Ex Urbe: “The Borgias” vs. “Borgia: Faith and Fear”: Accuracy in Historical Fiction: Noted for July 30, 2013
Francis Wilkinson: Guns Are for White People: Noted for July 30, 2013

The Agony of the Washington Lobbyist-Statesman

The normal Washington lobbyist has a job: to help his or her clients make their case to the bureaucracy and to the legislators and their staffs. Everybody understands that the lobbyist is there to make the case, not to present a 360-degree view of the situation--although the hope is that the lobbyist makes the case by bringing previously-overlooked pieces of information to the table, not by telling lies.

The normal Washington statesman has a role: to advise presidents, legislators, staffs, and bureaucrats as to what is in the national interest.

Howard Dean tells the clients of McKenna, Long, & Aldridge that he is the first--and they pay him.

Howard Dean tells us readers of the Wall Street Journal that he is the second--and that they should take him as a statesman, rather than writing angry letters to the Wall Street Journal about not labeling lobbyist advertisements as lobbyist advertisements.

Poor Howard Dean.

Or should that be: poor us, taking the words of a lobbyist as seriously as we would take the words of a statesman?

Or should that be: poor clients of McKenna, Long, and Aldridge, who are cheated by having to pay money to Howard Dean under the illusion that they are thus hiring him as their lobbyist when all he does is write the op-eds that he would write for free anyway as a statesman?

Jonathan Chait watches the dirigible burn:

Howard Dean: I Am Not a Shill: Howard Dean is miffed that his Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for the repeal of the Independent Payment Advisory Board, part of Obamacare, has made him the subject of scorn from people like me. Dean is a lobbyist--sorry, a “lawyer”--for McKenna Long & Aldridge, a K Street lobbying firm that represents numerous health-care interests. The former populist tells Kate Pickert that it’s unfair that critics would assume he’s taking this position because his clients are paying him to, merely because he happens to have a job that consists of taking positions his clients want him to take in return for money.

Pickert asks Dean if his clients — whom Dean won’t disclose — oppose IPAB. He replies:

“I’m sure we do,” says Dean. “What annoys me is that everything you say comes down to who’s paying you to say it. You can talk like that if you want to but I don’t think it helps the general discussion. We ought to argue on the merits.”

Right, maybe we should go back and review what a lobbyist does. You’re supposed to argue on behalf of your clients. So, if you’re a lawyer defending somebody accused of a crime, you can publicly defend your client, and any media outlets conveying your arguments will note that this is your job. A “Washington lawyer” like Dean gets to enjoy a more convenient arrangement, where he can take money from clients, not disclose who the clients are, and publicly defend their interests.

An organ like the Journal op-ed page might be happy to let Dean avoid disclosing any commercial interests so its op-ed can be circulated among conservatives who triumphantly declare that Even Howard Dean Admits that Obamacare is terribly flawed.

Now, the merits of the issue are pretty important. But writers like Jonathan Cohn and former Obama adviser Peter Orszag make the case that Dean wildly misstates the relevant facts and also takes a position impossible to reconcile with things he previously advocated.

On the other hand, the people who pay Dean think the op-ed is really smart. “I dare say some of the clients think [the op-ed] is great, but I don’t write stuff because the clients like it,” he tells Pickert. It’s just one of those fortunate, lucrative coincidences of belief.