While yesterday’s New York Times story about the Caribou Coffee on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. wasn’t exactly written by Woodward and Bernstein, it was an interesting commentary on the Obama administration. The story reports that administration officials are using Caribou Coffee and Starbucks in and around the White House in order to avoid the meetings showing up on the White House’s visitors log. The reporters imply that these meetings are in part the result of Obama’s pledge to remove his administration from the direct influence of lobbyists.
These meetings are infamous in Washington. Not only have the been going on forever in or outside the White House, but they are romanticized in West Wing and often referenced in memoirs and tell-all books. On the other hand, is it really a good idea to brag about something like the volume of meetings with lobbyists knowing they still take place? At the same time, shouldn’t the busiest, most powerful people in this country be able to get coffee occasionally without it requiring a NYT story?
I’m not sure if this is a commentary on what politics has come to these days or a reflection of what passes for “a story” in today’s media. Although I shouldn’t denigrate the story because I read it, I thought about it, I passed it along to you and I wrote about it. So in that sense, it was a great choice. At the same time, just under the surface, the authors seem to be saying there is something wrong here. I disagree. As much as I don’t like the idea that money and lobbyists have one of the strongest “pulls” in Washington, they do. We might as well try to figure out why and address that issue because categorically ignoring the interests of industries like energy, healthcare, pharmaceuticals and finance isn’t a good idea.
Before I let Obama off scot-free, this does seem to be a cheap way to achieve success and points to the occasional method that Obama employs in his campaigning and governing- if he promises it, that makes it true. The problem is, it doesn’t. One of the biggest complaints of Democrats during the primary and Republicans ever since is that Obama makes pledges or promises without fully explaining how he intends to make it happen or make it true. This is a perfect example. Obama promises to remove the role of lobbyists in his policy-making because old-Washington is out and “a new way of doing business is in.” Yet, yesterday’s story explained how Obama and his advisors can maintain his promises in fact while still doing whatever it is they want in practice. They know that not only will most Americans (even regular NYT readers) miss stories like this one but most people are only paying attention to the President’s promises and not whatever happens afterward. As a result, this is a strategy that works. Unfortunately.
I say, unfortunately, because it is a shame that this works and its possible to know that the almighty sound-byte trumps the reality of the situation. Every time. The bottom line is that I don’t think this is a big story and I know that lobbyists are a part of the Washington establishment. But at the same time, it’s just another example of a politician having his cake and eating it too. Now, where did I put my coffee?