In the beginning there were lobbyists. The word itself had a bad connotation - rather like beer - conveying in the US a cartoon image of a fat, coarse-faced, table-thumping guy with a disreputable hat, demanding the member of Congress vote his way.
In the beginning there were lobbyists. The word itself had a bad
connotation - rather like beer - conveying in the US a cartoon image of
a fat, coarse-faced, table-thumping guy with a disreputable hat,
demanding the member of Congress vote his way.
In the nineteenth century, most people believed that stereotype of the
lobbyist, and as with most stereotypes, it was largely a true
With enough whiskey and enough free golf, it was thought, any member
Then, along with radio and chain newspapers, came the advent of what was
called public affairs, the attempt at suasion of politicians by a
demonstration of overwhelming public opinion. First came multiple
mailing - with thousands of identical printed penny postcards - a
technique, one imagines, that lost its effectiveness after the first
week or so but nonetheless continued until fairly recently.
The technique transmogrified into multiple identical phone calls,
usually from paid callers in whose voices - as the memorable radio
put-down goes - one could hear the acne. But the more sophisticated
eventually prevailed, and ’grass-roots’ campaigns gradually took
This kind of lobbying was a full-scale effort designed to sell
candidates and their opponents on the idea that there was a large number
of supporters anxious to see the passage of a favorite piece of
legislation. This concept of ’public affairs,’ a quite legitimate
marshalling of pre-existing support, operated for a time rather
effectively. It proved a good way to persuade a legislator to support
the lobbyist’s client, either because it seemed the will of a sizeable
group of constituents or because it offered welcome support in the
future for a vote the member conscientiously wanted to cast anyway.
Now, alas, we’re back to money. Even copious quantities of whiskey won’t
do the trick, and golf will hardly do (well, maybe a coveted country
club membership somewhere). Just by way of example, when some
businessmen wanted to meet with a Democratic ranking member of an
important committee - who was virtually certain to be chairman next year
- to support a bill of theirs, he agreed to meet them - at a
The cost of campaigning - really, the cost of television - has risen so
sharply that legislators, especially senators, must spend a major part
of every day on the phone, calling lists of political donors. ’Hello,
Bill, it’s ... . How’s ... , that adorable wife of yours? And did your
son/daughter ... get into Yale/Harvard/Stanford? Bill, as you know, the
other party has targeted me, and I’d sure appreciate any help...’
Is it any wonder issues have disappeared?