Alter’s “Tilting At Windmills”

Following our recent practice of rotating responsibility for continuing Charlie Peters’ “Tilting At Windmills” column among distinguished Washington Monthly alums, the current issue features Jonathan Alter, author (most recently) of a fine 2012 campaign book, The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies (reviewed here in conjunction with two other books by yours truly near the end of 2013). Alter covers a lot of ground, including a couple of items about Obama’s strengths and weaknesses as a president and party leader. You should read it all. But I was captivated by his application of lessons learned as an impoverished WaMo writer in his new Hollywood gig:

Going Hollywood has its privileges. Among mine as an executive producer of Alpha House, the Amazon Prime comedy about four Republican senators living in a man cave on Capitol Hill, is to see some of the experiences and lessons of my Washington Monthly years up on the little computer screen (or big TV screen, if you have Roku or another gadget). For instance, when I lived on the Hill as a poor young WM writer in the early 1980s, I sometimes ate dinner by trolling uninvited through receptions, stuffing shrimp and other buffet food into my pockets. One of our characters does the same in the first episode of season two, with messy consequences.

More substantively, Garry Trudeau, the creator and show runner, wrote a great scene in season one that reflects a long-standing WM theme. Senator Gil John Biggs, played by John Goodman, is having his hair cut in his hometown barbershop in North Carolina. The locals bitch about big government and freeloaders while also complaining that their farm price supports have been cut and the coast isn’t being protected from hurricanes. When the barber finishes, he offers the haircut for free. Biggs, annoyed by the hypocrisy, says quietly, “No, I think I’ll pay.”

Alter doesn’t get into what it’s like to hang out with John Goodman and Garry Trudeau, but maybe he’s saving that for a future “Windmills.”

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.