A few months ago, I was invited to join an Internet trade group in their lobbying effort in Washington, DC. The goal was to educate Congressmen and
Senators on the realities of privacy online, as well as the complex small-business economy of the millions of mid-sized to small websites that rely on
advertising to survive. Overall, the trip was deemed a success, to some degree, we were able to communicate our issues in a way that was understood,
even appreciated. However, I came back with several additional observations, the most important being that our government is absolutely gridlocked in
a pointless turf-war and that we (the people) have long-since lost any voice we may have thought we had.
FIRSTLY: Let me be clear that it is not I who believes, "Damn the country, Obama must fail." Instead, as you read on, you'll discover
that the statement is an editorialized summary of what appears to be the bunker attitude of republicans on Capital Hill.
It is with hesitation that I post these direct observations and experiences. Foremost because of my role as part owner of
AboveTopSecret.com, and the potential bias that many may see to infer from my statements. However, given the escalating climate of political rancor in
this nation, I hope that the import of my experience outweighs the potential knee-jerk reactions of bias.
My involvement was requested because I'm a part-owner of a "long-tail" web site -- that is, one of millions of sites not part of the small
collection of massively trafficked mainstream news and portal web sites. The goal of the trip was to communicate the complexities and fragility of the
smaller site owners who very much mirror real-world small business owners and comprise a major portion of online traffic, advertising, and content.
Additionally, my background as an advertising executive helped give me the background and communicative tools to portray our concerns in a way that
could be appreciated.
Longworth, Rayburn, and Cannon, Oh My!
We started early, and our rather large rabble of 20-or-so web site owners was divided into groups of four and given a tight schedule of visits. Our
group's rather long and tedious day consisted of nine meetings with Congressmen (most-often a senior aide) spread out among three of the House office
buildings on Independence Ave., the Rayburn, Longworth, and Cannon buildings. Each building is connected by a maze of multi-level underground tunnels
which also connect to the Capitol building. Accompanied by a registered lobbyist (in order to have access to the tunnels), I was teamed up with three
other web site owners as we rushed from meeting to meeting.
On three occasions we actually sat down with a Congressman, and for the most part they did a good job of seeming to show interest in our concerns. The
other visits were with senior aides or assistant chiefs of staff, who worked less to appear concerned but usually had one or two good questions.
Yes but, what can you do for me?
Despite our best efforts of portraying the needs of online small business that are in each congressional district, it became painfully evident that if
we weren't speaking in terms of direct benefit to them, there was no real interest in our visit other than ensuring it ended on time or sooner. This
was the first very clear up close and personal indication that our republic is broken.
Welcome To The Special Interest "Republic"
It's not difficult to spot the four types of people rushing about in the tunnels below the congressional office buildings. Interns and pages are
young and generally are dressed in the best office casual Gap or J. Crew can buy. Congressional staff members are a bit older, and always in business
suits from the more expensive selections of Sears or Kohls, or Macy's if they're a more senior staff members. Actual members of Congress are among
the best-dressed best-coifed people around, and typically the only ones able to wear a smile. Which leaves us with the lobbyists... who are all
wearing dark-colored higher-end business suits, serious expressions, fatigued carriage, and comfortable shoes. Once you can identify the various
denizens it becomes obvious this is no longer our republic, and we're in deep trouble.
While we here on ATS have always known we're in deep trouble, the picture was clearly painted and readily experienced during lunch. In one the
massive cafeterias of the Longworth building, easily 100 (or more) yards long by 60 wide, more than 80% of all the people in the packed room were
lobbyists grabbing some lunch. Our companion lobbyist confirmed the guess, and also confirmed that it was this way in all the cafeterias, and has been
since he can remember (18-year veteran of DC).
So I asked him, "With all these well-paid professional lobbyists representing big chunks of potential money, how do actual constituents stand a
chance?" His response, "They don't, they never did."
I reminded him of the subject matter of my site, and how his statement confirms the concerns of conspiracy theorists everywhere. He said, "It used to
be a conspiracy, now it's just the way things are."
"Damn The Country, Obama Must Fail"
During my "SkepticOverlord Goes To Washington" adventure, I had the opportunity to speak with several lobbyists other than the chaperone assigned to
my group. Some conversations were over cocktails the previous evening, others after the day's events before I had to depart to the airport. One such
person in particular became particularly talkative once I identified who I was, and which site I owned. He knew of ATS and was very interested in many
of our topics. In fact, it might be best to qualify our short but detailed conversation as "getting a weight of his chest."
After being a Washington lobbyist for quite some time (into his second decade), he was clearly disenfranchised and not enjoying his work. Two points
stand out as being particularly important to the events happening right now.
The Republicans Have Their Long-Knives Out:
"Ever since the election, and for the foreseeable future, the Republicans only have one thing on
their mind, screw Obama." He said nothing else matters to them, not voters, and certainly not getting anything done. While the daily dance of special
interest continues, he said that everyone is continually distracted by the inside war between Republicans and Democrats... and the smart lobbyists are
the ones approaching Republicans with strategies and plans to undermine the Democrats and especially Obama. His concern was (and this was in late May,
before the worst of it began), that the "get Obama" climate was in danger of getting out of control and irreparably damaging the entire country.
Nothing Ever Changes, Ever:
The most haunting words I head my entire trip were, "Nothing ever changes here, other than the nameplates on the
Senate, Congressional, and Executive offices. The money (lobbyists) controls every policy, every platform, and in most cases, every election." It's
one thing to know draw this conclusion on your own, it's quite another to hear it straight from an insider's mouth. Sending chills up my spine
hardly covers the feeling.
We're In Deep Trouble
We here on ATS knew this. To most of us, this is no surprise. However, the stunning surprise comes from experiencing an insider's lament as to the
horrible state of the "Special Interest Republic" we have occupying the offices of Washington, DC. To hear, from an insider's mouth, that the
"elected" officials are gridlocked in bitter battle with no focus other than to force the failure of the new President is stunning confirmation of
what we feared was happening. Combined with the overwhelming control of the entire process by special interest money, and the only conclusion we can
draw is, "We're in deep trouble."
Is It Too Late?
Regardless of your politics, or your personal opinion of the person represented by the nameplate on the Oval Office, the culture of "get him" we now
see is beyond perilous. In fact, it so horrific and dangerous to our culture it's difficult to find the appropriate adjective.
I'm no fan of politicians, and especially many in Obama's administration. Part of the reason for my dislike is the never-ending context of attacking
the other party and/or president of the other party. But this current culture of attack-inspired gridlock is, in my opinion, the worst ever. And to
compound our feelings of helplessness, it's all too clear that the current bunker mentality of an us-v-them all out war on Capital Hill is inspired
by the massive money of special interests. This political war, at a time when so much must be done, is quite possibly the death knell of this
Is it too late?
Was there ever any hope?
[edit on 11-8-2009 by SkepticOverlord]