Milbank Takes On ‘Potomac Land’ and Its Inhabitants

Posted January 14, 2008 at 6:08pm

Most Washingtonians are aware that life inside the Beltway is slightly different than it is in the rest of the country. But exactly how different? Award-winning Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank tackles this question in his new book, “Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes that Run Our Government.”

In this laugh-out-loud book, set up as an anthropology textbook of sorts, Milbank takes aim at some of Washington’s finest, from shamed lobbyist Jack Abramoff to various lawmakers such as Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.). He even takes jabs at the press.

“I always sort of viewed myself as a foreign correspondent in Washington writing dispatches home about the strange creatures here,” said Milbank, who has spent time abroad reporting for The Wall Street Journal.

Milbank refers to the District as “Potomac Land” and its residents as “Potomac Man.” The first line of Chapter 1 reads: “Among the many paradoxes of life in 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.” From there, Milbank goes on to discuss status, folklore, shamanism and other Potomac Land rituals.

“I got a degree in anthropology from Google and a masters from Wikipedia,” Milbank joked during a phone interview.

No one is spared in this witty spin on life in D.C. Milbank discusses former White House counsel Harriet Miers’ fall from grace for “rising too high, too quickly in Potomac Man’s status structure.” He characterizes Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as suffering from “what was perhaps the most public emotional collapse any culture has ever seen” after the 2004 presidential election.

Asked how the book might affect his column, “Washington Sketch,” Milbank said, “I’d been offending [Washingtonians] sort of on a regular basis anyway, and the ones that have a sense of humor still speak to me and the other 95 percent of people don’t speak to me anyway so I didn’t have anything to lose.”

Earlier this month, Milbank announced he would be donating 75 percent of the royalties from sales of the second million hardcover copies of the book to the legal defense fund for former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

“I only hope I can sell a million and one copies, so I can be sure that former Attorney General Gonzales receives at least one of my millions of dollars,” Milbank said in a press release. “I have always had a deep and abiding faith in the American book buyers, and I’m sure they won’t let Mr. Gonzales down.”

As for what’s next, Milbank said he will continue to write his column and doesn’t plan on another book anytime soon.

“I have adult-onset attention-deficit disorder,” he said. “After about 1,000 words, I completely lose interest.