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June 23, 2008, 12:00 P.M.

I just read an interesting editorial by Michael Barone, a senior writer with US News and World Report about lobbyists. It was an interesting insight into the place of lobbyists in US politics and for that reason it is worth a read.

Barone’s piece made me think of another angle to the recent stigmatization of lobbyists: the apparent propensity of people to shift blame from where it belongs to where it is more convenient to place it. In the case of lobbyists, we seem to say that without them, Washington would be a more virtuous place and that legislation would be more in line with the will of the people. The theory goes that the problem with government lies not with elected officials, but with the corrupting influence of lobbyists. I don’t buy it anymore than I do any other category of scapegoating. The first that comes to mind, of course, is the myth that insurance costs are related to runaway verdicts and not the exorbitant salaries of industry executives or bad investments. Then there is the now-infamous claim that Bush was relying on “bad intel” when he lied to the country about his reasons for invading Iraq.

Lobbyists do serve a purpose and they are not going away. Their purpose is to advocate for the personal, professional and business interests of those they represent. In the best case, they influence legislation through persuasion, information and suggestion, not through bribery, misinformation and deceit. The most effective deterrent to this behavior is the integrity of the public official.

It is here that we as constituents and voters need to focus our attention on who we are sending out to represent us, and the issues they are focusing on. In other words, we need to pay attention, and we need to know that our elected officials know that we are. I also believe that familiarity truly does breed contempt, and that elected government posts should not be a lifetime enterprise. Lobbyists should make their arguments and advocate on their merit rather than through bribery or coercion or past relationships with long-term government officials.

That being said, there have been sterling examples of senators and members of Congress who have served with distinction for many years. There are also lobbyists who don’t offer or sanction other less scrupulous practices of their colleagues. It’s really all about paying attention, and participating in government rather than assuming that someone else will do it for you, or that the assigned scapegoats really are the bad guys.

Blaming lobbyists for corruption in Washington is neither realistic nor reasonable and it does not address the self-serving culture that pervades national politics today. Republicans claim that Democrats will tax and spend while they increase deficits, give tax breaks to undeserving corporate citizens and pass the costs of their policies off to future generations. We need to insure that our government focuses its attention on our future, our environment, and our military and economic security without continuing to erode our stature abroad. This means that we as a nation, our leaders and our citizens, need to accept responsibility for past mistakes and move forward with a renewed commitment to playing well with others and accepting responsibility for our actions. In other words, it’s time for change.

June 18, 2008, 12:00 P.M.

Last night I stayed up and watched the Celtics beat LA for their 17th NBA title. “How sweet it is.” (Jackie Gleason). What a great series, and what a great example of unselfish team play. Paul Pierce emerged as a truly great team leader in true Celtics tradition, and Doc Rivers finally got to touch the trophy. It was all nice to see, especially since Pierce has been a Celtic for his entire career and since Doc has struggled in the playoffs for his entire career. Time for well-earned duck boat ride!

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