By Robert Scheer
Last week The New York Times carried a report on the tawdry lobbying practice of Lanny J. Davis, who first came to public attention with his strident defense of Bill Clinton following the stained blue dress incident. As The Times reported, Davis now spins the truth for political leaders with much more horrendous acts to hide:
“Since leaving the White House, Mr. Davis has built a client list that now includes coup supporters in Honduras, a dictator in Equatorial Guinea … the Ivory Coast strongman whose claims to that country’s presidency have been condemned by the international community and may even set off a civil war.”
Quite an embarrassment for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been a close chum of Davis going back to the days when she and Bill were classmates of his at Yale. This is a generation of ’60s-bred political leaders who rose from the Ivy League elite obsessed with the conceit that they could do well—meaning get enormously powerful and/or filthy rich—while doing good.
Doing good, as in professing a concern for the downtrodden, turned out to be nothing more than a cover for acquiring immense personal political and economic power. The value of the Davis example, as with the parade of Wall Street hustlers so prominent among the Clintonistas, is that his greed has broken his cover. A day before The New York Times story was published, Davis ended his $100,000-a-month contract to advance the cause of Ivory Coast strongman Laurent Gbagbo. But as reporters Ginger Thompson and Eric Lipton noted, “Still, his role in West Africa has stoked growing criticism that Mr. Davis has become a kind of front man for the dark side, willing to take on some of the world’s least noble companies and causes.”
Davis’ influence peddling, which implies great access to Hillary and other top Democratic politicians, has provided an enormous embarrassment for the State Department Clinton heads. State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley responded to The Times by stating: “Lanny is a relentless and effective interlocutor, but he cannot change the basic facts and interests that guide our foreign policy,” and referring to Davis’ clients in the Ivory Coast and Equatorial Guinea, respectively, Crowley added, “President Gbagbo scheduled an election that he lost fair and square. That’s a fact. [Equatorial Guinea’s] President Obiang had an abysmal human rights record. That’s a fact.”
The State Department has been late to respond to the controversies generated by a man who acted as Hillary Clinton’s designated surrogate during her failed presidential campaign. Why should it not be assumed by foreign leaders that the outlandish actions of someone who promotes his past service to Bill and Hillary Clinton in his resume reflects her views, or at the very least that he has access to those making U.S. foreign policy.
Davis’ foreign policy interventions were reported by Glenn Greenwald in Salon in August of 2009. “Davis’ history is as long and consistent as it is sleazy,” Greenwald wrote, noting that Davis was the chief lobbyist for Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf back in the ’90s when Pakistan was one of only three governments to diplomatically recognize the Taliban tyrants in Afghanistan. It was also the period in which Pakistan developed into a nuclear power whose top nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, whom Musharraf coddled, shared that technology with North Korea, Libya and Iran.
Greenwald also exposed the corporate payoffs behind “pundit” Davis’ frequent appearances in the media to challenge significant pro-labor and pro-consumer health care legislation initiatives while still calling himself a “liberal.” Today Davis makes a big point of blasting those on the Democratic Party’s left, like calling Rachel Maddow “sanctimonious and intolerant” when she dared criticize Bill Clinton’s record as president. Yet he had no qualms about breaking with his party and supporting Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman as an Independent against the Democratic senatorial candidate in 2006.
Last January, after the stunning loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts to a Republican, a commentary by Davis in the Wall Street Journal was headlined “Blame the Left for Massachusetts.” He focused on the left’s criticism of President Obama’s not-yet-passed health plan for its lack of a public option to control costs while conveniently ignoring that the Obama plan was based on that state’s own model, which also failed to provide a public option or any other serious means of controlling health costs.
The cause of the defeat also had far more to do with the economic meltdown enabled by Bill Clinton’s radical financial deregulation that opened the floodgates of unfettered Wall Street greed and led to millions of home foreclosures and massive unemployment. But Davis chose to blame the left, even though it was a centrist Democrat who lost.
The fact that the White House lawyer who most ardently defended Clinton has since put his dissembling talents at the service of ruthless dictators is not the fault of the former president or his wife, but it is a reminder of the shameful opportunism that characterized the Clinton presidency and which some so-called “New Democrats” like Davis insist the Obama presidency should emulate.
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AP / Manuel Balce Ceneta
Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel, poses next to photos of him with President Bush and former President Clinton in his Washington office in 2004.