The Cure For Punditry Hyperventilation About Hillary Clinton — Try the Facts

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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 have read a slew of comments by pundits, columnists and self-described “progressive” organizations criticizing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her comments in The Atlantic to reporter Jeffrey Goldberg about (a) her disagreement with President Obama on the issue of early aid to moderate opposition elements in Syria to the Assad regime; and (b) her comment that “don’t do stupid stuff” does not a foreign policy make.

It’s one thing for writers on the liberal side of the spectrum, or organizations that describe themselves that way, to disagree with Clinton on her point of view and debate the facts and differing opinions based on those facts, on substantive or policy grounds. But that is not what happened. Instead, what we have seen is a series of ad hominem attacks, mostly going to Clinton’s real “motives” or the use of labels — labels like “hawkish” or “anti-interventionist” — devoid of facts and, as Shakespeare once wrote, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Let’s look at three facts to put to rest this pseudo flare-up over Clinton’s interview during the slow news month of August.

1. The characterization that Clinton’s comments show that she is truly a “hawk” who is defying the “anti-interventionist” Democratic liberal (a label used by a spokesperson for MoveOn.org, a self-described progressive organization) is inaccurate. Since Clinton’s early years in politics when she supported and worked for the most anti-Vietnam War candidate for president, Sen. George McGovern (D-S.D.), who went on to become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president in 1972, she has been a skeptic of overreliance on American military power, especially unilateral military intervention. Clinton’s record as senator and as secretary of State shows that she remains so to this day.

Her remark to Mr. Goldberg critical of the “avoid the stupid stuff” concept meant that she prefers an affirmative, forward-looking policy — not just one that avoids making mistakes. She spells out that affirmative and proactive concept in detail in her book Hard Choices and its specific application during her four years as secretary of State. She called it using “smart power”: a combination of “soft power,” using economic, cultural, trade, educational and other human rights assistance and communicating better America’s democratic and humane values, and tougher measures such as economic sanctions and the option of military power as a last resort, but seriously taken.

Her approach to Iran’s threatened development of The Bomb is a good example of this proactive policy of smart power. Secretary Clinton was a key player in orchestrating and implementing the tough economic sanctions on Iran that many would say brought it to the negotiating table. But like Obama, she won’t take the military option off the table. (Regarding President Obama: he, too, strongly supported using this “smart power” combination. He also supported military intervention in Afghanistan during his 2008 presidential campaign and since. Yet I don’t recall anyone from MoveOn.org accusing him for that reason of defying the “anti-interventionist” Democratic Party base.

2. One of Obama’s former senior White House officials and political advisers tweeted that “stupid stuff” was “occupying” Iraq under former President George W. Bush. He allegedly was referring to Clinton’s vote supporting the resolution authorizing intervention in Iraq. But the tweeter omitted at least two facts: first, that the Iraq War resolution was supported by 28 other Democratic senators, including then-Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and current Vice President of the United States Joe Biden; and second, that Secretary Clinton has described that vote as a mistake.

(Personal footnote: I don’t read too much into this tweeter’s quick shot at Clinton in response to the Goldberg interview. I know I have regretted many times some of my own impulsive tweets, with limited letters available. I happen to admire this tweeter very much. I know he also likes and appreciates Clinton for her loyal service to Obama during her four years as secretary and that, to his credit, Obama always encouraged disagreement and debate on various issues he faced during his presidency.)

3. Finally, the notion that Clinton can be challenged from the left because of a

“vacuum” regarding her positions on the issues is simply contradicted by the facts. Her progressive positions on issues and her voting record in the U.S. Senate over eight years are indisputable: pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, pro-civil rights and human rights, pro-gun control, pro-Affordable Care Act, pro-increasing the minimum wage, pro-Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (having praised Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren many times for this regulatory body in the wake of the abuses that caused the 2008 Near Great Depression), etc. etc. This hardly suggests there is a “vacuum” on her left in the Democratic Party. See the latest proof of this from Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.

Indeed, every poll shows Clinton has overwhelming support from liberal Democrats. There are some in the Democratic Party, however, who mistake substance for a willingness to work with members of the other party to get things done — which is why Clinton was described by many Senate Republicans in such positive terms, or as, as the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) put it, “a work horse, not a show horse.”

So despite the pundits looking to create a contest in the Democratic Party between the “left” and the “center” or some such labeling to get the juices going to make for a bitter, divisive and therefore entertaining Democratic contest for the nomination in 2016, if Clinton chooses to run for president, I know there will be other candidates for the nomination and I hope there is a vigorous debate on the issues and solutions to the nation’s most important problems. We need that debate as Democrats. What we don’t need are invented differences based on innuendo and labels, rather than facts and substance.

Lanny Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is executive vice president of the strategic communications firm Levick. He is the author of Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life.