Chapter 9: Interest Groups

Preamble

The media often depict interest group lobbyists negatively in the news and in entertainment. One particular episode of The Simpsons provides an extreme example. Lisa Simpson writes an essay titled “The Roots of Democracy” that wins her a trip to Washington, DC, to compete for the best essay on patriotism award. She writes, “When America was born on that hot July day in 1776, the trees in Springfield Forest were tiny saplings…and as they were nourished by Mother Earth, so too did our fledgling nation find strength in the simple ideals of equality and justice.”

In Senator Bob Arnold’s office a lobbyist proposes to raze the Springfield National Forest. Arnold responds, “Well, Jerry, you’re a whale of a lobbyist, and I’d like to give you a logging permit, I would. But this isn’t like burying toxic waste. People are going to notice those trees are gone.” The lobbyist offers a bribe, which Arnold accepts.

Lisa sees it happen and tears up her essay. She sits on the steps of the Capitol and envisions politicians as cats scratching each other’s backs and lobbyists as pigs feeding from a trough. Called to the microphone at the “Patriots of Tomorrow” awards banquet, Lisa reads her revised essay, now titled “Cesspool on the Potomac.” A whirlwind of reform-minded zeal follows. Congressman Arnold is caught accepting a bribe to allow oil drilling on Mount Rushmore and is arrested and removed from office. Lisa does not win the essay contest.Matt Groening, James L. Brooks, Sam Simon, and George Meyer, “Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington,” The Simpsons, Season 3, Episode 2, originally aired September 26, 1991. This episode is loosely based on the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Congressman Arnold is corrupt, but the cartoon’s unpunished instrument of corruption is the lobbyist.

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