The first debate: the only way for a game-changing moment

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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.

I predict that nothing that happens tonight at the first debate is likely fundamentally to change the status quo: a tight election with President Obama likely to win.

But one issue could be a fundamental game-changer — or bring this country together on one paramount moral issue if both candidates agree — a real purple moment.

My game-changer — if EITHER candidate turns to the other and says:

“Yes or no — will you join me tonight, on the record, and say yes or no — not maybe, not if and/or — will you join me and endorse the bipartisan recommendations of the Simpson-Bowles Commission — endorsing substantial spending cuts, raising revenues through closing tax loopholes, reducing corporate tax rates and undertaking major reform to save Social Security and Medicare from insolvency and bankrupting us all?”

If the other candidate says no, or equivocates in any way, and the candidate who has asked the question says, “Well, I say yes — I say it is immoral to equivocate about $16 trillion that our children and grandchildren have to pay off; I say the time to pay our bills and pay down our debt is now. I say yes — let’s pass Simpson-Bowles,” then I say the candidate who has committed to support Simpson-Bowles wins the election. I say this because I believe that the sliver of remaining undecideds and soft, still persuadable supporters of both candidates will respond positively and decisively — and swing to that candidate who is willing to stand up to his base and do the right thing … and perhaps even say, “To hell with politics.”

That candidate will win in November, if he does that.

But I am pretty confident, I am very, very sad to say, that neither candidate will do this — and the moderators won’t force them to.

The Obama campaign response to date has been to say, “Well, the president tried that approach and the Republicans said no.” Or they equivocate (as in the president’s acceptance speech at the convention), supporting just the “principles” of S-B, not its specific across-the-board recommendations.

Of course, there are two follow-up questions the moderator can ask Obama to that response, which he has stated many times.

First, yes or no — will you specifically endorse all the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations — your own deficit-reduction commission — as did your own liberal home-state senator, Illinois’s Dick Durbin, who voted for all those recommendations?

And second, even though the Republicans also refused to endorse S-B, why didn’t you lead — regardless of their response? Isn’t that what presidents are supposed to do? You led on healthcare when all the Republicans said no. Why not on S-B?