Monday, February 25, 2008

Mark Penn Doomed Hillary Clinton

Many people have already heard me complain about Mark Penn so I thought I would elaborate. He is currently the CEO of the public relations firm Burson-MarstellerSchoen and Berland Associates, president of the polling firm Penn Schoen and Berland Associates, and the chief strategist for Hillary Clinton. And the Clinton campaign has paid his firm over $5 million to lose the nomination for her.

The Washington Post has a piece up that was written almost 10 months ago in late April 2007 that in hindsight is a road map to the dismal place Hillary finds herself today. His strategy of inevitability was basically to ignore the others, and charge through to the nomination. But being from a large and successful background in the corporate world, he failed to understand that politics is inherently fluid and when his poll-proven-plan™ of "go ahead and win" was challenged by someone new, Barack Obama, he had nothing left to give but the silly and unprofessional kind of attacks we are seeing today. Here are some choice quotes from the article:

If Clinton seems cautious, it may be because Penn has made caution a science, repeatedly testing issues to determine which ones are safe and widely agreed upon (he was part of the team that encouraged Clinton's husband to run on the issue of school uniforms in 1996).

If Clinton sounds middle-of-the-road, it may be because Penn is a longtime pollster for the centrist Democratic Leadership Council whose clients have included Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).

If Clinton resembles a Washington insider with close ties to the party's biggest donors, it may be because her lead strategist is a wealthy chief executive who heads a giant public relations firm, where he personally hones Microsoft's image in Washington.

And if some opponents see Clinton as arrogant, her campaign a coronation rather than a grass-roots movement, it may be because of the numbers wizard guiding her campaign and the PowerPoint presentations he likes to give on the inevitability of his candidate.


As recently as the 2004 presidential contest, Penn argued that Democrats would lose if they failed to close the "security gap." His client list includes prominent backers of the Iraq war, particularly Lieberman, whose presidential campaign Penn helped run in 2004, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose campaign he advised when Blair won a historic third term in 2005.


Penn's theory of the 2008 race has always been that after two tumultuous terms under Bush, the electorate will want change -- but not too much change. Clinton offers a perfect mix, Penn believes. She inherently represents change, as a woman, without being unfamiliar or untested, thanks to her many years in Washington.
Not to the lay the blame entirely on Penn (and hindsight is 20/20), Hillary chose the use him to advocate for her message because he is "tough" and has been effective in the past with people like Bill Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Tony Blair, and he won her a senate seat in NY. And it was one of my first reasons why I started moving towards Obama and away from Hillary. She has so many strengths, and I very much like her wonkish devotion to policies and and the processes of good government. But, I figured that something was wrong if anyone thought it was a good idea to trust some one like Mark Penn with running your campaign. And Hillary did.

And this is why I think scripted Hillary sounds so stiff and often awkward, while debate/unscripted Hillary sounds so sharp and poised. She bought in to Mark Penn because she really thought he could win the nomination for her and that somehow she wasn't good enough by herself. I think the opposite was true, but at this point it is far too late for second guessing. The cracks in her campaign's foundation were set a long time ago, and there no time left to fix them as the nomination slips farther and farther away from reach.

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