Monday, August 11, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Mark Penn and the "othering" of Barack Obama

From Mike Allen at Politico:
 
Mark Penn, the top campaign strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign, advised her to portray Barack Obama as having a "limited" connection "to basic American values and culture," according to a forthcoming article in The Atlantic.
 
The magazine reports Penn suggested getting much rougher with Obama in a memo on March 30, after her crucial wins in Texas and Ohio: "Does anyone believe that it is possible to win the nomination without, over these next two months, raising all these issues on him? ... Won't a single tape of [the Reverend Jeremiah] Wright going off on America with Obama sitting there be a game ender?"
 
Atlantic Senior Editor Joshua Green writes that major decisions during her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination would be put off for weeks until suddenly Clinton "would erupt, driving her staff to panic and misfire."
 
Green reports that on a staff conference call in January where Clinton received "little response" or "silence" to several of her suggestions for how to recover from the Iowa loss and do better in New Hampshire, "Clinton began to grow angry, according to a participant's notes," Green recounts. "'This has been a very instructive call, talking to myself,' she snapped, and hung up."
 
The eight-page blockbuster, "The Front-Runner's Fall," draws on internal memos, e-mails and meeting notes to reveal what the magazine's September issue calls "the backstabbing and conflicting strategies that produced an epic meltdown."

Penn, the presidential campaign's chief strategist, wrote in a memo to Clinton excerpted in the article:  "I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values."

A key take-away from the article is that Clinton received a lot of accurate advice, including from Penn. He  wrote a remarkably prescient memo in March 2007 about the importance of appealing to what he called "the Invisible Americans," specifically "WOMEN, LOWER AND MIDDLE CLASS VOTERS" — exactly the groups that helped Clinton beat Obama in key states nearly a year later.

But no one synthesized and acted on the good advice. Read more...

First, didn't Vanity Fair already write this article? Second, I find it interesting how the mainstream media is parsing the leaked bits of the Atlantic piece. The consensus seems to be that Hillary Clinton did not take Mark Penn's racist and xenophobic advice, when indeed she did. The sly allusions to Jesse Jackson...the leaked image of Barack Obama in Somali garb...the "He's not a Muslim as far as I know"...the "hard-working white people" quote...those were all examples of Penn's strategy in effect. Notice, too, that the forthcoming article and by inference Mike Allen believe Penn's suggestion to play on Americans' fear of "other" represents "good advice." And I suppose it is "good" if you can stomach winning without integrity and playing to the worst of our instincts. (Hey, Republicans do it all the time.) I have no doubt that if Hillary Clinton had debuted her strangely-accented, Annie Oakley, us-against-them, race-baiting persona in December 2007, she'd likely be the Democratic candidate now. I guess I take some solace in that she at least tried to take the high road (as much as the Clintons ever do) and didn't leap head first into dirty politics until it was clear the ship was sinking.
 
 

3 comments:

NOLA radfem said...

And people act like I'M crazy to be so disgusted with the Clintons.

Been gone for a while, hope you're well, Tami.

Brother OMi said...

My thing:

Obama, pound for pound, ran a better campaign that Clinton did.

The Clinton campaign just happened to fail at every turn. Why won't people just admit that. Penn, admit it and just take an L. no need to over analyze and say Obama won because of this or that. His crew ran a better campaign and your's didn't. that's it.

Man, i thought I was a sore loser.

Donna said...

I'm getting pissed reading people saying that Clinton didn't take Penn's advice when she clearly did too. She even took the advice to portray herself as more American. I know because that was one of my peevies how she said America or American every other word in some of her speeches, the pronunciation is one of the things that annoyed me, Amer-i-kin, the same way that Bush's nukuler pronunciation annoys me.

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