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'Homo Politicus': A Journey Through Potomac Land

Jan 3, 2008 (Morning Edition)

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It's a land where things are often not what they seem — at least to outsiders. They are, in fact, the opposite of what they seem. In his new book, Homo Politicus, Dana Milbank describes this place as Potomac Land, also known as Washington, D.C.

In his humorous "anthropological" study, Milbank profiles the people and rules that govern the nation's capital.

Whenever visiting a foreign place, tourists must first understand the local language. The oft-flung word "bipartisan" is designed to appeal to people outside what Milbank calls the "Homo politicus tribe."

So, the positive-sounding phrase, "I hope we can work together in a bipartisan way," actually means, "I need to pick off one or two votes from the other side to ram this thing through the Congress," Milbank tells Renee Montagne.

"'Frankly...' means the thing I am about to say to you is false," he says. "That's sort of the code we use among ourselves in the land of Homo politicus."

Potomac Land is a very tribal place, complete with its tribal ways.

"When you step back and look at people who live in Washington, they steal from other tribes, like Jack Abramoff," Milbank says. "They hide their treasures in ice boxes like Congressman [William] Jefferson. And, if you follow the Scooter Libby case, they even engage in human sacrifice."

Anthropologists often discover that tribal structures aren't always what they seem. Potomac Land is no different.

"Many Americans make the mistake of thinking that the president of the United States is actually in charge, [a] very common misconception," Milbank says. "It is people like Karl Rove who are, in fact, the most important people in Potomac Land. And the people whose names we often see on the news or hear about are, in fact, figureheads."

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'Potomac Land' Speak

Select phrases from Potomac Land (a.k.a. Washington, D.C.), followed by their English equivalents:   "You're doing a heckuva job."
You will be fired in ten days.   "Frankly..."
The following statement is false.   "You are either with us or against us."
You are against us.   "The senator will deliver a major policy address."
The senator is desperate to get on television.   "I will continue to do the people's business."
I expect to be indicted.   From Homo Politicus by Dana Milbank

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