If the title Big Ugly weren’t already taken — it’s the name of a novel about dirty D.C. politicians and lobbyists — we’d pin it on Tom DeLay, instead of The Hammer.
Which got us to thinking about the novel. William Weld wrote it. You remember him: former federal prosecutor and two-term Massachusetts Governor who’s now campaigning for the New York Republican gubernatorial nomination. It begins: “Washington sure is a funny town.”
We hold no brief for Weld as author or political candidate, but given the shit that’s hit the fan in the nation’s capitol, we thought we’d excerpt some passages at random. For example:
There are never any frowny faces at fund-raising events, not at breakfast, not at lunch, and not at cocktails. Everyone there is highly paid, except for the elected officials. These events are our taste of flying first class. We can’t take it in salary, so we take it in kind. The press is rigorously excluded; all the stars are in alignment for a full, free, and frank exchange of views.
Except, that never happens. What does happen is the lobbyists present their views, and the senators listen. And eat. Thoughtfully. And nod. It doesn’t matter if your mouth is full of smoked salmon and caviar, because the last thing anyone wants or expects is for you to say anything. Or, worse, ask a question. If there’s one thing you don’t ask at fund-raisers … it’s questions.
Since this is fiction, naturally it’s not Weld speaking. It’s his principle character, newly elected Massachusetts Senator Terrence Mullally, formerly an assistant D.A. in Brooklyn and a D.A. in Boston whose checkered past is recounted in “Mackerel by Moonlight,” Weld’s previous novel.
I don’t mean to tell you that all my problems in Washington were caused by others. … Here’s the deal: I get there, national press is loving me, six foot four, black hair, lantern jaw, good on his feet, state adjoins first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary — I’m thinking I have the situation pretty well covered, okay?
But wouldn’t you know it?
The only people in Washington who get the story more wrong than we did are the ones being paid to get it, namely, the media.
And the “mountainous and ambitious” Louisiana chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, “who chewed designer tobacco non-stop, no Red Man for him,” has it in for Mullally, the northeastern liberal “gentleman from Massa-Two Shits.”
Ethics? We spend ten hours in hearings — remember, the attention span of a United State senator is eight minutes — to decide whether one of our brethren has economized excessively on hotel expenses during trips around the country with female staffers. We vote to issue subpoenas to all the hotels, to see how many rooms were used. … Nobody on the committee could have cared less, but we had to fling this dirty laundry out on the line, or the press would have said we didn’t care. Which of course was true, we just couldn’t have it said we didn’t care.
“Big Ugly” concludes with an epilogue that begins: “I guess you know the rest.” But since you probably don’t, we’ll tell you. Among many other things, a major criminal investigation of a crooked sitting vice president is suspended and she is elected president, the first woman to hold the office. At the same time, Senator Mullally comes away unscathed by his own involvement in scandal. End of story:
I had preserved my options. Maybe I had sold a couple of guys down the river; but they were no blood kin of mine. … Simple triage. After many false starts, I had finally got this place figured out. Situation covered. As a result, I could still aspire to the highest offices in the land.
Clichéd? Yes. Cynical? Of course. True to reality? Next question …
— Tireless Staff of Thousands