- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2007

An odd transformation occurred on the landscape of American politics this year. Democrats now conspicuously flaunt their ties to special interests, but no one seems to notice. It’s as if they cut down the tree of opposition to lobbyists, but they didn’t make a sound in the forest.

In the Democrats’ race to the White House, their nomination carnival weaves its way to the primaries almost anonymously through a cavalcade of special interests. Last month alone featured several forums with big labor and debates sponsored by homosexual groups.

Special interests, it now seems — at least those that vote and give money to the Democratic Party — are not so nefarious after all. Even the party’s presidential front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, tipped her hat to influence peddlers recently. Quoted last month in the New York Times, she said, “A lot of those lobbyists, whether you like it or not, represent real Americans.”

So, rather than representing a “culture of corruption,” these groups are now important “stakeholders” in the process, giving voice to millions of hard-working Americans. She is right. Teachers, environmental activists and trial lawyers — to name a few friends of the Democratic Party — are indeed real people, too. And they all employ lobbyists.

Few, however — except my friends at National Review Online — seem to smell the fumes of irony emitted from the pander parade. They wrote last week that Illinois Sen. Barack Obama stood before the AFL-CIO — a group actively and vigorously involved lobbying in the trade debate — and declared, “special interests have been shaping our trade policy. That’s something that I’ll end.” Don’t get me wrong. I personally support these groups’ involvement in the process. Putting aside the specifics of their agendas, special-interest groups mobilize and educate millions of Americans in the political process. But the media and Democrats routinely greet some while demonizing others.

To his credit, the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney at least touched on this double standard recently, quoting grousing Democratic presidential aides asking when was the last time the National Rifle Association demanded the Republicans appear before them to debate Second Amendment issues? Good question.

If Republicans debated before groups that traditionally support the Republican Party, the media would bludgeon them for soliciting support from extremists. In today’s politics, Democrats are immune from such intimidation because those who largely mediate the political debate in America — the mainstream media — provide the vaccination.

Congress offers another example. Nowhere are the muscles of Democrat-oriented special interests flexed more than on Capitol Hill, without much critical attention from the mainstream media.

Last weekend, the New York Times wrote a story about Democrats attempting to weaken what they called “President Bush’s education law.” The report failed to mention that No Child Left Behind legislation was drafted to a large degree and supported by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Democratic Rep. George Miller of California, who now both chair the respective House and Senate education committees.

It quotes an education lobbyist describing the handiwork of special interests in this effort. “You can see where they’ve [Democrats] tried to satisfy education groups like the teachers unions and the school boards,” the lobbyist observed. If Republican lawmakers last year had tried to “satisfy” a business group’s concern, Democrats would have shouted “culture of corruption,” and the press would have willingly provided a megaphone. Today those voices are mute, as lobbyists for labor, trial-lawyer and environmental groups advise, shape and write legislative language for the Democrats in Congress.

Special interests are alive and well in presidential politics and Congress. Like it or not, their influence remains a powerful force in America. You just don’t hear as much about them now because of a subtle hypocrisy in the rhetoric of public policy-making.

When Republicans respond to special interests, it is evidence of a broken, corrupt system. When Democrats do the same, the process works by giving voice to “legitimate stakeholders.” The media’s silence about the new power of liberal special interests is deafening.

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