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

January 2015

Come With Us If You Want to Live

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Body Politic

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Problem of Pain Management

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Game On

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Love Crimes

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Body Politic·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“‘He wrote all these love poems, but he was a son of a bitch,’ said a reporter from a wire service.”
Illustration by Steven Dana
Article
Love Crimes·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If a man rapes a woman, she might be forced to marry him, because in Afghanistan sex before marriage is dishonorable.”
Photographs © Andrew Quilty/Oculi/Agence VU
Article
Game On·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union had posed a truly existential threat.”
Illustration by Taylor Callery
Article
Come With Us If You Want to Live·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I was startled that all these negative ideologies could be condensed so easily into a positive worldview.”
Illustration by Darrel Rees
Article
Christmas in Prison·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Just so you motherfuckers know, I’ll be spending Christmas with my family, eating a good meal, and you’ll all be here, right where you belong.”
Photographer unknown. Artwork courtesy Alyse Emdur

Acres of hemp grown by “patriotic‚” U.S. farmers in 1942 at the behest of the U.S. government:

36,000

A study suggested that the health effects of exposure to nuclear radiation at Chernobyl were no worse than ill health resulting from smoking and normal urban air pollution.

Greenpeace apologized after activists accidentally defaced the site of Peru’s 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines when they unfurled cloth letters reading “time for change” near the ancient sand drawings. “We fully understand,” the group wrote in a statement, “that this looks bad.”

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