Upsetting the Washington Career Ladder

Speaking of appropriate snarkiness, Michelle Cottle takes a good whack today at George Washington University’s new master’s degree program in international lobbying.

As a former Senate and think-tank staffer, my first reaction was similar to Cottle’s: what does it do to the Washington career ladder if you can just go to grad school at 21 and head right into a gig as an influence-peddler?

[T]he popular conception of lobbying jobs is that they are where one lands—softly and richly—after years, if not decades, of toiling in the field of public service as either a staffer or an actual elected official. Former Senate buds Trent Lott and John Breaux didn’t build a successful lobbying partnership, much less have it snapped up by K St powerhouse Patton Boggs, by satisfying some grad school curriculum. Likewise, former Rep. Billy Tauzin didn’t enjoy five highly lucrative years as head of PhRMA because of a lousy diploma. Nope, these guys worked hard, climbed the ladder, and then cashed out big time, just like legions of their colleagues before and since. (Not that all of these folks register as official lobbyists, mind you, but that’s another question entirely.)

As for Hill aides, on really grim days, the only thing that keeps some of these poor bastards from kirking out is the promise of one day trading in their high-stress, not-terribly-remunerative staff jobs dealing with arrogant, abusive lawmakers for vastly higher-paying, lower-stress lobbying jobs dealing with arrogant, abusive lawmakers. It’s a small shift, but an important one.

I can imagine they’d view GW’s program, if it spreads, with the disdain I felt when I discovered, after years of low-paid anonymous work as a speechwriter, that this whole academic field called Political Communications had sprung up since I left college. But to the aspiring lobbyist, this is even worse: how can you sell out when you haven’t even bought in? And not only that, but at GW there’s international travel involved for academic credit.

Schmoozing with foreign muckety-mucks for credit hours? Is this a great country or what?

Just another aspect of “exporting democracy,” I guess.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.