Medieval Washington?!?

An alert reader tipped me off to this, the opening line of a Newsweek opinion piece by Howard Fineman titled “Why Obama Should Stop Doing So Much TV”:

In medieval Washington, no one gets a half-hour solo meeting with a president. But as Barack Obama labored to sell his economic plan last week, he gave three senators, none a household name, the royal treatment.

I’ve read and re-read the piece and, frankly, I have absolutely no idea what the phrase, “In medieval Washington” is meant to convey. Does Fineman mean that we only now moved past the Middle Ages in our nation’s capital with the election of Barack Obama? Or was Obama recently medieval, until now, when he’s started meeting with junior Republicans? Or does Fineman mean to indicate that Middle Ages should be defined as, “a period of human history characterized by a lack of half-hour meetings with prominent officials”?

Or maybe it’s the setup for some new version of Russian reversal that a copy-editor cut the punchline from.* You know… In America, you drive a car. In Soviet Russia, car drives YOU!! In medieval Washington, no one gets a half-hour solo meeing with the president. In medieval Soviet Russia, the president gets a half-hour solo meeting with NO ONE!!! And he wears funny medieval clothes while he’s not meeting with you. Because its the Middle Ages when he’s doing it–I mean not doing it. I mean… What a country!

If you Google ‘Howard Fineman’ and medieval” you don’t get much to help unmuddle the medieval riddle. Apparently, a few years ago, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Fineman claimed

“we [America] are the first post-medieval country. We’re the first country in which no authority from above was saying you must believe a certain way, you must act a certain way. That’s always been the case.”

And a few years before that, he praised Bush’s performance in the wake of 9/11 with this:

Bush passed his first tests, but like the medieval knight, he’s only begun his quest — and ours — for security and a new architecture to preserve it.

Neither of these is particularly revealing. I mean, we all know that there were no countries from approximately 1517 until 1776, and also that the only people worth mentioning who ever when on quests were medieval knights, and they only got to go after passing a series of standardized tests not unlike the SAT.** So I give up.

*Damn you, copy editers and your incesant intrefeerance! Whatare yo good for, anyways?s”
**Which in those days was called the Ye Olde SATe. Ine thosee dayese, I mean.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • anthromama

    Damn us all you want, but next time you publish, you can say thank you. (I edit scholarly books for the most part, and most of them are quite well written. I’m sure yours are/will be too.)

    And you ended that anti-copy editor sentence with a preposition. Or was that all part of your dastardly make-the-copy-editors-squirm plan?

  • Got Medieval

    You couldn’t possibly want me to have said “from which a copy-editor cut the punchline,” Mr. Fancy Pants Copy Editor Person. That is the sort of grammatical pedantry, surely, up with which you would not put.

  • Derek

    Actually, I think the follow up quotes were helpful in figuring out his intent. Medieval Washington is a place characterized, like medieval Europe, by a strict hierarchy. Only important people get to sit down with the great leader. Obama’s post-medieval era is characterized by the breaking down of this hierarchy where even a mere Senator gets to sit face to face with the king/president.

    I think this links up with the second quote you find about authority, since the hierarchy and the authority are linked. Certain people (“household names”) get to meet with the President and talk about policy while the rest of us can only sit and await the decisions to be made on high. But now in the post-medieval era, everyone gets their own say. Now everybody gets a personal meeting with the leader – or at least the 0.00003% of Americans who are sitting Senators.

  • eccecattus

    In last night’s Frontline special on the economic crisis, the tone of congressional/ cabinet meetings was described as a “Burning of the Vanities”.

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