Opinion

Obama, Boehner and ‘Rashomon’

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Lanny Davis
Former Special Counsel to President Clinton
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      Lanny Davis

      Lanny J. Davis counsels individuals, corporations and government contractors, and those under congressional scrutiny, on crisis management and legal issues by developing legal, media and legislative strategies that are designed to best produce a successful result for the client. He has experience in securities fraud and SEC investigations as well, and has found that utilizing such an integrated legal/media/lobbying approach can lead to quicker and less expensive settlements or even successfully litigated outcomes. Senior officials of public companies have also hired Lanny and his crisis group to defend themselves successfully against "short and distort" attacks and other market manipulations. For 25 years prior to 1996, before his tenure as special counsel to President Clinton, Lanny was a commercial, antitrust, government contracts and False Claims Act litigator (both in defense as well as plaintiff). He has argued numerous appellate cases in the U.S. courts of appeals.

      In June 2005, President Bush appointed Lanny to serve on the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 2005 Intelligence Reform Act. In that capacity, he received the highest level security clearances so that he could be fully briefed and "read in" to the various anti-terrorist surveillance and financial tracking programs at the highest classified level. From 1996 to 1998, Lanny served as special counsel to the president in the White House and was a spokesperson for the president and the White House on matters concerning campaign finance investigations and other legal issues. Lanny has participated in national, state and local politics for almost 30 years. He has served three terms (1980 to 1992) on the Democratic National Committee representing the state of Maryland, and during that period he served on the DNC Executive Committee and as chairman of the Eastern Region Caucus. In Montgomery County, Maryland, he served as chairman of the Washington Suburban Transit Commission.

      Lanny has authored several books and lectured throughout the United States and Europe on various political issues. Between 1990 and 1996, Lanny was a bimonthly commentator on Maryland politics for WAMU-88.5/FM, a Washington, D.C. local affiliate of National Public Radio. He has been a regular television commentator and has been a political and legal analyst for MSNBC, CNN, Fox Cable, CNBC and network TV news programs. He has published numerous op-ed/analysis pieces in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, he Washington Post and other national publications.

      Lanny graduated from Yale Law School, where he won the prestigious Thurman Arnold Moot Court prize and served on the Yale Law Journal. A graduate of Yale University, Lanny served as chairman of the Yale Daily News.

      Lanny is admitted to practice in the District of Columbia and Connecticut and before the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

A famous 1950 Japanese movie, “Rashomon,” describes a murder from the perspectives of four main characters who were involved in it — including the medium speaking for the murdered man. All four versions differ as to who is the real murderer. The director was asked by the actors: Who was the real murderer? The director’s response: We don’t know, because each person was telling the truth as he or she perceived it.

Over the years, the “Rashomon effect” has become a metaphor for allowing for differences of opinion and perspectives without having to challenge the good faith or sincerity of those with different positions. Let’s apply that metaphor to the stalemate on raising the debt ceiling.

Even those who strongly disagree with President Obama and oppose his re-election should at least give him credit for having gone way beyond halfway to support a compromise — of $4 trillion in debt reduction, $3 trillion, or 75 percent, would be spending cuts, versus 25 percent in revenue enhancements through closing tax loopholes.

I wish President Obama had embraced Simpson-Bowles — the “grand bargain” he has recently sought from Speaker John Boehner — a long time ago. I wrote in this space last January, just before the State of the Union, that President Obama could have used that speech to put Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles in the House Gallery, asked them to stand and challenged every member of Congress to stand, too, if they supported Simpson-Bowles. He could have paused, I wrote, and let the TV cameras pan back and forth, back and forth, allowing Americans to observe who stood up — and who didn’t.

A missed opportunity — but President Obama still deserves much credit for the guts and leadership he has shown in the last several weeks, especially taking on his base by touching the “third rail” of Social Security and Medicare reform.

Now, to be fair, let’s look at the world through John Boehner’s eyes.

Boehner leads a Republican Party with a base of Tea Party activists and purist conservatives who oppose all tax increases, whether in the form of rate increases or closure of loopholes.

The core doctrine of conservatism going back to Barry Goldwater is that the “beast” — meaning government — needs to be starved of new revenues as the only way to impose discipline on politicians’ “just say yes” instinct to support new spending, new taxing and new borrowing. Boehner in general shares these views.

It is apparent that Boehner and most GOP conservatives sincerely believe it is in the best interests of everyone — including the poor and the middle class — to reduce government and strengthen the private sector, where enduring jobs are created and long-term revenues are generated.

So there are two vastly competing views of the role of government and solving the debt crisis, who should pay and how the pain should be spread. This is what the 2012 election should be about, so let the debate begin. It can be a civil debate and the country will be better informed — and have a clearer choice — come Election Day.

  • johno413

    The way I see it, the large difference between “normal” human characters in Roshomon and members of Congress, is that the elected class fears not being reelected. So, even if they have their honest, but opposing views, they refuse to come together in the middle for fear of the Tea Party and the far left retribution.