A man so badly fucked that he'll hire Lanny Davis is a man who's finished, and so everyone who detests Daniel Snyder, the imperious prick who owns the Washington Redskins and claims he'll never change their name, can rejoice. When the client who can't be defended brings on the fixer who will defend anything, the issue is settled. All that's left is the billing.
Davis—father, incidentally, of Seth Davis, the college hoops pundit—first came on the scene this weekend, when, in response to something vague Barack Obama said to the effect of, "Well, probably you may want to at least consider not having a racist slur for a team nickname," he issued a wonderfully oblivious letter on behalf of the Redskins. Yesterday, the letter-writing campaign continued, with a missive from Snyder to "Everyone in Our Redskins Nation" that, if it wasn't written by Davis, was written by someone with real ability in the way of mimicking both his craven servility and cokehead-type focus on discredited and/or irrelevant fact-like objects. (The point, it seems, wasn't so much to make sense as it was to signal a slight change of tone, away from Snyder's "NEVER—you can use caps" churlishness.) At this rate, we'll be able to measure the progress toward the Redskins changing their name one stupid letter at a time.
The only surprising thing about Davis signing on as Team Snyder's lead flack is that he hadn't already done so. A propagandist and access broker, Davis was a fraternity brother of George W. Bush and law school classmate of Bill and Hillary Clinton who at the height of his career served as special counsel to President Clinton, and ever since has sold himself as a conduit to power. He's sewage poured into a suit, problematic less because he's the sort of person who founded a consulting shop called Purple Nation Solutions than because he believes the lie embedded in the name. He wants an end to politics and ideology not out of a sincere belief that conflict is an impediment to improving public welfare, but because he sees it as distracting from the important work of Democrats and Republicans coming together to use the mechanisms of government to extract rents from the working and middle classes for the benefit of their patrons. Government under the control of people like him is basically like one of those hideous insects that murders its prey and then wears its skin around as a disguise.
Running through a client list—Martha Stewart! Trent Lott! Penn State!—seems almost beside the point when discussing a man who links, from the front page of his own website, to an unconvincing set of preemptive rebuttals tied together under a "Correcting the Record" rubric. (Actual example: "While working for the Washington D.C. Embassy of the Ivory Coast, Lanny Davis did not represent or ever talk to the military strongman, Laurent Gbagbo.") Still, let's briefly look at the company Daniel Snyder—and, by extension, the National Football League—now pays to keep.
A few years ago, Davis ran this in the Huffington Post, acting in his role as an advocate for the for-profit college industry, which rates, in moral terms, somewhere between payday loan operators and schoolyard crack dealers. At issue was a bit of legislation that would gently suggest to for-profit colleges, which are basically scams living off quirks of law that make student loans an eminently secure investment, that they show some small bit of usefulness. Davis not only ran the highly tendentious nonsense above—see The Awl's piece on this subject for a corrective—but reached out to Al Sharpton, hoping to use his likeness in an ad that would paint reformers as the real racists.
Per Davis's website, his work in this area was, more or less, the act of a philosopher: "Consistent with all of his representation, Mr. Davis’s work focused on making all the facts known."
Agitating on behalf of for-profit colleges is good work for the aspiring whore. The secure, mid-career whore gets in with people who have essentially been accused of poisoning infant formula, and helps them in their quest for federal subsidies. That's what Davis did when he took up for Martek, once subject of this lede:
A farm policy research group has filed a legal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that toxic solvents are being used in the production of organic baby formula and have been linked to serious side effects.
Whether the allegation here involved vile industrial sludge being pumped into infant formula in a minor and perhaps nonexistent violation of the inherently vague standards governing what is or isn't organic, or being pumped in out of Dr. Doom-type motives, isn't for us to say. What we can say is that the sludge purveyors fought hard to get Congress to pass legislation giving preferential treatment to sludge-enriched formula, and that Davis fought hard for them. Anti-sludgists, Davis argued, "have an agenda to deprive women, and especially poor women," etc. etc.
Per Davis's website, his work in this area was an act of benevolence: "Mr. Davis accurately stated that if this amendment were passed, poor women would be deprived of the same choices that were available to wealthier women who could purchase infant formula without federal subsidies."
If you detect a pattern in the two examples here, you're not wrong. In his shitty book Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life, Davis brags about how he was able to help the NFLPA deal with claims that the famously impotent house union hadn't done anything to help retired players suffering from mental illness. What did he do? He set up a website that depicted them as whiny leeches. At another point, during the fight over the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would have strengthened unions by making it easier for them to organize, he represented the CEOs of union-busting Whole Foods and Starbucks, who had conceived a compromise that would have gutted all the valuable machinery of the proposal while still allowing something bearing its name to pass. When George W. Bush had to make appointments to a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Lanny Davis came right to mind.
Davis is everywhere. Wherever there's a fight to turn government into a weapon against citizens, he'll be there. Whenever an institution needs to assail the vulnerable, he'll be there. He'll be there in the way dogs eat shit. He'll especially be there if it involves people in foreign countries.
In 2010, for example, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea—a vicious, long-reigning tyrant who lords over a brutal apparatus of state repression, pilfers his country's oil resources, has repeatedly won re-election with 95 percent of the vote, and so on—gave a bland speech. It endorsed the type of reformist pieties you'd expect some former assistant deputy undersecretary of something or other to tout in a Foreign Affairs article, in a transparent attempt to change his image. Davis—who told The New York Times, "I've kidded him he'd do better to win by 51 percent than 98 percent"—says that he wrote that speech.
Per Davis's website, "Mr. Davis’ services were designed to help bring about positive reform and change."
Elsewhere, he's engaged in relationships with, as he puts it, "the Washington D.C. Embassy of the Ivory Coast"—certainly not with the actual military government—and the "Honduran Business Council," which may or may not have been a front for powerful interests that deposed leftist President Manuel Zelaya in a coup. He volunteered his services to vigorously defend Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip in 2008-09. He's lobbied for Pakistan. Wherever there are people being killed, he'll be there to soften someone's image and grab a buck.
The best and funniest thing about this pairing, though, isn't the way it puts the Washington Redskins in league with a global cavalcade of villainy, or the way it works as an expression of belief in the powers of the seemingly dead epistolary campaign, or the prospect of seeing Davis offer Davis-quality spin as the Redskins era comes to its merciful end. It is, rather, that Snyder—a man whose many offenses include suing newspapers for running coverage he dislikes, selling stale airline peanuts to fans, and enlisting fakers in defense of his right to openly profit from racist iconography—is by far the more respectable half. One could actually argue he's too respectable to be tied on to the likes of Davis at all. Which may be the point of this whole arrangement: Snyder has finally found a way to make himself look a bit less bad. All he has to do is stand next to the one man in Washington more loathsome than he is.
Image by Jim Cooke