Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Cynicism that is Money/Speech: One more on Daschle

If we accept that lobbying exists as a rhetorical practice, one inextricably linked to the peculiar world of money/speech, we might also begin to explore how money/speech functions to constitute a cynical relationship to government.  Lets take one more look at Daschle and how the policy of lobbying makes its distinctions. While Daschle was removing his name from nomination, Time ran a report on his unofficial lobbying.  This is how Michael Scherer put it in his essay for Time:

Although he never registered, Daschle, in fact, made millions of dollar after he left government doing stuff that looks, smells and tastes a lot like lobbying  ... it is this ethical gray area Daschle's advisory work represents that call in question Obama's promise of changing the culture in Washington.

According to the article, Daschle did not so much make official lobbying contact with any one, but he did advise groups on how to make those contacts, and did participate in what are termed "lobbying activities." By law one does is not a lobbyist unless one registers as one and makes lobbying contacts not simply lobbying activities. 

To be sure, I need to do more work on those distinctions, but fine tuning rhetorical policy to distinguish a lobbying contact from a lobbying activity gives legal cover but does not improve public perceptions about government.  A general cynicism is cultivated by lobbying and the machinations of policing it.  What money/speech produces is cynicism and it may be time to turn our attention to these affective dimensions than the transparency movements' concern about undue influence.  As Tom Waits would sing: Everybody knows.

In a recent review of Robert Kaiser's So Much Damn Money, a book about lobbying, The New Yorker says: "Kaiser's account dwells less on blatant corruption than on what is perfectly, depressingly legal.  Lobbyists, for all their policy-shaping aspirations, come across as simple bagmen, conveying cash between buyers in the private sector and all-too-willing sellers in Congress"  (January 26, 2009: 73).

So, in the end, the legal distinction between lobbying contacts and lobbying activities may be moot, so long as the money talks. 

No comments:

Post a Comment