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Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes That Run Our Governmentby Dana Milbank
Synopses & Reviews
Among the many paradoxes of Potomac Land is that it is, ostensibly, the capital of the most egalitarian people on the planet, and yet it has embraced a status system that is both hierarchical and byzantine. In substance, it is most similar to the varna caste system that has divided India for millennia. But while the caste system has become increasingly irrelevant and anachronistic in India-driven out by educated urbanites who dismiss it as primitive—the antiquated system grows ever more powerful in the mind of status-conscious Homo politicus, ever on the prowl for ways to demonstrate his power.
In India, there is the priestly caste (Brahmans) for teachers and scholars, the warrior caste (Kshatriyas) for kings and landowners, the trading caste (Vaishyas) of merchants and artisans, and a lower class (Sudras) of farmers and service workers who do not read the sacred texts. Below all the castes are the untouchables, those considered too filthy even to live among others in a village. Each caste is further subdivided into jati, or gotra, a band of people in a similar occupation; by performing daily rituals, members of a gotra allow their sect to survive.
In Potomac Land's highest caste are the top appointees and advisers to the president and congressional leaders, as well as justices who interpret the sacred texts and prominent strategists who use their shamanic powers to keep officials in power. Next are the rank-and–file lawmakers, who are in a constant state of aggression; though the kings and landowners of Potomac Land, they are in status inferior to the top strategists who put them into office and keep them there. Journalists, lobbyists, and bureaucrats form the various gotra that are part of the Vaishyas, the third caste responsible for the daily transactions that keep Potomac Land functioning. Finally, there are the backward castes, the Sudras and the untouchables-those who live in and around Potomac Land but have no interest in politics. They are by far the largest group in number, but they are invisible to the upper castes.
The crucial difference between varna castes and Potomac castes is that Potomac Man has a severe shortage of indigenous wise men and scholarly figures and therefore must draw its Brahmans from other levels of status or from outside Potomac Land entirely. By simply attaching oneself to a rising political star, a Sudra can easily become a Brahman-as illustrated by young and unknown Dan Bartlett's ascent to a top position in the White House because he got a job out of college with Karl Rove. Others, such as George Soros, can propel themselves to higher castes by spending large sums of money. Rock star Bono, embraced by the White House, has found that his musical fame has a certain reciprocity in Potomac Land. Then there is just plain luck: in the 1994 Republican landslide, a man with a history of homelessness, unemployment, and drug charges was elected to Congress from Texas. Still others, such as Barack Obama, a Democratic senator from Illinois, have gained status through good looks and oratorical gifts; Obama surged in popularity and announced his presidential candidacy shortly after a photo appeared in People magazine of him in a bathing suit as part of a Beach Babes spread also showing Catherine Zeta-Jones and Penelope Cruz.
It is not uncommon for a
The acerbic columnist for The Washington Post offers a trenchant look at the enigmatic culture of American politics, examining the often bizarre behavior, language, culture, social institutions, and taboos of Washington politicians. 75,000 first printing.
Washington’s most acerbic (and feared) columnist, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, skewers the peculiar and alien tribal culture of politics.
Deep within the forbidding land encircled by the Washington Beltway lives the tribe known as Homo politicus. Their ways are strange, even repulsive, to civilized human beings; their arcane rites often impenetrable; their language coded and obscure. Violating their complex taboos can lead to sudden, harsh, and irrevocable punishment. Normal Americans have long feared Homo politicus, with good reason. But fearless anthropologist Dana Milbank has spent many years immersed in the dark heart of Washington, D.C., and has produced this indispensable portrait of a bizarre culture whose tribal ways are as hilarious as they are outrageous.
Milbank’s anthropological lens is highly illuminating, whether examining the mating rituals of Homo politicus (which have little to do with traditional concepts of romantic love), demonstrating how status is displayed in the Beltway’s rigid caste system (such as displaying a wooden egg from the White House Easter Egg Roll) or detailing the precise ritual sequence of human sacrifice whenever a scandal erupts (the human sacrificed does not have to be the guiltiest party, just the lower ranked).
Milbank’s lacerating wit mows down the pompous, the stupid, and the corrupt among Democrats, Republicans, reporters, and bureaucrats by naming names. Every appalling anecdote in this book is, alas, true.
About the Author
DANA MILBANK writes the Washington Post’s must-read “Washington Sketch” column, a takedown of the ridiculous and the powerful that appears four times a week. He serves as a political analyst for MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, and has also appeared on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and many other national programs.
Table of Contents
Status : brahmins and untouchables — Kinship — Hunting and gathering — Mythology and folklore — Norms and deviancy — Shamanism — Aggression — Taboo — Festivals & social rituals — Human sacrifice — Fertility rites & mating behaviors — Cult of the choreutai.
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