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Lobbyists, Insiders and the Fall Race
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Lobbyists, Insiders and the Fall Race

Lobbyists, Insiders and the Fall Race

Lobbyists, Insiders and the Fall Race
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Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama are trading blows about the influence of lobbyists and insiders on the presidential campaign. But perhaps the rhetoric deserves a skeptical ear.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And as we turn toward the general election, Barack Obama and John McCain are describing themselves as leaders who won't be owned by the Washington establishment. Already they have been squabbling over the matter of lobbyists and influence. It heated up last month as McCain's campaign began to shed high-level staffers who had been lobbyists.

NPR's senior analyst Daniel Schorr has this take on the central role that lobbyists play in politics.

DANIEL SCHORR: The McCain campaign announced a new rule: no registered lobbyists and no registered foreign agents on his staff. Candidate Barack Obama pounced. He said it appears that John McCain is a victim of Washington. Senator Obama has promised not to use lobbyists in paid positions on his staff. Every so often the cult of the Washington insider bubbles to the surface. There are these super lawyers, like the late Edward Bennett Williams and Clark Clifford and Lloyd Cutler. They were valuable to presidents because they understood the workings of Washington.

Abe Fortas, even when he was on the Supreme Court, would have quiet sessions with President Johnson to give him political advice. Those who shun the Washington insiders sometimes paid heavily. President Carter brought a breath of fresh air from Georgia to the Capitol only to find his legislative initiatives defeated because he didn't understand how to deal with Congress.

When President Clinton found his public relations program foundering, he called in a Republican Washington insider, David Gergen, to help. Most Washington insiders are content to be rewarded with influence, which can be employed in the interests of lobbying clients. But then there are the corrupt insiders like Jack Abramoff, who's now in jail for defrauding the Indian tribes he was supposedly lobbying for.

Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld both worked for previous Republican presidents and both qualify as Washington insiders. It remains to be seen how much of their inside advice was responsible for the Iraq War. It's customary these days for presidential candidates to campaign against the Washington insider. But chances are that once in office, the new president, Republican or Democrat, will lean on insiders who know the ways of Washington.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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