Washington Babylon — November 16, 2009, 9:53 am

The Washington Version of the Twinkie Defense

The New York Times reported over the weekend that dozens of statements from members of congress printed in the Congressional Record during the House debate on health care “were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.”

“E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans,” said the newspaper. “Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.”

Some members of congress expressed regret for having their statements written by lobbyists, and said they assumed that their staffers had put the words in their mouths, not lobbyists. But an unnamed lobbyist “close to Genentech” defended the practice, saying “This happens all the time.”

It’s good to know that lobbyists routinely write statements for members of congress, but that defense — that these sorts of things “happen all the time” so it must be OK — isn’t very compelling. Try it during your next court appearance and see how the judge reacts.

(A few years ago I found that the lobby firm of Patton Boggs had drafted a statement for Congressman Joe Barton of Texas in support of its client Kazakhstan. “Mr Speaker, if the United States is to become truly energy independent, it must seek non-OPEC alternatives for our supply of oil,” Barton’s statement said. “Kazakhstan can — and is willing to — help greatly in this endeavor.” When asked about this, Barton’s spokesman replied: “Some think Congress has no business listening to people who are paid to know something. They think congressmen would do better to get all their information from newspapers and social activists. We think that’s baloney. We take our facts where we find them, and we use them where we choose.”)

Another version of that defense is when politicians claim that they deeply believe in campaign finance reform but they can’t actually restrict contributions to their own campaigns because that would amount to “unilateral disarmament.” Do a Google search with those words and “campaign finance” and you’ll see that it’s been trotted out forever as a justification for raking in as much cash as possible, by both Democrats and Republicans. There is some logic to the claim, but at bottom it’s simply an easy way to claim virtue and innocence while having neither, and it allows for political grandstanding and complete inaction. The perfect Washington combination.

Share
Single Page

More from Ken Silverstein:

From the November 2013 issue

Dirty South

The foul legacy of Louisiana oil

Perspective October 23, 2013, 8:00 am

On Brining and Dining

How pro-oil Louisiana politicians have shaped American environmental policy

Postcard October 16, 2013, 8:00 am

The Most Cajun Place on Earth

A trip to one of the properties at issue in Louisiana’s oil-pollution lawsuits 

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2014

Cassandra Among the
Creeps

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

PBS Self-Destructs

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Monkey Did It

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
 
Rebecca Solnit on silencing women, a Marine commander returns to Iraq, the decline of PBS, and more
Article
Cassandra Among the Creeps·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On silencing women
“The old framework of feminine mendacity and murky-mindedness is still routinely trotted out, and we should learn to recognize it for what it is.”
Photograph © Sallie Dean Shatz
Post
Ending College Sexual Assault·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is not a fable about a young woman whose dreams were dashed by a sexual predator. Maya’s narrative is one of institutional failure at a school desperately trying to adapt.”
Photograph © AP/Josh Reynolds
Post
 
"Clothes are a bit like eating: you have to dress yourself. You have to eat, and even if you eat pizza all day long, that’s still a choice."
Photograph © G Powell
Article
“Today Is Better Than Tomorrow”·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Iraq has every disease there is; its mind is deranged with too many voices, its organs corrupted, its limbs only long enough to tear at its own body.”
Photograph by Benjamin Busch

Number of times President Obama mentioned “climate change” in his 2012 State of the Union address:

1

Heroin addiction in Afghanistan was determined to have risen by 140 percent since 2005.

“All I saw,” said a 12-year-old neighbor of visits to the man’s house, “was just cats in little diapers.”

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today