Mark Penn: We Meant To Do That

As we stare down the last month before the strangely graceful yet clumsy dance of Iowa caucusing begins, it strikes me that it is very possible that Hillary Clinton could have still been sailing virtually unassailed to the Democratic nomination.

It all began weeks ago following that debate where she got hammered over driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.  The whole thing could have been nipped in the bud right there had she put out a release immediately after the debate (or the day after, let the news cycle simmer a bit first).  In the release she would not attack anyone, she would merely remark that the illegal immigration topic was too nuanced to be easily satisfied by a yes or no answer.

I think that would have ended it right then and there.

She’s the frontrunner after all, and the worst that could have happened had she turned the other cheek is that Obama’s lead in Iowa could have solidified.  Sure, she lost some points in New Hampshire, but still has/had a respectable lead there as well as strong leads just about everywhere else.  She could have picked herself up, dusted herself off a bit, and kept on campaigning the way she had from the start.

And it was smart campaigning, that earlier phase of the Hillary machine.  Sure, you never really got to learn what she stood for, or anything specific on her proposals, but she did well to portray herself as the leader of the pack, and tweaks here and there were carefully dismantling her negative image at least among those people who were moderate enough in their antagonism of Hillary to be open to such new rewiring.

But that’s not the path she chose.

I can’t guage why she chose to get down and start swinging back.  I don’t know if she and her campaign are over reacting, seeing a loss in Iowa as being far more crippling than it really is, nor do I know if it is out of sheer meanness.  I get a feeling, not largely insubstantiated, but a feeling nonetheless that Hillary believes she’s special, that she’s above being criticized on anything, and maybe this descent into attack politics is her way of revenge.

Whatever the case, I know I’m not the only person expecting it to backfire, and backfire hard.  In the weeks that followed, the Hillary Clinton campaign continued to equivocate on the original issue, accused her opponents of slinging mud (which they haven’t, trust me, you’ll know mud slinging when you see it), and just recently announced that she would be getting into the muck a little herself.

The maiden voyage of the more aggressive, always on offense, Hillary Clinton campaign brought into question Barack Obama’s behavior… in Kindergarten.  The absurdity of such an attack flooded the news cycle as bloggers and pundits were essentially laughing the Hillary campaign off the stage.

Now, Hillary advisor Mark Penn hits the chat circuit cribbing off of Ann Althouse’s damage control procedures, in other words, the “I meant to do that,” defense.

It was, Penn explained on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, all just a joke.  Ha-ha-ha.  Very Althousian: when everyone starts laughing at you, pretend like you were the one that told the joke in the first place and try not to blush too hard.

On a more serious note, there is something telling about this strange close to an already strange episode of the primaries.  I know I’ve sometimes compared Hillary to the Bush administration, nor am I alone.  But this tactic puts her with the Bushies on a completely different level before.

Earlier today I wrote of the dangers of Bushian hubris, that inability to cede when you have made a mistake, the refusal to accept reality as it is.  The Clinton campaign got caught reaching just a little too far with the Kindergarten attack, and were appropriately mocked by the press for doing so.  A responsible person would admit that maybe they went a little too far, but instead Clinton sends out her surrogates to deny the fact that the campaign was ever serious about the attack in the first place.

It’s Bushian hubris and non reality based decision making in motion.  The molded plastic perfection of the Hillary campaign already knows that it is optimal to put up a candidate that appears human, but not flawed, and so it is impossible to admit mistakes.  Adopting the doctrine of the non reality based community provides a means of damage control.  It doesn’t have to be reality that the kindergarten thing was a joke from the beginning, all they have to do is bend reality to make it so.

But just like those who refuse to acknowledge culpability and reality, they face the problem of the two being thrust upon them whether they like or not.  The Kindergarten attack was dead serious, Clinton and her campaign looked like fools even bringing it up, and Penn looked like a bigger fool trying to say it was a joke the whole time.

They went through Obama’s kindergarten records to find enough mud to sling, and the whole country saw them doing it.  That kind of thing doesn’t play well in Iowa, New Hampshire, or anywhere else I’m aware of.

2 Responses to “Mark Penn: We Meant To Do That”

  1. terry says:

    I can’t remember which blog it was, but someone commented that Mark Penn should use smiley faces 🙂 to denote when he is making a joke. Then we would get it.

    Very sad to put that out in the first place, even worse to then say “just kidding”

    What else were they just kidding about? Iraq? Iran? Healthcare?

    It’s all good in ObamaLand.

  2. Very good point there. If they insist on waiting until the room laughs before admitting to just jokin’, how many jokes are they telling that we just don’t find very funny at all.

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