I noted in my Literary Gulag essay, “no doubt, at taxpayer’s expense”, http://www.literarygulag.com/blog/show/83.

There’s a cast of characters parading through This Town: lobbyists, political flaks, politicians, and journalists.  There’s former Democratic lobbyist Jack Quinn and his partner Republican Ed Gillespie, both of whom worked for President Clinton before making their mega-fortunes as beltway lobbyists.  There’s the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was sent to jail. There’s Senator Chris Dodd who negotiated for himself a special mortgage from Countrywide before granting that bank special favors. He may no longer be a Senator, but he’s still in Washington lobbying for the Motion Picture Association of America.  Leibovich devotes a disproportionate amount of space to Tim Russert, who moderated “Meet the Press”.  By my way of thinking,  Russert (at best) comes across as a hard-hitting celebrity journalist.  Richard Holbrooke, on the other hand, though he may have been flawed and ultimately failed to broker a peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan, nevertheless, for me harkens back to the glory days of American diplomacy when Averell Harriman (1891-1986) and George Kennan (1904-2005) helped shape America’s influence abroad, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-diana-e-sheets/leibovichs-this-town-the-_b_4178997.html.

10 ) The latest forever stamp is supposedly a caricature of a train wreck. Is this what is happening in Washington?

Yes, your readers might want to check out these spoofs on the latest forever stamps as “Obamacare 2013 train wreck”, http://plancksconstant.org/blog1/2013/11/the_obamacare_trainwreck_forever_stamp.html .

The important thing from my perspective is that when a society reaches its tipping point, the descent gains momentum and becomes irreversible.  We’re at that tipping point.  Let’s hope we’re not hurtling down the ravine.

11) Now, what have I neglected to ask, and tell us about your latest book!

On my website, I invite your readers to check out my two novels, “The Cusp of Dreams”—think of it as “Death of a Salesman” for the modern age—and “American Suite”—a comedy about the culture war in America masquerading as chic lit,  http://www.literarygulag.com/.

And while you’re there, take a look at my two “read only” essays “The Great Books and Cultural Identity: The Rise and Fall of Western Memory and Its Implications for Our Time” in the edited collection “Reading in 2010: A Comprehensive Review of a Changing Field” and “Reading and Thinking Critically in the Age of Disputation” published in the edited collection “Critical Thinking and Higher Order Thinking: A Current Perspective”.

The novels are black comedies about a civilization in distress.  The essays discuss why this is the case, namely, why reading is a dying art, and why it’s become so difficult to think critically.

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