"John McCain can't see or won't acknowledge what's obvious to all of us here today -- that lobbyists aren't just part of the system in Washington, they're part of the problem."
-- Then-Sen. Barack Obama campaigning in Montana, May 19, 2008.
President Obama wants to place a new tax on your monthly cell phone bill to pay for his plan to put WiFi in more classrooms. And all he needs to do it is one more lobbyist in his administration.
Getting American consumers to cough up the billions needed for Obama's "ConnectEd" initiative doesn't depend on Congress or anything so tedious as winning bipartisan support. The president's initiative instead rests squarely on his ability to push through the nomination of Tom Wheeler, a telecommunications lobbyist and Obama campaign bundler, to head the Federal Communications Commission.
The tax would seem a certainty, then, because Senate Democrats succeeded last month in cowing their Republican colleagues into abandoning the use of the filibuster on presidential nominations. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid succeeded in his "nuclear option" gambit and now even a lobbyist riding point on a new tax would seem to be a shoo-in for confirmation.
And that's kind of the story in Washington these days. As Obama retreats from passing laws into the easier business of making rules, the lobbyists he once pummeled for political benefit become more and more influential.
Obama pilloried Sen. John McCain for his lobbyist ties again and again and vowed not to take money from lobbyists or have them work in his administration. It was great stuff and helped Obama tap into populist anger against Washington.
In Obama's first term there were occasional shocked stories about how lobbyists were worming their way into the president's lobby-free zone: sneaking into fundraisers, huddling in coffee shops with junior staffers, winning waivers to surmount Obama's restrictions. There was lots of tut-tutting on the left and warning to the president that he should be careful about these wily lobbyist types.
Now, when the president nominates the former head of a lobbying group to lead the agency that regulated his former paymasters it gets a big ho-hum. It's just one more turn of the revolving door. That the lobbyist in question is set to advance a new tax that would fall hardest on poor cell-phone users? Double yawn.
The fact that Obama's administration sided with industry lobbyists over liberal advocates when it came to delaying provision in the law deemed burdensome by large employers and insurance companies would have once been a scandal. That the news broke while he was at a cocktail party at the Martha's Vineyard home of a lobbyist who took a break from his profitable pursuits to work on Obama's campaign would have been screaming headline itself.
And an administration that wasn't supposed to hire lobbyists was also expected not to produce many. Team Obama was going to be different and stop the revolving door. It's denizens would go on to public service or cool green-tech start-ups. But guess what? K street is now hopping with Obamanauts and as Mark Leibovich has reported, they're having some success in shifting administration policy.
All of that renders Obama's 2008 campaign pledges not just broken, but rather absurd. Do remember that Obama's only notable accomplishment in his brief Senate career was a law restricting lobbyist gifts and lunches in Congress. His attacks on lobbyists were the core of his campaign. And now... it's whatever.
Obama hires, nominates, toasts and accommodates lobbyists without even much notice in the Washington press. Why?
First, because Official Washington is glad that Obama dropped all that populist stuff and came around on economically advantageous Washington incest. It is influence peddling that keeps the Beltway bubble inflated. Plus, it's so much nicer to deal with reasonable insiders "who know how Washington works" than have to deal with angry hayseeds. Hayseeds are simply terrible when it comes to hosting brunches.
Second, because it's the Republican's fault. That's right. It's because Republicans refuse to help the president or compromise on things like implementing ObamaCare or raising cell phone taxes that Obama has no choice but to retreat to the world of regulatory lever-pulling. And who knows how to pull the levers better than the lobbyists who helped design them in the first place?
Since in the telling of team Obama, only racially tinged, dispatriotic personal animus against the president would cause people to oppose things like taxing cell phones to spend billions of dollars to add WiFi hot spots at elementary schools, what choice does Obama have but to go it alone? Well, not alone. The lobbyists will make sure he's got plenty of company for his trip.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.