I don’t remember who told me to read it, but Meg Greenfield’s “Washington” is the best book about the Village I’ve ever read. (I highly recommend you get a copy.)
Greenfield, a Pulitzer prize winner and the Washington Post editorial page editor, wrote the book as she was dying from cancer; she kept it a secret from all but one of her friends. It was published posthumously in 1999.
And I can see why she waited. She’s a sharply perceptive woman who sees people clearly, facades and all. Not only was she their colleague, she was their friend. The book is filled with the kind of thing you’d like to tell a really good friend about themselves — if only they had the nerve to ask for your advice.
If you’ve ever wondered why journalists don’t ask politicians about obvious contradictions, or why so many whiz kids fizzle out once they’re in political office, you’ll appreciate her take.
She writes that high school is the only correct social analogy for Washington (we already knew that) but makes the incisive point that the District is filled with people who were very successful children. She breaks them down into types: The Good Child, The Head Kid, The Prodigy, and the Protege:
They will have developed instead the mediating-between-generations way of doing business, protecting the boss and appeasing contemporaries by telling them how much can be extracted by the boss. With that prop gone, newly elevated figures are expected to act boldly, to direct, to deliver, to have the brass to themselves utter the decisive words “yes” or “no” — not to negotiate, Moses-like, with God for limited concessions.
[…] Years of exercising derivative power in a defensive, backstairs, non-accountable way have also unfitted the poor protege/prodigy for the elementary requirements of his new role — the direct statement, the assertion of will or position, and above all, the concomitant acceptance of the murderous criticism that being in charge inevitably generates.
[…] … The Washington child-politician, fully in charge and fully accountable at last, is utterly unaccustomed to being called anything other except an outstanding young person of exceptional promise — no matter what his age.
She also foresaw how the internet and the political imagemakers were going to distort the political discussion.
Yes, she was a creature of her time. But for the political junkie who ask not what, but also why, this book explains a lot.