The Brash Hypocrisy of Lanny Davis

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Why this Washington superlobbyist represents all that is wrong with politics today

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Guys, we need to talk about Lanny Davis. Let me update you on what you've missed:

First, Lanny Davis spent the last decade or so selling influence in Washington, using various platforms -- often without disclosing his financial interest -- to take up the causes of for-profit colleges, chemical companies, and even violent dictators and a military junta.

And then the other day, I made a joke at his expense.

There is too much wrong with Washington to say "So and so represents everything that's wrong with Washington." But it's Lanny Davis.

Why did I make this joke, on Twitter no less? That's a terrific question. Thanks for asking. I read a column Davis wrote. This was an op-ed that bravely flew directly into the eye of the media firestorm surrounding Cory Booker's comments on a weekly cable access show called Meet the Press. So much hadn't been said on this matter already. I was eager to hear his thoughts. It turns out, surprise: Both sides are to blame. A pox on both their houses, you know? We just need to "get back to the issues."

Get back to the issues. That's what got my Irish up. And not just because I disagreed with Davis's criticism of the Obama campaign and the equivalence he was drawing between right and left -- that's like his favorite recipe. And it wasn't because a column that says "let's get back to the issues" is about as banal and sanctimonious and self-righteously oblivious as a person can get. It was because a lecture from Lanny Davis on respectability was more than my tiny heart could bear.

Anyway, I was content with my little joke, a glancing arrow shot lamely at the giant beast that is Washington's disgusting culture. And I moved on. But then, yesterday afternoon, Lanny Davis tweeted a response. And it turns out, my tweet is exactly the kind of thing that Lanny Davis was talking about.

Proving my pt, @jonlovett engages in personal attack w/o subst for cheap joke. Name-calling is juvenile. I want 2 debate issues.@corybooker

Let's unpack this!

  • "Engages in personal attack": That's totally true. I basically called him the living embodiment of what's broken in America's political life, and that's pretty personal. I was shaming him as a human being. So, yes. Point to Lanny.
  • "w/o subst": Again, spot on. It was a tweet. There wasn't room for substance! I considered a series of explanatory tweets, but frankly, when you make a joke about Lanny Davis, people just get it. I suppose I could have pointed to his deceptive campaign on behalf of unnecessary additives in infant formula or his shilling on behalf of a strongman in the Ivory Coast who was systematically murdering his opposition. But I didn't, and I hope he appreciates the efforts I'm taking here to dive into the substance of why I claimed that if anyone represents everything that's wrong with Washington, it's Lanny Davis.
  • "cheap joke": Now, this upset me. It was a fine joke; not my best, not my worst. The fun contradiction between the two sentences was, I thought, a nice twist on an old standby. This would be a cheaper joke:
    What's the difference between Lanny Davis and a toaster? A toaster doesn't slowly degrade the democratic process by allowing money to distort political debates in ways that leave the American people profoundly distrustful of the media and their elected leaders.
  • "Name-calling is juvenile": In this case I didn't call him a name. But to his larger point: Name-calling is juvenile when it's juvenile. It's wrong when it's vicious and uncalled for. And we absolutely should err on the side of civility. But sometimes people act in ways so contemptible and wrong than they ought to be called names, and sometimes civility is used as a shield by those who don't deserve to be treated with it.
  • "@corybooker": Lanny wants Cory Booker to know about this. He wants Cory Booker involved.

Anyway, he repeats the point he makes in his op-ed. "I want 2 debate issues." And this is where I shall leave you dear readers. Because, how dare he?

Washington is filled with people making other people's arguments for money. Anyone trying to do anything of good purpose is in a constant struggle to keep from drowning in the river of steaming bullshit served up by lobbyists and politicians and pundits and PR firms. They bend statistics, they do impressions of people who believe what they say, and all the while the country burns. And it is the height of arrogance to decry what's happened to our politics when you are a bonded practitioner of what's happened to our politics.

You want to be a pitchman for warlords? You want to carry the Devil's water in Washington? Go for it. But just don't tell me how to fucking talk.

Update: Lanny Davis replies in the comments -- read his reply to Lovett here.

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Jon Lovett is a writer based in Los Angeles. He previously served for three years as a speechwriter to President Obama in the White House.

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