Sunday, March 1, 2015

Book Review - Citizens of the Green Room

In the wake of This Town, his dishy, behind-the-curtain expose of the venality of "official" Washington, Mark Leibovich has published a follow-up of sorts. Citizens of the Green Room is sub-titled "profiles in courage and self-delusion" but the quippy title does little to mask the book's utter lack of charm or cohesion.

Citizens is a collection of Mr. Leibovich's writing over the years and offers readers the same sort of "access" to politicians, pundits, and hangers-on that his prior work did. There are vignettes about candidates for President waiting in line to use the men's room (then-candidate John Kerry comes up with a clever work around - using the women's room while a staffer stands a post outside), road trips in campaign vehicles (John McCain gets Phoenix Coyotes hockey updates while bantering with the author, Rick Santorum fires down food-on-the-go) and Chris Matthews holding court during the wee hours after a Presidential debate (his decorum is as you'd expect from a blowhard who keeps a running tally of the number of honorary degrees bestowed upon him).

But the book's failure is in its editing. Instead of sorting his prior work temporally or by subject matter, the reader is left hopscotching across the last ten or so years of politics, encountering names long forgotten (Scott McClellan or Jim Traficant anyone?) juxtaposed stories of the moment that are now so much water under the bridge (remember when Glenn Beck was a thing? or Teddy Kennedy Jr. was considered a serious candidate for his father's Senate seat?)

The narrative does not line up with the book's cover either, which shows a faceless man with his hand over his heart, money where a pocket square should be, an American flag lapel pin and a clip mic - which would suggest some nexus of money and access that This Town plumbed in depth but Citizens only lightly grazes. And while some of Leibovich's earlier work may take on importance (his mid 2000s profile of Jeb Bush includes references to insensitive comments Bush made about women and African-Americans during his 1994 race for Governor), much of it is political flotsam that is no longer relevant (does anyone really care what kind of memory device former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card relied on as opposed to his memorable observation that the "marketing" of the Iraq War would commence after Labor Day 2002 because summer "marketing" campaigns are ineffective). 

There is no question Leibovich is a talented writer whose punchy and descriptive prose paints a nice picture; however, little of what is included in Citizens has aged well or is worth revisiting. 

Follow me on Twitter - @scarylawyerguy

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