By Michael Kinsley
Sunday, July 11, 2004; Page B07
In Washington a few months ago, I ran into Dan Glickman. Glickman, a longtime member of Congress from Kansas, was secretary of agriculture under President Bill Clinton. Then he moved to Boston to run the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.
He said, "You're in from Seattle? How do you like that new Alaska Airlines nonstop from Sea-Tac into Reagan National?"
This was indeed a thrilling development for all public-spirited citizens of Seattle. But why was Glickman so excited? "Do you come to Seattle a lot?" I asked. No, he hadn't been there for years. So? Well, it turns out that Glickman is one of those airline schedule romantics, always thumbing the timetables (or, now, surfing the travel sites) and imagining exotic connections. I thought, and still think, it's charming that someone who must have to travel so much in real life would devote valuable fantasy time to airplane trips. But now that Glickman has been chosen to succeed the legendary Jack Valenti as head of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) -- a k a the Hollywood lobby -- travel may finally lose its glamour. Valenti used to bounce back and forth between the coasts multiple times a week.
The main reason I bring all this up, though, is to show off that I know Dan Glickman. It used to be that lobbying was a déclassé, if not downright furtive, pursuit. Lobbyists might brag about their friendship with politicians (or, in a few pathetic cases, even journalists). But nobody would brag about being friends with a lobbyist. Thanks in part to decades of cross-country civic education by Valenti, that's all changed. We now accept the vital role of the lobbyist in our constitutional system.
The press coverage of the selection of Valenti's successor was amazing -- in its quantity and page one prominence, and in its sense of awe and drama that such profound responsibilities were about to descend upon one human being. You would have thought the job was running UNICEF, or a seat on the Supreme Court, not protecting one industry's interests in the political system.
The meaning of all this media coverage is clear. Glickman has been a congressman. He has been a member of the president's Cabinet. He has taught at Harvard. But now he's a really big deal. Putting it in the patois of Glickman's new constituents: He went out there a politician but he came back . . . a lobbyist.
In truth, I hardly know Dan Glickman at all. But let's keep that to ourselves, shall we? If Glickman sends me a photo of himself or, even better, a photo of the two of us shaking hands, autographed to his best friend me with thanks for all my help, I will frame it on my office wall. Signed photos like this of politicians have long been the standard decor of lawyers' and lobbyists' offices in Washington. It is only fitting now that people should start hanging pictures of lobbyists in their offices, implying that they know Dan Glickman better than they really do.
While the world waited for the sight of smoke rising from the MPAA offices, indicating that the Cardinals of Cinema had made their choice, some Republicans threatened dire consequences if the MPAA anointed a Democrat. Then they had a public hissy fit when the movie producers went and did just that. The Republicans seem to regard losing the MPAA like losing a Senate seat or a key congressional district, only more important. This is a huge setback for the "K Street Project," started by House Republican leader Tom DeLay, run by that delightfully over-the-top Republican operative Grover Norquist and dedicated to securing plum lobbying jobs for the GOP.
This too is something new, or at least the reductio ad absurdum of a long-term trend. Traditionally lobbyists are supposed to importune politicians. Politicians are not supposed to importune lobbyists. Of course, one of the fringe benefits of being the ruling party is supposed to be lucrative lobbying jobs for your elected officials and their loyal aides to ease into after hard years of public service. But for pity's sake, you don't come right out and demand that. Heavens, DeLay, where is your couth?
Norquist told The Post that the MPAA's choice of Glickman was "a studied insult," and that the movie industry's "ability to work with the House and Senate is greatly reduced" as a result. This kind of talk -- indeed, the entire K Street Project -- gives the game away a bit more than is absolutely necessary. After all, if you say that you won't be influenced by lobbyists if they don't hire your people, and you say it menacingly, you are more or less promising that you will be influenced by lobbyists if they do hire your people. Even lobbyists can't be happy at this overly frank admission of how it works.
But let these Republican mewlings not detract from the majesty and historic significance of the past week. Let the word go forth: The torch has been passed to a new generation of movie industry lobbyists. The MPAA will pay any price (specifically, $1.5 million, which is Glickman's reported salary) and bear any burden to protect its interests in Washington. It will never negotiate with Congress out of fear, but it will never fear to negotiate. Ask not what the major film studios can do for you. Ask what you can do for the major film studios.
As for Jack Valenti, he will be spending his time and copious energy raising money for the fight against AIDS around the world. What a comedown.
The writer is editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company