Lobbyists represent real people

Watching the presidential nomination contest the past few weeks has been aggravating for those who still believe in citizens’ First Amendment rights to assemble and petition their government.

The aggravation stems from the discussion over the role and influence of lobbyists and whether or not I am, as Hillary Clinton put it so well, a "real American."

First a brief recap: In a recent debate, John Edwards challenged Hillary Clinton to stop accepting contributions from lobbyists. Senator Clinton declined, and demonstrated a far better grasp of the First Amendment than Edwards when she noted that "A lot of these lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans. They actually do. They represent nurses, they represent social workers — yes, they represent corporations that employ a lot of people."

This was too much for Edwards, who mocked Senator Clinton’s response by asking the debate audience "How many people in this room have a Washington lobbyist working for you? You are not represented by Washington lobbyists."  Barack Obama joined in, saying "I profoundly disagree with her statements."

I’m sure there were many lobbyists who represent causes embraced by Edwards and the debate audience were surprised to hear they did not exist. A quick check here reveals thousands of lobbyists for groups like the AFL-CIO, the American Cancer Society, the AARP, the Human Rights Campaign, the Sierra Club, and other "progressive" causes.

The arrogance of Edwards’ and Obama’s statements has also been embraced by various left-leaning commentators, bloggers, pundits, and other notables. For example, if you type "Hillary Clinton" + "real Americans" + lobbyists into Google, the first result is this which bashes Senator Clinton’s comments and speculates that she only proposed her health care plan in the early nineties so it could be abandoned, allowing her to get contributions from lobbyists.

The second Google result is titled "Hillary Gaffe – Lobbyists represent real Americans?" and takes you to a clip on YouTube of Senator Clinton’s statement. Legions more of "progressive" bloggers have joined in, deriding any thought that lobbyists might represent "real Americans."

More recently, a Washington Post column by Ruth Marcus calls Senator Clinton’s statement "botched." Marcus then veers into a call to judge the candidates not on whether they accept lobbyist money, but on "What is the candidate’s history on campaign finance reform, lobbying and ethics rules, and open government generally?"

The part of this discussion that revolves around whether lobbyist contributions are somehow corrupting, or whether lobbyists have undue influence, or whether lobbyists represent "special interests," is all fairly typical and only aggravating in the normal way. Ignorance and confusion about the role of lobbyists is fairly unremarkable and predictable.

No, it’s this discussion of "real Americans" that has me so offended, and I think should offend everyone in America.  It’s downright Orwellian and frightening in some regards.

The central conceit of those parroting the Edwards/Obama line is that they, and only they, represent the views of "real Americans." Anybody who disagrees with them, anybody who prefers a different approach to public policy, anybody who has interests at odds with these self-proclaimed "real Americans" doesn’t count as a real person. It is an ideological arrogance of astounding proportions, one that asserts that all honest and decent people must agree with their view, and therefore anybody who disagrees with them is corrupt, dishonest, malicious, and vile.

Edwards, Obama, and those who have taken up this charge that lobbyists don’t represent "real Americans" are embracing the totalitarian ideal, that persons that disagree with them aren’t of any concern, that the refusal of certain people to go along with their program is justification for labeling them enemies of the people and disposing of them and their assets as the selected representatives of "real Americans" deem appropriate. It’s a disgusting ideal, more reminiscent of Czarist and communist Russia than anything remotely within the American tradition of citizenship.

On this issue Senator Clinton has been admirable in her dogged defense of the right of the people "to petition the government for a redress of grievances," even those people who don’t agree with her preferred policies. Those who denigrate their fellow citizens as not being "real Americans" because they don’t share the "progressive" perspective may want to rethink their positions and rhetoric and ask if they really want to go down this path.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.