Sensing the need for a thoughtful, balanced book to explain our deeply troubling national political process, Dave Barry has not even come close. Taking us from the earliest human governments, made up of short, hairy, tree-dwelling creatures that strongly resembled Danny DeVito, through the formation of our great United States (the driving force of which was "Why should we let people over in England saddle us with an unresponsive government and stupid laws? We can create our own!"), right up to the 2000 presidential election ("Let's give Florida back to Spain"), Dave Barry astonishes with his ability to insert a graphic of giant zucchini into every chapter. Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway makes it perfectly clear that he is not a crook. Unlike many politicians.
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October 29, 2008
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Excerpt from Dave Barry Hits Below the Beltway by Dave Barry
From the Introduction To do even a halfway decent book on a subject as complex as the United States government, you have to spend a lot of time in Washington, D.C. So the first thing I decided, when I was getting ready to write this book, was that it would not be even halfway decent. I decided this because I'm not comfortable in Washington. Don't get me wrong: Washington is a fine city, offering statues, buildings, and plenty of culture in the form of Thai restaurants. But when I'm in Washington, I always feel as though I'm the only person there who never ran for Student Council. I started feeling this way back in 1967, when, as a college student, I got a job in Washington as a summer intern at Congressional Quarterly, a magazine that, as the name suggests, came out weekly. I was totally unprepared for the Washington environment. I came from an all-male-college environment, where a person's standing in the community was judged on the basis of such factors as: -Was he a good guy? -Would he let you borrow his car? -Would he still be your friend if your date threw up in his car? But when I got to Washington I discovered that even among young people, being a good guy was not the key thing: The key thing was your position on the great Washington totem pole of status. Way up at the top of this pole is the president; way down at the bottom, below mildew, is the public. In between is an extremely complex hierarchy of government officials, journalists, lobbyists, lawyers, and other power players, holding thousands of minutely graduated status rankings differentiated by extremely subtle nuances that only Washingtonians are capable of grasping. For example, Washingtonians know whether a person whose title is "Principal Assistant Deputy Undersecretary" is more or less important than a person whose title is "Associate Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary," or "Principal Deputy to Deputy Assistant Secretary," or "Deputy to the Deputy Secretary," or "Principal Assistant Deputy Undersecretary," or "Chief of Staff to the Assistant Assistant Secretary." (All of these are real federal job titles.) Everybody in Washington always seems to know exactly how much status everybody else has. I don't know how they do it. Maybe they all get together in some secret location and sniff one another's rear ends. All I know is, back in my internship summer of 1967, when I went to Washington parties, they were nothing like parties I'd become used to in college. I was used to parties where it was not unusual to cap off the evening by drinking bourbon from a shoe, and not necessarily your own shoe. Whereas the Washington parties were serious. Everybody made an obvious effort to figure out where everybody else fit on the totem pole, and then spent the rest of the evening sucking up to whoever was higher up. I hated it. Of course, one reason for this was that nobody ever sucked up to me, since interns rank almost as low as members of the public. Today I have many good Washington friends, and I know that not everyone who lives there is a status-obsessed, butt-kissing toad. But there are still way too many people there who simply cannot get over how important they are. And do you want to know why they think they're important? Because they make policy! To the rest of America, making policy is a form of institutional masturbation; to Washingtonians, it is productive work. They love to make policy. They have policy out the wazoo. They can come up with a policy on anything, including the legal minimum size of the holes in Swiss cheese. A good depiction of the Washington worldview, I think, is the hit TV show The West Wing. Don't get me wrong: I think this show is well written, well acted, fast-paced, and entertaining. But Lordy, those characters are full of themselves, aren't they? They can't get over how important they are. They'r