There’s Nothing Washington Loves Like a Political Funeral

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I forget who referenced “This Town” in relation to Obama’s antics at the Mandela memorial, but there are some quite timely passages there.

Tim Russert is dead. But the room was alive. You can’t work it too hard at a memorial service, obviously.

It’s the kind of thing people notice. But the big-ticket Washington departure rite can be such a great networking opportunity. You can almost feel the ardor behind the solemn faces: lucky stampedes of power mourners, about two thousand of them, wearing out the red-carpeted aisles of the Kennedy Center.

Before the service, people keep rushing down the left-hand aisle to get to Robert Gibbs, the journeyman campaign spokesman who struck gold with the right patron, Barack Obama, soon to be the first African-American  nominee of a major party. If Obama gets elected, Gibbs is in line to be the White House press secretary.

He keeps getting approached in airports and on the street for his autograph. He is a destination for a populace trained to view human interaction through the prism of “How can this person be helpful to me?” Gibbs has become potentially whoppingly helpful. People seek out and congratulate him for his success and that of his candidate, especially at tribal gatherings like this, a grand send-off for the host of Meet the Press.

Next to Gibbs presides another beneficial destination: David Axelrod, a Democratic media consultant and kibitzing walrus of a mensch who orchestrated Obama’s run to the 2008 Democratic nomination. Known as “Axe,” Axelrod is a sentimental RFK Democrat whose swoon over Obama is unrivaled even by Gibbs’s. (Gibbs once called Axe “the guy who walks in front of Obama with rose petals.”) Noting the big run on Gibbs and Axelrod, a columnist for Politico told me they were the new “it guys” at the service, and of course they were, in part for devising a communications strategy predicated on indifference to this very onrushing club of D.C.’s Leading Thinkers.

Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski are mobbed as well; they can barely get to their seats: assaulted with kudos for the success of Morning Joe, their dawn roundtable on MSNBC and a popular artery in the bloodstream of the Leading Thinkers. People keep pressing business cards into the cohosts’ palms, eager to get themselves booked, or their clients booked, or their books mentioned, just once, by Joe or Mika. “A new low, even for Washington tackiness,” Mika will lament of the funereal hustle.

But the Clintons are pros at death and sickness. They show up. They play their assigned roles. They send nice notes and lend comfort to the bereaved in that warm and open-faced Clinton way. They are here with empathetic eyes to pay respects, like heads of Mafia families do when a rival godfather falls.

The Mandela memorial, like so much else that the ruling class does, was about powerful people meeting and hanging out with each other. Whatever disagreements they have, they represent a unique class. A class that holds superior power with increasingly little responsibility.

Washington is a microcosm of the same global politics, the accumulation of a political class with no other function except to rise as high as it can go by vomiting up bits of received wisdom at the proper occasions and making themselves useful to people in power.

And so we come to the portrait of three world leaders acting like high schoolers… because maturity is long since dead. Long live Generation X and the millenials and the cult of peter pan who never has to grow up except when the economy completely tanks.