Scots poet Robert Burns, a keen observer of human behavior, once wrote, O wad some Power the giftie gie us/To see oursels as ithers see us! (The poem it was taken from, incidentally, is entitled To a Louse. ) Washington Post columnist and frequent MSNBC pundit Dana Milbank doffs his reporter's trench coat in favor of an Indiana Jones-style jacket in his vastly entertaining, seriocomical anthropological prowl through our nation's capital, Homo Politicus: The Strange and Scary Tribes That Run Our Government. The chief difference between his observations and Burns' is that Milbank is not illustrating a single louse . . . he's depicting the whole nest.

Anthropologists, says Milbank, have observed that many cultures experience a gap between ideal behavior, perceived behavior, and actual behavior. Nowhere, however, is the gap more yawning than in Potomac Land. No kidding. The Post columnist breezily recounts cautionary tales of embarrassing, antisocial, amoral, duplicitous, criminal and just plain stoopid hijinks ensuing in and around I-495. His cast of characters reads like a Who's Who of Who Shouldn't Have, from comedian/commentator/drug addict Rush Limbaugh to former congressman/current federal inmate Randy Duke Cunningham. Hillary Clinton's ham-fisted fundraising soirĂ…½es at Maison Blanque Cheque and the back-to-back Nannygate scandals of Democrat attorney general nominees Zo‘ Baird and Kimba Wood are also held up to mockery er, scrutiny. And while some hardcore conservatives, already dubious of Milbank's alleged liberal bias, may feel they have been unfairly singled out, felon Willie Sutton's explanation of why he robbed banks aptly applies to the pages of Homo Politicus: That's where the money is.

Hidden among its myriad and hilarious sins of omission and commission, arcane rites and ritual sacrifices is one key line that crystallizes the whole circus for those not particularly inclined to obsess on the mercurial nature of Beltway fortunes: Politics is show business for ugly people. Hmm, Voting with the Stars : Now there's a reality TV series for the upcoming election cycle. Hollywood, are you listening?

Thane Tierney lives three time zones away from the nation's capital: just about far enough.

 

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