Clinton White House Crisis Manager Dings Obama's Message Team
Lanny J. Davis, a former special counsel for President Clinton, is a man who knows something about managing a White House crisis. And he isn't exactly impressed by how President Obama's aides have handled the fallout from numerous crises, from Solyndra to Benghazi and now with the Internal Revenue Service controversy.
"Honestly, I voted for Obama. I support his policies," said Davis, who was a special counsel during Clinton's second term and has his own Washington firm that, among other things, handles messaging when things fly apart for his clients.
"His crisis-management communications team is absent without leave. Ever since we lost the message on health care, I've wondered if there's anybody there trying to get out in front on the facts. And I haven't seen any evidence" of it, he said.
For Davis, whose latest book is Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life, the Obama administration has fallen into a predictable pattern. It goes into a defensive crouch in which its first instinct appears to be minimizing any political damage.
Most White Houses do this to a greater or lesser degree. But Obama may have created his own problems by setting higher expectations early on by claiming his would be the most transparent administration ever.
Only after the moment has passed where a more proactive approach might have saved the day does the ever-cautious Obama White House provide additional information, according to Davis.
Take the growing controversy over the IRS's targeting of conservative social-welfare organizations.
"This is very, very serious," said Davis, who views it as distinct from the Benghazi fallout, which he believes is "Washington politics at its worst."
The IRS story, he said, by contrast goes to the heart of government abuse of power.
"The president of the United States should hold a press conference and commit to a full 100 percent investigation in concert with the Republican leadership of the House and say, 'I want to have on my desk the list of anybody who recommended doing this. In the government, in the White House, or anywhere else.' "
Obama, during a joint Monday news conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron, said it would be "outrageous" if the IRS did what it's accused of.
That description, said Davis, is already "one day too late" and isn't the full-throated response he would expect to see after the IRS revelation.
Davis doesn't limit his disappointment to just the president. He faults other top Democrats, namely Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, for not acting with more assertively.
"The Democrats have to own this. They are mishandling this," Davis said. "They should get out in front by denouncing this behavior, calling for a full investigation, cooperating with the Republicans so they don't own the issue. It's called pre-emption. And the best crisis management advice is called doing the right thing."
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