By Mick Krever, CNN
The world is watching in disbelief as lawmakers in Washington exude dysfunction and allow America to hurtle closer and closer to a first-ever debt default.
But a longtime chronicler of Washington, Mark Leibovich, chief national correspondent for the New York Times, says that insiders may care less about the dysfunction than we think.
“The dirty little secret” about Washington, he told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, “is a level of insularity which completely shelters people from what the real sentiments of Americans and also people around the world are coming to think about this.”
Leibovich has spent years diving into Washington’s inner workings and has just written a new book called “This Town.”
“The founders envisioned a system where people would come to Washington, serve for a time and then return to their communities, whether their shop or their farm or their medical practice or whatever,” Leibovich told Amanpour from Washington.
“And what you've seen in the last few decades, in part because of the large amounts of money in the system, is that it has become this warm bath where people can just make a living and become permanent political or media figures and brands on their own.”
There is no better example of that, Leibovich said, than the meteoric rise recently of freshman Republican Senator Ted Cruz, whom he described as “the single most influential person” in Washington.
“He has the power of media attention,” he told Amanpour, “which itself is governing this celebrity, which will probably result in him running for president in 2016 and that in itself becomes a far greater currency than actually accomplishing things, working together, passing bills, levels of experience that used to be what people valued in politics.”
Despite the possibility of real economic calamity appearing on the horizon, Leibovich said that it is self-interest that governs lawmakers.
“If, in fact, they don't raise the debt ceiling and there's this collapse and this calamity that some people are predicting and ultimately people lose a lot of money, the politicians will be punished in a much realer way,” he told Amanpour.
But right now, “The urgency doesn't exist. And I certainly hope it's not the new normal, but there aren't a lot of indicators in the day to day or even in the month to month that would indicate that this is going to change anytime soon.”