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With a certain smug national self-satisfaction, it is called the “classic American success story.” A young lad — or lass, for that matter — of no particular advantage or solvency starts at the very bottom and through pluck, spunk, moxie and other vaguely obscene-sounding virtues works his way to the top of some huge enterprise.
Nowhere is that more true than in Washington, D.C., a capital whose very fuel is plucky young people, a city of limitless opportunity because there is plenty of room at the bottom and, when the electorate rouses itself, a lot of turnover at the top.
Many a youngster has started out as a baggage handler on the campaign bus and worked up through advance, scheduling, communications until one day that youngster finds himself the senior counselor to the president for domestic policy and, if it’s late in the administration, perhaps even a Cabinet secretary, although not Treasury, Defense or State. Limitless opportunity doesn’t mean totally out to lunch.
And the very bottom of the ladder of success, the first rung, so to speak, is the line-stander. Seating at congressional hearings is on a first come, first served basis, and the hearing rooms are often packed. So lobbyists and law firms with an interest in that day’s topic hire young line-standers who begin queuing up in the wee hours to insure their client has a choice seat when the hearing is gaveled to order at 10 a.m. Humble, yes, but it’s a start.
Freshman Sen. Claire McCaskill believes that smacks too much of the well-off buying privileged access to Congress and takes away seats from what Washington likes to think of as “ordinary people,” although any average citizen who would voluntarily sit through the average day-long hearing of, say, the Missouri Democrat’s own Commerce, Science and Transportation committee is, by definition, hardly ordinary, maybe even weird.
McCaskill would have the lobbyists certify twice a year that they had not hired line-standers. This would be difficult to enforce but, worse, it could abolish a beginners’ entree to the corridors of power — literally — and take away an opportunity for a youngster through pluck, spunk, moxie, etc., to one day realize the American dream of being a high-paid lobbyist with his own line-stander.