The Depths of the Depravity in “This Town”
This Town is a book written by Mark Leibovich and it is about Washington, D.C. and how it “works.” This town, that is, D.C. is essentially a town of “shameless racket of self-promoters,” which “imposes on its actors a reflex toward devious and opportunistic behavior, and also a tendency to care more about public relations than any other aspect of their professional lives – and maybe even personal lives.” [p. 362, 369] Some of the most astounding passages in This Town are the following, dealing with David Petraeus, one of the most honored members of what Leibovich calls “the Club.”
“David Petraeus was, at that moment, enduring something worse. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell broke the story that the decorated general would quit as head of the CIA over an affair with his ‘official biographer.’” Mitchell said: “’I don’t take any pleasure in this in the sense that it is really a personal tragedy. Having covered Gen. Petraeus myself here and overseas, I am absolutely convinced from all communications I have from people directly involved that this is a matter of honor.’” [p. 338]
As Leibovich puts it: “Figuratively speaking, Petraeus had been in bed with the press for years.” As a result, “he was portrayed as a fearless and scholarly hero, maybe even a future president…. Not surprisingly, ‘official biographer Paula Broadwell produced a gushy tome on the studly soldier, All In…. And Petraeus left many people in the Club deeply saddened and gravely concerned for the well-being of their four star friend. What an awful way for his decorated career to end.” [p. 339]
Nevertheless, in a short time, one week, both Petraeus and Broadwell were represented by professionals to deal with their disgrace. Petraeus had hired “super-lawyer Robert Bennett…for advice on post-governmental issues, and…. for planning this future.” Broadwell had hired other professionals who were “providing communications counsel.” [p. 339] Obviously, Petraeus and Broadwell saw their behavior as creating PR problems and just as obviously they were going to deal with them as such.
Because Petraeus and Broadwell were members of the Club, other members of the Club sympathized with their travails, with Andrea Mitchell labeling Petraeus and Broadwell’s affair a “tragedy.” And, in fact, it is important to recognize that from the perspective of the Club’s members, the affair was a tragedy or could have become one if Washington’s cover as a place of virtuous, well-meaning, and rather selfless behavior were to be blown. So it was important for Petraeus to resign as “a matter of honor” and for both Petraeus and Broadwell to genuflect by seeking out the advice of prominent members of the Club, in the form, of course, of “professional advice.” There are cover-ups in D.C. all the time, in response to particular events that are embarrassing. But the most important cover-up is one that remains hidden in plain sight, so to speak. And that is the cover-up of that Washington is a place of shameless self-promoters, who always put their interests ahead of the nation’s interests even though doing so imperils the nation’s well-being. And it seems to me that in that way, our politics resemble the politics of monarchical and aristocratic nations like Great Britain before the monarchy and the aristocracy became empty offices, mere titles without more. What Leibovich calls the Club should perhaps be called “the Court.” But whatever it is called, its reality needs to be recognized for what it is and what it isn’t. The picture isn’t pretty, to say the least, but it needs be exposed and examined. A lot depends on it.