I had only been in Washington for three minutes when I saw my first political ad this afternoon in Reagan National Airport. Over the ensuing half-hour until I got onto the Metro, I was bombarded by ads for a wide range of causes, issues or industries -- oil & gas, electrical grids, wind power, environmental protection and diversity in housing.
The oil & gas ad made a particular impression on me, mostly for who it claimed to be representing -- the "people" of the oil & gas industry. In short, here was an ad that seemed to very clearly be presented purely on behalf of oil & gas companies, for their straightforward (and perhaps perfectly justified) economic interests, but the message was communicated in such a way as to be from "people", not inhuman corporations. The word "people" was even in italics and in a different font. It was as if they wanted to reassure you that no, the oil and gas industry isn't comprised of robots, zombies and vampires; they are normal people just like you and me.
All of this got me thinking about how rare it is for real people to be the direct beneficiaries of lobbying work in Washington and the fact that we overseas Americans are an example of that. In last year's blog I poked fun at the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association as an example of the typical assortment of corporate interests being represented on Capitol Hill. Countless other lobbying groups represent interests along the same lines -- an industrial sector, a group of companies making a particular product, etc. So it makes perfect sense that they would go to such effort to portray themselves as normal folks, not mere corporations.
We of course don't have to do that. We are as real as it gets. When we talk about citizenship, you can picture a parent uncertain about his or her ability to transmit U.S. citizenship to a child; on voting, we have the fundamental legal right to vote, but a web of confusing, inconsistent and impractical state and local rules can deprive us of the ability to exercise that right; and when we talk about taxation, you can picture an overseas American paying tax to two countries while his or her non-American friends live a simpler, more equitable existence.
We don't have to stretch the truth to describe ourselves as real, live human beings. We're a human constituency that needs a voice. We are moms and dads and brothers and sisters; somebody's best friend and somebody's work colleague. This human face is part of what distinguishes us from a lot of the visitors that Congressional staffers see day in and day out, which may explain some of the surprisingly interested, enthusiastic and sympathetic reactions we get in many of our meetings each year. Hopefully we will continue to elicit that reaction this year; it all starts tomorrow morning, with our first full day of OAW 2009.