Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 24, 2009
POLITICS: It Depends Upon What The Meaning Of The Word "Lobbyist" Is
Jake Tapper notices that Obama's nominee for US Trade Representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, worked as a state and local lobbyist in Dallas; Tapper notes that he's at least the fifth lobbyist picked for a significant position in the Obama Administration (and that's before we consider family members like Joe Biden's son or Tom Daschle's wife). Here's the Administration's defense:
"Ron Kirk has never been a registered federal lobbyist," White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told ABC News...."How precisely is it a loophole when we never pledged to bar state lobbyists?" a Democratic official asks.
(Emphasis mine). Hey, isn't that a tune we have heard before?
As Tapper notes, that's not exactly what Obama on the campaign trail led people to believe:
[T]hough the president at his most precise has railed against former "federally registered lobbyists" running his administration, at other times he has not been so precise, and his language on the matter at times may have given many Americans the impression that state and local lobbyists -- who in many instances bring the same baggage as federal lobbyists -- would be kept from working in his administration as well.
Now, personally, while it's worth taking a long look at the lobbying background of anyone looking to get into government to see who they owe favors to, I don't actually think being a lobbyist is any less honorable a profession than my own (lawyer), and the role of a lobbyist is inherent in the First Amendment right to organize and petition the government for redress of grievances. As I noted during the campaign, Obama himself once worked as essentially a lobbyist - what else is a "community organizer" but someone who lobbies the government on behalf of the interests of particular people? (In fact, John McCain had also worked as a Washington lobbyist for the U.S. Navy near the end of his time in the service - his official title was as a Congressional "liaison," but the job was functionally indistinguishable from that of a lobbyist for private sector interests). If lobbyists have too much influence in Washington - and most of us would agree they do - it's not because of the nefarious influence of lobbyists but for two related reasons: (1) because the federal government has grown to such a scale and insinuated itself in so many aspects of life that it is in position to do enormous favors or inflict enormous damage on private businesses; and (2) because Congress in particular is willing to write special rules favoring or disfavoring particular businesses to benefit its friends. That power, after all, is a valuable thing; should they give it away for free? And companies that don't want to play ball quickly learn they need to; as Jonah Goldberg likes to point out, Bill Gates once boasted that Microsoft's one Washington lobbyist had no work to do and Washington was "not on our radar"; after the Justice Department came after the company with a series of antitrust lawsuits at the behest of its more plugged-in competitors, Microsoft changed its tune and started hiring lobbyists and making campaign contributions like everybody else.
If you want money out of politics, you first need to get politics out of money. It's the only way. And that's absolutely the last thing Barack Obama is going to do; it's not in his background, and it's certainly not in his policy programs, from more regulations to massive pork-barrel "stimulus" bills to buying big banks.
But while I was never naive enough to believe that Obama intended his talk about lobbyists and "new politics" to be anything but window-dressing on an expansion of the role of the federal government's favor factory, and while anyone who paid attention during the campaign had to know that, the amount of stress Obama put on those themes during the campaign means it is entirely fair game to keep pointing out what a false bill of goods he sold the public. Any serious adult had to know that "new politics" was never meant to do anything but get Barack Obama elected. Which only makes it funnier watching him come up with excuses for why he's still doing business as usual.