In Washington, a divided America is good for business.

K Street NW, in Washington, DC. By Ben Schumin, Wikimedia

K Street NW, in Washington, DC. By Ben Schumin, Wikimedia


Washington is an endless maze of funhouse mirrors, a fact we’re reminded of once a year when the Hill publishes its 50 Most Beautiful list, replete with people who are Washington hot, which is a step above rehab hot and two levels below jury duty hot. All are miles below what the rest of the country considers actual hot.


My first Air Force One trip was George W. Bush’s last as president and, for me, a comic exercise in pretense. On that short flight to Norfolk, Va., I wore my D.C. smirk, trying and failing to act bored and unimpressed. Of course, I stole two of everything and mailed it all to my mom. I’d have taken my seat with me if it hadn’t been bolted to the plane.


Know the difference between aircraft carrier cool and Washington cool—it’s easy, and dangerous, to get too swept up in the latter.


Much of my time in Washington was one hell of a party, an endless and decadent blowout bash more suited to VH1’s Behind the Music than working in the nation’s capital.

The first couple years, I spent almost every night downing bourbon—and sometimes indulging in harder substances—at Capitol Lounge before walking back to my studio apartment in Eastern Market, occasionally with some female congressional staffer whose name I was almost always too drunk to remember. (I later sought out and apologized to as many of those women as I could. To the ones I missed: I’m profoundly sorry for my behavior.)

As my self-importance grew, I needed a more pretentious watering hole to match. The bar Off the Record at the Hay-Adams became my second home, and for a long time I couldn’t imagine ever getting tired of seeing former Sen. Gary Hart and Ron Kirk, Obama’s first U.S. trade representative, in the same bar—my bar. Hard as it is to believe, even that thrill eventually wore off.

I suppose part of my disillusionment had to do with my breakup with bourbon, after a real-life, devastating romantic breakup that was followed by a downward spiral. When I returned from my 28 days in rehab, in January 2010, it was harder to ignore the near criminal disconnect between Washington and the rest of the country, especially in an industry that has turned neighbors against each other while its instigators clock out and meet for a beer together, skilled actors who in many cases spend the day feigning hatred for each other on camera but are actually bound by their shared nihilism and reckless self-absorption. In Washington, a divided America is good for business.


I was so trapped in the bubble of my own artificially inflated ego that I once tweeted a smug remark (the precise wording of which is lost to memory) about a man in Janesville, Wis., after he called me a “jackwagon.” I thought I was funny and for some reason superior to the man, even though he said it after I stepped between him and his son and Rick Santorum. He was a voter who wanted his kid to meet a presidential candidate, but I wanted Santorum to give me a sexy response to some now forgotten shot Romney had taken on The Tonight Show. And at the time, that seemed more important.
. . .
At least once a week, I hear conventional wisdom from D.C. or New York upended by words directly from the mouths of a Kentucky voter. Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes’s campaign is described as strong nationally, but it looks like a hot mess up close. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), often mocked by cable news, is cheered and encouraged to run for president at small restaurants in impoverished mountain towns throughout Eastern Kentucky.

Take This Town and Shove It: A White House reporter’s tale of sex, booze and the briefing room. By Sam Youngman (emphasis added)


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