When Stephen Colbert criticized the health care lobbying complex last night, the metaphor he used was "Out of the closet." An apt term, surely, because the relationship between lobbyists and your legislators truly is the love that dare not speak its name. Actually, let me amend that: it's the love that the media dare not talk about... ever. And for good reason! It would make all those fancy Beltway cocktail parties so awkward!
Luckily, in today's Wall Street Journal, columnist Thomas Frank is willing to talk about it, and he calls out The Washington Post at length for its fawning, frolicsome coverage of the way lobbyists infect every single corner of Capitol Hill like a lycanthropic plague. Of course, if you recall, the Post now has no other choice than to flatter lobbyists with deep tongue-kisses, seeing as how their master plan to stage lobbyist key parties in the home of Katherine Weymouth, with their executive editor providing cocktail weenies and keeping track of everybody's "safe words," foundered amid scandal and disclosure.
One can't dismiss the inter-media gamesmanship that's involved, but it is highly amusing to see Frank turned loose in this manner -- the money-maven WSJ beating up on the Post for going soft on corporate interests. But despite the well-earned troglodytic reputation of the Journal's editorial board, the paper has afforded themselves numerous opportunities to demonstrate that they're much more in tune with the prevailing populist angst than the power-cuddling Posties.
Frank provides a few choice examples of the Post's "worshipful attitude toward the lobbyist set," including a loving tribute to the hostessing skills of Heather "It's like doing the tango!" Podesta -- wife of top-dog lobbyist Tony Podesta, who is the brother of Obama Transition Team head John Podesta. But my favorite one of Frank's citations has to be "Lunch at the 'Power Section,'" in which the Post finds a way to fill the void of vapid power-fetishizing and celebutardedness that's been left open by dint of the fact that Washington, DC does not -- thank God -- have a "Graydon Carter" or a "Waverly Inn".
Table 45, tucked discreetly behind the servers' station, always goes to Steve Elmendorf, a hot hand these days in Democratic lobbying circles. He can see everyone from there; everyone can't necessarily see him. The influential Republican lobbyist Mark Isakowitz gets whisked to Table 62 along the back wall's "Power Section," the one with the panoramic view of who's coming and going.
Table 26 -- like a display case, smack-dab in the elevated, look-at-me center of the room -- is the domain of Tom Daschle. Can't miss him. (And yes, Mr. Daschle, you're not technically a registered lobbyist, but as a "special policy adviser" -- wink, wink -- to the legislative strategists at Alston & Bird, you count.) Then there's the "TARP Section" in back, habitat of lobbyists for bailed-out companies. Citigroup's Nick Calio can be found there, ordering a nice bottle of red at midday for his crew at the biggest table in the restaurant.
Honest to God, I don't know how it is that a reporter can find himself breathlessly droning on about dime-a-dozen bureaucrats like Steve Elmendorf and legislative has-beens like Tom Daschle and the tables where they lunch with the Wall Street bozos and K Street wads who have been slowly sucking the lifeblood from the body politic without at least considering the spirit-lifting alternative of ventilating your cranial cavity all over your MacBook with a loaded revolver, but there you go! This article was written -- four blessed pages of drool -- containing nary a discouraging word.
But it's not just prudery or populist distaste for fancy risottos that turns the public against lobbying: It's the deep venality that makes possible jokes about senators being bought like lunches. It's the debasement of politics from a matter of persuasion to one of money and connections. And it's because the capital's main journalistic watchdog seems perfectly content to see politics made into a kind of financial transaction--so content, in fact, that the paper's publisher planned dinner salons that would apparently have put the Post itself on a partial pay-to-play footing.
Make no mistake. The only thing that really separates articles like "Lunch at the 'Power Section'" from other accounts of government money and whoring is the word "ACORN".
PREVIOUSLY, on the HUFFINGTON POST:
"K Street" No Longer An Apt Term For Lobbyists, According To Washington Post