I can’t seem to get away from the topic of lobbying. Maybe it’s following me around. Hmmm, maybe it’s following ALL OF US around!
The most recent report to pique my interest appeared in the New York Times 11-15-09 (yes, on the front page). It seems that lobbyists from Genentech, a biotechnology giant, were successful in ghost-writing portions of speeches inserted into the Congressional Record by members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Unknowingly, more than a dozen members of the House have even used almost identical wording when commenting on certain benefits incorporated in health care legislation. Company lobbyists, who are no dummies (more like ventriloquists?), planted two sets of talking points — one for Democrats and one for Republicans.
Why does this matter? Psychologists tell us that people tend to believe things they hear from people they regard as credible and knowledgeable. All right, I can hear you laughing! Congressmen, credible? Well, compared to self-interested company spokespeople, lobbyists themselves, and so-called scientific reports funded by the company — maybe so. Everything is relative. And remember, not everyone knows that the Congressional Record is pretty much “made up” — revised at will, after the fact, to reflect things that were never said. Before you know it, those lobbyist-drafted words will be taken as fact by some naieve college sophomore writing a term paper.
There’s another reason this is smart politics for the lobbyists. They know that people tend to get rigid once they have made on-the-record statements. Flip-flopping creates not only criticism from people who refuse to be smarter today than they were yesterday, but it can also engender a condition known as cognitive dissonance. “Why are you now saying x when last week you told everyone you believed y? Aren’t you being intellectually dishonest?” Oh my, what politician will admit to that? So once they go on the record, they are easier to manipulate.
I have a suggestion for members of Congress: if you don’t know what you’re talking about, keep silent until you’ve done some real homework. And don’t expect the self-serving statements of hired guns to always represent the truth.
Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appeared. Republished with permission.