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Nobody ever said that Washington, D.C., was a simple place. The diversity of stakeholders involved in the policymaking process, and the innumerable forms of interaction among stakeholders within government and between government and the public, suggests something akin to a tangled web.

The people who understand this tangle are the ones who have been around it longest: the Washington establishment. They have burrowed deepest into the bowels of the federal bureaucracy, jumped around its assortment of law firms or think tanks, and probably spent a spell or two on the Hill.

Few of these insiders court publicity. Most spend their careers in relative obscurity, known only to the small circle of professionals in their particular area of focus.

Occasionally, the spotlight hits one of their number, perhaps appointed to a distinguished administration post or (in rare cases) disgraced for crossing the line. Sooner rather than later, the public attention dissipates, and the members of the establishment continue with their jobs as usual.

At times when the public identifies important flaws in the health of our democracy, be it increasing partisan polarization or the corrosive influence of money in politics, the members of the establishment, especially those who openly register as lobbyists, are easy targets. Some are criticized as influence peddlers, others as special interests.

The Washington establishment is not blameless, though neither is it uniquely culpable. Despite its many inefficiencies and occasionally subpar outcomes, the policymaking process in Washington is an inclusive process, which simultaneously accounts for its fairness and frustration.

Without the individuals who have spent their lives learning what levers to pull and what gears to turn, the whole process would likely come to a grinding halt. They, and now you, know how Washington actually works.

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