Just Another Night in This Town

At the book party for Mark Leibovich, the irony threatens to engulf the ironist.
Tim Serge/Flickr; The Atlantic

"Can you fucking believe this?" Mark Leibovich says with a smirk when I finally get through the crowd to him. He is referring to the party that has been convened in his honor at a cavernous mansion in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Leibovich's mildly hostile send-up of D.C.'s incestuous ways, This Town, came out last week, an arrival that slightly upset the kibitzers of the capital, much the way a fresh zebra corpse might slightly upset the vulture habitat.

The author, whose book it is possible to see as an extended exercise in Jewish guilt, agonized over his book party. How do you throw a party for a book about the ridiculousness of Washington parties? Whom do you invite? What kind of canapes do you serve? The layers of irony threatened to engulf the master ironist, seen here in a black V-neck tee and casual blazer.

In the event, the party was co-hosted by seven of Leibovich's closest Washington friends, two of whom are big shots at the New York Times, like him, and three of whom, I should disclose, are affiliated with The Atlantic (one of them being editor in chief James Bennet). If a bomb went off in here, the New York Times Washington bureau would pretty much cease to exist; I am not one of the people who thinks that would be good for America. The hors d'oeuvres are on a table in the back, not passed around by waiters, and are far below the standard of the swanky Washington parties described in the book. One platter holds what appear to be meatballs skewered with cinnamon sticks.

Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator, is here. She tells me she is in town to meet with Emily's List, but declines to say whether that means she's going to run for governor of Texas.

Carl Hulse, the jolly, mop-haired Washington editor of the Times, is roaming around with a yellow plastic maraca. Why does Carl Hulse have a maraca?

"Do you know someone named Kurt?" my husband asks. My husband, a youthful-looking Japanese-American who does not work in politics, has twice been mistaken for Kurt Bardella, the Korean-American congressional staffer who plays a major role in This Town. The hosts solved the invitation dilemma by inviting everybody, but I do not see Kurt here. I also do not see Bob (Barnett) or Mikey (Allen) or Tammy (Haddad), some of the book's other dubious characters. Washington values being a good sport about things, but Kurt and Bob and Mikey and Tammy are maybe still a little sore. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, comes off in the book as an antidote to all the phoniness, endearingly crusty and weird. He is not here, but I hear he has read the book and wants to meet Bardella.

I strike up a conversation with a doctor who is here with another journalist. A civilian! What do they think of us? He has not read This Town, but he read the excerpt (about Kurt Bardella) in the Times Magazine, and he did not find it infuriating or repulsive or sad; he found it funny. This is perhaps the scariest prospect to the rapacious climbers of this town -- that we lack even the power to piss anybody off. I feel obligated to remind the doctor that there are taxpayer dollars at stake.

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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