Any hope that President Obama might be able to hit his second-term goals appears slim if the contents of a biting new book about the power politics in Washington are even half-way true.
This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral – Plus Plenty of Valet Parking! – in America's Gilded Capital (think The Devil Wears Prada for the Beltway brigade) by New York Times Magazine writer Mark Leibovich paints a damning, if darkly hilarious, picture of a culture so riddled with self-interest that even the most powerful man in the free world has come to accept that some of his aides will stab him in the back.
Leibovich ominously reports about a Saturday meeting in 2011 when the Prez confronted top aides over leaks about issues – including climate change, immigration, same-sex marriage and the closing of Guantanamo Bay – that he hoped to deal with if re-elected.
"Obama addressed it immediately, in a tone more of disappointment than anger," Leibovich writes. "'I trusted you guys,' he said slowly. He told everyone that he believed the meetings had been helpful, and that he hoped they could continue in some form. But if they did, Obama said, they would not include him. And he walked out."
Vice-President Joe Biden (who, the author says, has a pronounced case of "manhood insecurities") admonished the group for letting the president down, and the room went silent: "Someone in here decided that they were bigger than the president. Who the f– would think that?"
Robert Gibbs, Obama's longtime spokesman, later told Leibovich: "It was the kind of discussion where we wondered, 'What happened to all of us? Somehow we have all changed. Or maybe Washington just changed us.'"
Washington's power to corrupt even the most well-meaning may be at the heart of Leibovich's book, but that isn't likely to make the reader feel
any less scorn for a cast of characters driven "by insecurity, hypocrisy and cable hits" in a milieu where "acts of public service appear largely accidental".
Take Harry Reid (who has "observed privately to colleagues" that John Kerry has no friends) calling every Democratic Senator who wins re-election to tell them "I love you" because "they need to hear that". Or top Bill Clinton aide Doug Band's ritual of keeping a BlackBerry list of all the people ("dead to us") who screwed Hillary over during the 2008 campaign. Or veteran NBC news reporter Andrea Mitchell, who covered the 2008 financial crisis while people were pointing at her husband (former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan) as a chief culprit.
Or former Sen Bob Kerrey describing why he wasn't so keen on running for office again: "The problem is, the second your hand comes off the Bible, you become an asshole." Or, perhaps, just overly cynical: John McCain's suggestion to staffers as he lobbied for the appointment of a then-81-year-old Greenspan to oversee a special committee is particularly grim. "If he's dead or alive, it doesn't matter," McCain is quoted as saying. "Prop him up and put some dark glasses on him, like Weekend at Bernie's."
Leibovich delivers a final twist of the knife by failing to provide his subjects with an index to the book, which will be published on Tuesday.
"Those players wishing to know how they came out," the dust jacket warns, "will need to read the book."
'Vogue' editor backs Hillary
ANNA Wintour didn't pussyfoot around when she introduced Hillary Clinton at the opening of an Oscar de la Renta exhibit in the William J Clinton Presidential Centre in Little Rock, Arkansas, on Monday night. "It's anyone's guess what the next chapter will be for this extraordinary woman," Wintour said by way of warming up the 400-plus guests invited to preview the first retrospective of the famed fashion designer's work. "I can only hope that all of you here in Little Rock will be celebrating her come November 2016. All of us at Vogue look forward to putting on the cover the first female president of the United States."
Notably absent in the first lady line-up is Michelle Obama, who pointedly has yet to wear a garment by the designer – a pleasure, former Prez Clinton joked, he also missed out on.
"I never got to wear one of his dresses, but I have every day for many years worn the mantle of his friendship with genuine pride," Bubba said in his speech, which also described the designer as "an even more competitive card player than I am". That claim was swiftly shot down by daughter Chelsea (who, addressing her father from the podium, said, "It is slightly disingenuous of you to claim that anyone is more competitive than you in anything") and de la Renta himself. "What drives me insane is he can be looking at the television, the newspaper, and playing cards and he still plays far better than anyone else. This year in March we had a tournament and I won the first prize," said the designer, "but I still have my doubts. I think it was arranged because it was in my house."
'US Weekly' keeps it classy
US Weekly, the celebrity magazine that built a monster circulation off the notion that "celebrities are just like us", last week ran the dodgiest story (so far) hooked to Angelina Jolie's recent medical woes. Writing of paparazzi photos taken of Jolie in Hawaii, the magazine's website called attention to Jolie's "still ample cleavage". It also offered a "zoom-in" feature, presumably to enable viewers to get up close with the results of her double mastectomy and reconstruction. Classy.
Theron in mix for 'Gone Girl'
THE Gone Girl phenomenon just got another boost with word that Ben Affleck is close to signing on to play the part of Nick Dunne in the big-screen adaptation of Gillian Flynn's chart-busting thriller.
Flynn is reportedly disappointed that producer Reese Witherspoon decided not to play the part of Amy, but Maggie Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Charlize Theron are believed to be on the shortlist currently being whittled down by director David (The Social Network) Fincher.