Christian Science Monitor/Melanie Stetson Freeman/staff

How to argue in Washington, DC

Make your personal weal the commonweal

Jeffrey Denny

As a professional writer living and working in Washington for over 35 years, I’ve advocated for an array of mostly enlightened policy positions. And I’m ceaselessly amused by the wink-wink charade we all know and play here.

In short, never be honest and argue for your narrow selfish personal interests. Never come clean and admit that you, like all humans, are driven primarily by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs that by definition are selfish. Even the topmost needs such as “morality” fall under “self-actualization.”

Not to be cynical — few of us can afford to be Saint Teresa of Calcutta. We have families to raise and bills to pay.

But we never admit we’re about ourselves. Instead, we transform our personal interests into broader public interests, and then fight for our righteous causes for The People. A few leading examples:

Tax breaks for the wealthy

It’s not about making the rich richer. It’s about rewarding and inspiring entrepreneurial success and fueling the American Dream, even for born-rich trust-fund babies and Ivy legacies, and hedge fund partners summering in the Hamptons.

Regulatory relief

It’s not about being free to run amok and hurt people and the planet to pocket more money. It’s about job creation, free enterprise, economic growth, America’s global competitiveness, and getting the government off our backs.

Of course, many regulations happen because corporations that can’t win in the free market lobby Congress to regulate their competitors.

Like when the dairy industry “milks” Congress to ban the nut, soy and oat milk industry from calling their products “milk,” arguing that “milk” comes from cows not plants. Even though cows are just the middlemen.

Trade protections

It’s not about protectionism to support American industries that struggle to compete in the global market and help their executives and shareholders pocket more money. It’s about patriotically ensuring a level playing field for job creation, economic growth, etc.

Taxpayer subsidies

It’s not corporate welfare paid for by the struggle and sweat of hardworking families.

For instance, the billions of dollars in annual coal, oil and natural gas subsidies that hamper the shift to renewables are about protecting America’s energy freedom and ensuring hardworking families can afford to drive to the jobs the subsidies create and heat their homes.

CEO pay

The multimillion-dollar annual compensation for top U.S. executives, and golden parachutes for failures and bailers, are not about unbridled greed, compliant boards, screwed shareholders, and robber-baron capitalism gone wild.

When 80% of S&P 500 companies pay their CEO over 100 times more than their median worker, it’s about competing for top executive talent who have much harder jobs. The average $24 million paid CEOs of the top 350 U.S. firms is really the typical working wage the free market says they should get.


Donald Trump and his GOP bootlickers, Congressional Treason Caucus, whack-jobs like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Tucker Carlson and his fellow right-wing media liars, and the election-steal grifters, etc., are not about riling rubes for money.

They’re about standing up for Real Americans! Who are rarely seen at Mar-a-Lago or Trump country clubs, GOP retreats at posh resorts, or in Carlson’s exclusive DC neighborhood near me. Unless they’re working there.


It’s rampant in DC’s wealthiest, Whitest ward where I live and educations, incomes and home values are vastly greater than America’s (while our enlightened people love to proclaim how the rest of America should live; i.e., like the superior Scandinavians).

Suffice that few Trumpers live here, and the few Republicans who do would be regarded by MAGAs as despicable RINOs.

But NIMBY is an unfair term. Bitterly fighting change, even mild rezoning to allow for climate-friendly, transit-oriented affordable housing, is not at all about pulling up the drawbridge to “preserve the character of the community,” which has kept the neighborhood in the majority non-White city lily White since Jim Crow began.

How dare you suggest we’re racist, liberals in lovely $2–5 million homes huff. We strongly favor affordable housing and diversity. We’re just trying to preserve the historic character of our community. And protect our children, trees, green spaces, habitats and climate from traffic, greedy developers and tall buildings that reflect heat.

Whatever affects you personally.

When you fight for your narrow selfish interests and lose, it’s not about being dead wrong, and it doesn’t end there.

Keep fighting for justice for The People by throwing wrenches into the works claiming the process and procedures weren’t followed properly down to every last jot and tittle, as you judge.

Also claim the process wasn’t transparent even with many required public notices and robust public discussion and debate. Mine whatever technicality you can and fight on. Thunder righteously with powerful rhetoric that vilifies opponents and insinuates their dark motives.

Most of all in Washington, attack opponents as pushing their narrow selfish interests versus your enlightened concern for The People and What’s Right.

Whatever works, works.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.




A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.

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Jeffrey Denny

Jeffrey Denny

A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.

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