Gerald Warburg, novelist and lobbyist with a 'lovely ambition'

Gerald Warburg’s new novel opens with a quote from 1930s liberal poet Stephen Spender, but Warburg’s choice of epigraph says as much about his lobbying career as it does about his fictional characters.

Warburg borrows from Spender’s idealistic anthem, “I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great,” a poem once cited by the late President Reagan that glorifies the “lovely ambition” of those who “left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

Warburg has cultivated his own “lovely ambition” by taking on public-works and local-government clients that he believes in while channeling his creative energy into The Mandarin Club, a novel that will hit bookstores next week. Although 16 years have passed since Warburg left the office of then-Senate Majority Whip Alan Cranston (D-Calif.) to become an executive vice president at Cassidy & Associates, the 52-year-old still puts himself in aides’ shoes at meetings for a new client.

“If [a lobbyist] can’t represent someone with some passion, and you’re a Hill staffer, you can see right through it,” Warburg said. When he turned down a wannabe client after concluding he couldn’t comfortably lobby for him, Warburg was amazed to see the client change its position to enlist with Cassidy.

Warburg’s client roster is dominated by companies and groups from his native California, including the University of San Diego, the city of El Segundo and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation — an admittedly unconventional choice for a left-leaning lobbyist.

“I’m outed,” Warburg said with a wry smile. “I’m a progressive Democrat, a liberal Democrat, but I work for the Nixon family.”

Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s boldfaced name is among the Washington pantheon commenting on the back flap of The Mandarin Club, which follows six self-described “subversives” from the 1970s to the present day as they move from academic careers at Stanford to the practical challenges of political careers in an age of perpetual upheaval. The protagonists are China specialists, just as Warburg was during his Stanford studies, and the simmering tension between communist China and democratic Taiwan spills over into their personal lives for decades to come.

Former vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp and Clinton-era Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin weigh in with blurbs, but journalist Peter Maass nails the lobbyist’s writing style with a comparison straight out of Hollywood: “[John] le Carr