If Marcus is right, the problem isn’t that Barack Obama lacks the resolve to resist lobbyists’ charms. It’s that he has a practical problem. The jobs that give people the know how to run government are inherently insecure, and, as a consequence, many people inevitably spend time in the private sector. So maybe we’re better off fighting corrution by judging the character of those who are appointed to top jobs and the interests on behalf of which they’ve worked, not through ironclad rules that lead to inevitable disappointment.

Americans are right to demand the highest standards of their policy makers, and I, like Marcus, support the lobbyist prohibition. But I wish the press did a better job explaining the trade-offs facing those in public service. Americans might be less frustrated if they understood that Washington is a far more complicated place than reporters often lead them to believe.

Lester Feder is a freelance reporter based in Washington, D.C., and a research scientist at George Washington University School of Public Health.