Ce pays-ci (“this country here”) is what the denizens of Versailles called their gilded cage in the reign of Louis XIV. “This town” is the name that members of what was once called the American Establishment have given their special place on the Potomac. In the most entertaining and depressing book about the U.S. political system published in many years, Leibovich lets readers peep behind the curtain and see what goes on in the greenrooms and at the parties of the Washington elite. He reveals an ugly spectacle: tribunes of the people transform into corporate shills, money makes the world go round, and insecure arrivistes stroke one another’s egos as they bathe in a flowing river of narcissism. It turns out that contrary to the prevalent fears of political polarization, this is a golden age of bipartisanship. Not much happens on the floor of Congress, of course, but when it comes to doing favors for friends, Washington is enjoying a new Era of Good Feelings, in which politicians help their colleagues score regardless of their party affiliation. The Chinese Communist Party once ordered its cadres to read The Ancien Régime and the Revolution, Alexis de Tocqueville’s account of how the failings of the old elite paved the way for the French Revolution. But today’s Washington elite is probably too busy imitating the benighted creatures of Versailles to learn anything useful from their fate.
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