Obama makes a mockery of his own lobbyist ban

More than 40 former lobbyists work in senior positions in the Obama administration, including three Cabinet secretaries and the CIA director. Yet in his State of the Union address, Obama claimed, “We've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.”

Did Obama speak falsely?

Well, it depends on what the definition of “excluded lobbyists” is.

I asked the White House if he chose his words poorly, but the media affairs office defended the president's statement: “As the President said,” a spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail, “we have turned away lobbyists for many, many positions.”

So, the country may have heard, “we haven't hired lobbyists to policymaking jobs,” but the White House tells us Obama meant, “we only hired some of the lobbyists who applied for policymaking jobs.” In other words, they've excluded some lobbyists.

And this was in the context of reducing the “deficit of trust.”

So Obama has, indeed, taken a Clintonian turn, but not toward the center. Instead, he has adopted our 42nd president's use of clearly misleading statements that can be parsed so as to be factually correct, at least in a general sort of way.

Using Obama's grammar, we can say George W. Bush avoided wars in the Mideast (he didn't invade Iran), and Bush's father refused to raise taxes (repeatedly, for months).

On the day after the State of the Union, when Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked Obama about his campaign pledge on lobbyists (“They will not work in my White House”), Obama explained that he had made some worthy exceptions: “For example, a doctor who ran Tobacco-Free Kids technically is a registered lobbyist, on the other hand, has more expertise than anybody in figuring out how kids don't get hooked on cigarettes. So there have been a couple of instances like that. …”

Sure, some of Obama's 40 ex-lobbyists are like that anti-smoking activist, but many are of a different stripe, such as William J. Wilkins, the general counsel of Obama's IRS, a former lobbyist for the Swiss Bankers Association.

Or Monsanto's former VP for public policy, Michael Taylor, who Obama tapped as deputy commissioner for foods at the Food and Drug Administration.

William J. Lynn became Obama's deputy defense secretary within 10 months of being a lobbyist for Raytheon, a giant of the military-industrial complex. By the way, Raytheon's fourth-quarter profits were up 20 percent from a year ago.

Joe Biden's chief of staff, Ron Klain, was a K Street lobbyist who represented Fannie Mae during the housing boom, opposing regulation of the now-bailed-out mortgage giant. And Biden's deputy chief of staff is Alan Hoffman, a K Street veteran who helped oil giant Unocal avoid U.S. sanctions against its natural-gas partnership with the military dictatorship of Burma.

Obama touts the ethics executive order he signed his first day, and none of the above lobbyist appointments violate it (which should suggest how toothless Obama's lobbyist regulations are). Wilkins, for instance, stopped registering as a lobbyist for Swiss bankers and the like in 2003, while Obama's restrictions reach back only two years. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack avoids issues dealing with his former employer, the National Education Association.

William Lynn at DOD? He got a waiver from the president, and so he's exempt from the new rules.

But then there's Mark Patterson, a Goldman Sachs lobbyist until April 2008 (apparently, back then, Wall Street lobbyists weren't all evil in Obama's eyes) who now serves as chief of staff at the Treasury Department. He's one of those lobbyists whom Obama neither “excluded” nor granted a waiver.

But whether or not Obama is living up to his executive order, he's not living up to his rhetoric.

That candidate Obama would pledge lobbyists “will not work in my White House,” but President Obama would hire many of them, reflects what we already knew during the campaign: Obama was inexperienced and naive about the realities of governing.

That President Obama would say, “we've excluded lobbyists,” when he really meant, “we've included them, too,” tells us something more surprising: That he's willing to mislead us, as long as he's left himself a semantic back door to escape through if he gets called out.

Now we're forced to parse all of Obama's claims and promises. Now we always have to try to guess what the president actually means. Obama might soon learn, as Bill Clinton did, that a “deficit of trust” carries a steep price.

Timothy P. Carney, The Examiner's lobbying editor, can be reached at tcarney@washingtonexaminer.com. He writes an op-ed column that appears on Friday.

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