The GOP Establishment shell game: when winning is losing.
“Clark is a wonderful fellow. In a day when many are seeking a reward for what they contributed to the return of the Democrats to the White House, you don’t hear Clark clamoring. All he asked in return was that we advertise his law firm on the backs of one-dollar bills.” — John F. Kennedy on Washington lobbyist and ex-Truman aide Clark Clifford
What can one say?
Is there any wonder Tea Party supporters think they are always in danger of being played?
In a Republican Establishment shell game.
Sunday’s New York Times Magazine brought a long cud-chewer titled “Does Anyone Have a Grip on the GOP? The GOP Elite Tries to Take It’s Party Back.”
In which all manner of people who perhaps should have thought twice or four times sat down with a reporter for America’s premiere left-wing journal of left-wing record and stripped naked precisely the problem with the “Republican Establishment.”
As with anyone who has worked in Washington, I can say, to update a sentiment that was once used almost exclusively in a racial context, “some of my best friends are Washington insiders.” Or, if you will, lobbyists.
And as someone who is not a lobbyist by choice and has long since skedaddled home to William Penn’s Woods, perhaps we should get out of the way that there is somehow something wrong with lobbying. It is, first of all, a protected constitutional right thanks to Mr. Madison and language included in that pesky First Amendment. (“Congress shall make no law….abridging the freedom of speech….or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”) This is merely a formal way of recognizing that the human species is in its own several interesting ways a race of lobbyists: children lobbying parents (“Mommy I want…”), spouses lobbying each other to varying degrees of success (“not tonight dear”), boyfriends lobbying would-be girlfriends and vice versa (those old stand-bys of flowers and hints of sex), prospective employees lobbying prospective bosses (“here’s my résumé”) and, but of course, the politician lobbying voters (“elect me and I promise…”).
Perhaps one of the more famous lobbyists on the Washington scene was the late aforementioned Clark Clifford. A St. Louis, Missouri lawyer, his presence in Washington began when, as a young man, he was gifted with the opportunity to serve as a young naval aide to President Harry Truman. Not coincidentally, Truman was also from Missouri. But Truman’s presence at the desk in the Oval Office — and Clifford’s frequently seated beside that desk — was entirely due to a long suspected and suddenly appearing rendezvous of Franklin Roosevelt with eternity. In the blink of an eye on an early April evening of 1945, the new and (outside of the precincts of Missouri and Washington, D.C. nearly anonymous) Vice President Truman was now President Truman. And as night follows day, the Roosevelt crowd was not thrilled with Mr. Truman, nor he with them. Which made plenty of room in the White House for someone from Missouri who really liked Harry Truman. And that was definitely Clark Clifford.
The two shared various adventures together — notably the 1948 upset over sure-thing Republican Establishment nominee Thomas E. Dewey. But eventually Harry Truman retired and Clark Clifford was on his own. Which meant that with one brief excursion back into government as LBJ’s last Secretary of Defense, Clark Clifford was hard at work doing exactly what JFK had hinted at in that famous quote: lobbying. Becoming what one might call “influential” in town.
Or, as The Washington Post once wrote:
Men who had legal problems with political dimensions, or political problems with legal dimensions, all called Clark Clifford, who was a master at tweezing one from the other — and then defusing both.
But there is an all-too-obvious point often missed in descriptions of Clark Clifford — a point that stands out glaringly in this New York Times article about the “GOP Elite” in Washington.
Clark Clifford was in his time a then-modern Franklin D. Roosevelt-Harry Truman-JFK-LBJ Democrat. Which is to say, Clifford was a believer in Big Government. So when it came time to part company with Harry Truman, what was Clifford lobbying?