War And Peace At Camp Equinunk — Lessons For Congress?

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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.

As public approval of the U.S. Congress continues to dip to ever-lower levels, it is worth examining the cultural phenomenon of something called the Color War at traditional sleep-away summer camps, and what it can teach members of Congress in today’s polarized environment.

I have written before about the summer camp I went to in my youth, Camp Equinunk, located about 50 miles to the northeast of Scranton in Wayne County, Pa. I was a counselor there in the 1960s, and my oldest son and daughter were campers and counselors in the 1980s. (My daughter went to the co-owned girl’s camp across the lake, Camp Blue Ridge.) Now, my two younger sons and two grandsons are campers there.

Equinunk and Blue Ridge are similar to many other general (non-specialty) sleep-away camps that still exist in America. In the seventh, last week of camp, Color War “breaks” and the camp is divided into two teams, representing Equinunk’s two camp colors, red and gray. [I know, I know: It would be better for this “Purple Nation” column if Equinunk’s colors were red and blue. But not to be.]

During the next four days, the divided camp — age group by age group, from the 8- to 9-year-old “sophs” to the esteemed 15-year-old “seniors” — competes in virtually all sports. The older the group, the more points the events are worth.

It is hard to understate the intensity of the competition. In the words of the late Jim McKay, all experience the “thrill of victory … and the agony of defeat.”

After four days, it is over and the teams line up at the camp flagpole. Each of the two counselor chiefs removes his team’s hatchet from the wooden plank where it has been placed each day to reflect the varying point totals. Then, together, they go to a patch of grass near the flagpole and — I am not making this up —literally “bury the hatchets” in the ground from which they had been taken four days before in the opening ceremony.

The two teams, lined up on opposite sides, come together. Camp Equinunk is one again. All link arms and softly sing “Taps”: “Day is done, gone the sun; from the lake, from the hill, from the sky; all is well, safely rest. God is nigh.”

So what lessons can members of Congress learn from all this?

I don’t expect or want today’s members of Congress to participate in a “bury the hatchets” ceremony. I would be afraid that instead of burying the hatchets in the ground, they might be too tempted to find someone’s back in the opposite party. (Only kidding — well, almost).

I also don’t expect them to link arms and sing “Taps” together. Many would worry that this song represents the coming end to their political careers. (Not kidding).