A Clinton Convert Speaks
Lanny Davis was one of Hillary Clinton's most vocal primary supporters—and one of Barack Obama's toughest critics. But the president has won him over in his first 100 days.
Let me put my statement in context: You're speaking to the converted. During the campaign, I was for Hillary Clinton, and the concerns I expressed about Obama I meant at the time, they weren't just political. What I'm about to say really represents a statement of the converted, not a statement of an early true believer.
Here's what I think: No. 1, he has proven to me something I had doubts about—that he is a man of very strong backbone and that he is grounded in saying what he means and meaning what he says. There were times during the debates where I wasn't sure of that in the primary campaign. As much as I was really impressed with him from the first minute I met him and certainly during his convention speech in 2004, I had my doubts about whether he was ready to be president. Not only am I converted, but just completely amazed at how quickly in 100 days he has proven his political courage.
Let's be specific. My definition of political courage goes back to John Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage, where he wrote in every chapter not whether somebody was right or wrong, but whether a politician was willing to stand up to either popular sentiment or their political base and take a principled position. Consistently, Barack Obama has shown a willingness to take a principled position even though he gets flak from both sides.
Let's take the most recent example— the last column I wrote, I've gotten the greatest number of responses, with the most vociferous criticism coming from my fellow liberals. What I wrote is that I agreed with Obama, who I said struck the right balance in not prosecuting interrogators, which infuriated the left, and releasing those memos on a transparency principle that infuriated the right. For me that was the right balance exactly.
Barack Obama had to make a decision he knew was going to infuriate his base. The missing link was what to do about the drafters, and Rahm Emanuel got out in front a little further than I think he recognized by not seeing the distinction between the drafters of the memos and the interrogators. I think what President Obama did was simply act like a good lawyer and while Rahm Emanuel is a great congressman and chief of staff, he is not a lawyer.