Memo To: Arianna Huffington
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: All Those Lobbyists
You remember Sally Brown, the little girl in the Peanuts cartoon strip. She's the one who says: "All I want is what's coming to me. All I want is my fair share." I thought of her the other day when I read your excellent August 19 column -- "Hungry Lobbyists Gnawing Away at Democracy" -- off Matt Drudge's home page. You absolutely are correct in noting that it really doesn't make much difference whether you are a Democrat or Republican these days. Our representatives in Congress all are lobbied by the same 20,000 men and women who live in and around the District of Columbia, making handsome livings. Who needs "term limits" when members of Congress, on their own volition, are leaving their congressional seats in ever greater numbers to earn several times their public pay as Washington lobbyists?
My only quibble, Arianna, is that you seem to blame the lobbyists, when it is the politicians who are poisoning the well of democracy. They keep passing laws favoring one group over all other groups, which means the other groups have to hire their own lobbyists to get their fair share. This is the nature of the Political Establishment, and they do not want it to end. Democratic and Republican members of Congress are horrified at the thought of reforming the tax system so its provisions could be contained on a single page, as Ross Perot suggested in 1992. At the time, I told Perot in his Dallas office that the establishment would do anything it could to stop him: It would first use character assassination, and if that didn't work, they would use real bullets! Our national government is as corrupt now as it was when the GOP was given control -- perhaps even more so. Republicans used to kid themselves that the Democrats were corrupted by 40 years of unbroken control of the House of Representatives. Now it is painfully obvious that Republicans are loving the gravy train, which is why the number of registered lobbyists has increased by 37% since 1997.
There is no way to stop the escalation of the power and number of the lobbyists. What you should have pointed out is these 20,000 Gucci-clad men and women ALSO REPRESENT THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES. This is because every American belongs to a great many vested interests. When as producers or consumers or taxpayers or motorists or meat-eaters or church-goers or seniors or public pensioners or stockholders or bondholders or bankers, et cetera, they see the other vested interests GETTING MORE, the only way they can catch up is to hire more or better lobbyists.
Imagine a true reformer would get to the Oval Office with a mandate to simplify government. Not make it smaller, necessarily. Just make it simpler. A new tax system on a single sheet of paper could be written, and as a result everyone in the United States would lose their special tax break or subsidy. Simple arithmetic demonstrates when everyone gives back their "fair share," it is fair to everyone, and nobody loses. True, 20,000 lobbyists lose their jobs in Washington because we are back to square one. But the economy could grow so much more productively if the lawyers and accountants could add to it in productive ways, instead of mud wresting for one's fair share, that they all would be making handsome livings elsewhere.
But if we did simplify in this manner, you know it would not be long before some lobbyist was successful in adding a paragraph to the one-page tax code. Then another lobbyist would demand his fair share and another paragraph would be added, until everyone in the country got the tax code changed to give them their fair share. The tax code would then be a million words long and the process would start all over again, until we got to where we are now after 86 years, with more than 5 million words, and tens of thousands of words added daily to federal regulations in exactly the same manner. What we need, of course, is a President who understands this and is not a creature of the political establishment. Al Gore? George Bush? Hmmmmm.