- The Washington Times - Friday, February 11, 2000

Hmmmmmmmm. Let's see if we've got this straight:
Dozens of corporate fat cats, who maintain expensive lobbying offices in Washington and whose lobbyists' jobs are dependent on spending millions to influence legislation and presidential implementation of policy, are throwing money at John McCain because they can't wait to get kicked out of town.
Dozens of them met at a McCain fund-raising dinner last night at the Willard to cheer the senator on, but if they were wearing "Kick Me" signs on their backs, the print was very small, indeed.
Nevertheless, this is Mr. McCain's message: "All these folks are giving me money because they know I'm going to kick their butts, and they can't wait."
This is barely a paraphrase. Chris Matthews threw this hard ball at him on his MSNBC talking-head show: "You're having a fund-raiser [at the Willard Hotel], and there are going to be a lot of lobbyists there. How do you explain that and square that with your dream for an America that doesn't have that kind of system?"
The senator replied: "Because a lot of these guys that are going to be showing up, and women who are going to be showing up there … are sick and tired of it, too. They're tired of being dunned for all this money. They're tired of getting having money being the reason why their legislation gets through or not, rather than virtue. But the real story is, I'm not going to be there. I'm doing a satellite fund-raiser in 30 other spots, including exotic places full of lobbyists, like Bullhead City, Arizona."
Well, maybe that explanation will satisfy some of the people some of the time, maybe even enough of the people enough of the time. And maybe it's true that the Washington lobbyist, like the girls in the typing pool, wants to be loved for his mind, his insights into government and policy, his bons mots at dinner, and longs for the day when senators and presidential candidates court him not for his cash but for his character.
The people who believe this, naive though they may be, would believe the bordello madam who insists that the gents who patronize her place are not there for the girls, but for the conversation. The madam's customers are sick and tired of all the sex but they're willing, grudging as it may be, to take the girls upstairs if that's the only way they get to stay downstairs long enough to hear the piano player bang out all four verses of "Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound." But, darn it, they want the madam's assurance that she'll get rid of the girls. (Well, some day. Not tonight.)
But maybe the fat cats pay closer attention than most folks to how things actually work. Maybe they're on to something the rest of us are not. Maybe they know that the senator, whose Senate Commerce Committee has legislative oversight over everything that moves on the highways, the railroads, the runways, the telephone and telegraph wires, the public airwaves and the Internet, has been a remarkably friendly overseer. Congenial. Compliant, even.
The Wall Street Journal calls Mr. McCain "a favorite gadfly of corporate America," and it's not difficult to see why he gets free rides on squadrons of corporate jets.
"Since January 1997, when he took over the Senate Commerce Committee," reports the Wall Street Journal, "he has attacked cable-television operators for raising rates, but has refused to write legislation that would force them to open their networks to competitors. He has bashed airlines for poor service, but has walked away from customer-rights legislation after they moved to clean up their act. He has scrapped with Internet companies over favorable tax treatment of executive stock options, but has proselytized and legislated against Internet taxes. Even with his own pet project, requiring free television airtime for political candidates, he has told regulators to stay away and let Congress handle it."
If you're a Washington lobbyist for Bell Atlantic, AT&T;, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Time Warner all purveyors of cash to Mr. McCain maybe you understand the wink and the nod. Of course you wouldn't expect a United States senator to talk the way he acts or doesn't act. Mr. McCain understands the formula set down by Earl Long, the late and great governor of Louisiana, where the art of scratching where a client itches is not unknown. "Never say what you can grunt," the governor said. "Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary."
Once a pol learns that, and how to be a gadfly with buzz and no bite, there's no limit to how high he can fly.

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