Mark Penn: The Man Who Couldn’t Have Left Soon Enough

As Matt reported yesterday, Hillary Clinton’s Chief Strategist, Mark Penn, has left the campaign. This is a result of the more than embarrassing flap regarding Penn’s efforts to help ratify a free trade deal between us and Colombia. It was a deal that Clinton apparently opposed.

Penn’s firm will still act as pollsters for the campaign.

Mark Penn; Hillary Clinton’s “chief strategist.” People outside the campaign are not the only ones who have been less than pleased with Penn’s performance. Harold Ickes, another high level Clinton campaign staffer (and no angel himself, mind you), was all too keen to point the finger at Penn who seemed more to shove himself into the role of chief strategist. Indeed, there’s been unrest in Hillaryland for some time now.

For me, I applaud this move, wishing only that it had come sooner, and for a different reason.

I have been an Obama supporter from the very beginning, but that doesn’t mean that I wanted to find myself in a position of working actively against other Democrats. I didn’t want to find myself regularly in internal battles over whether or not I could support a candidate other than Obama should he or she win the nomination.

To this end, the Democratic primary started out very well. I wanted Obama to win, but was pleased with a field that seemed rich with second choices. Indeed, I didn’t think Obama would win the nomination, and the fact that the early months of the contest showed me a Hillary Clinton that I rather liked at least made it easy knowing my preferred candidate wasn’t going to make it.

And that’s the key. I think I would break with many political analysts when I say that the inevitable/incumbent strategy first employed by the Clinton campaign was easily their best, and one that they should have stuck with throughout the whole thing.

There were chinks in the armor; Clinton seemed to be relying too much on providing summations as opposed to leading the field, for instance. Her typical pattern during the debates was to defer much of the substance to her colleagues on stage, but then come in as the leader and point out that all of their ideas were better than what the Republicans had to offer. Also, for policy proposals Hillary had a tendency to lag behind her rivals. But it was a brilliant strategy that allowed her to stay gray on policy for political reasons whilst at the same time framing herself as a natural leader.

I can’t say that that strategy would have guaranteed her the nomination, but I can say that it would have put her in a much better situation than she’s in now.

When Obama first started showing signs of making this nomination race a competitive one, the Clinton campaign appeared to get shaken straight out of its rhythm. It would take months for it to announce a “kitchen sink” strategy, but in truth it began the descent into more negative politics as far back as late autumn of last year.

Instrumental to this was, of course, Mark Penn with some prodding from Bill Clinton who was getting antsy behind closed doors.

The most glaring moment of those early days of the Clinton campaign going negative in my mind was the “Kindergarten” attack that Penn would later attempt to pass off as a joke. But of course it only kept getting worse from there.

In the end, I can’t say this enough; Mark Penn is among those who did Hillary Clinton a great disservice by turning what was a strong, polished, and well framed campaign into an entity that has become something of a parody of poor politics. To this day I don’t blame Hillary Clinton nearly as much as I’ve blamed the cadre of her tone deaf advisors that ham-handedly got her campaign dirty with little to no political returns.

The worst thing that Penn’s strategizing has done is that it has confirmed in the minds of many the maligned viewpoint of Clinton that was always her greatest liability. Before this primary, Democrats have turned Clinton-defending into something of an art form. There were truly mistakes made by both Bill and Hillary that probably had no defense, but they still marked a certain success within the party that we have yet to reproduce. Further, Bill’s administration still provides a perfect contrast to the current one, the difference between competence, and ideologically engineered disaster.

That’s where most of us were before this thing got started. What Mark Penn, as well as Howard Wolfson, Harold Ickes, and even Bill Clinton himself did was validate to a degree the mass maligning of the Clintons that began early in the previous decade… only this time the validation was occurring among Democrats.

Had their influence not been so strong, had their advice been turned away, my preferred candidate may not be in as advantageous of a position as he is now, but I would be more satisfied with the second option, and two icons of the modern Democratic party would have far stronger support from the Democratic base.

That is a trade off I would have been willing to make.

But I’m afraid that Penn’s exit comes too late, and Clinton is unlikely to turn around the damage that he’s done to her image and campaign. But while her chances of becoming the nominee are astonishingly low, there is hope for other great benefits to be reaped.

Without the poison that was Mark Penn tainting the well, Clinton has a new opportunity to reintroduce herself, and maybe even regain at least the poise she had back during a time in this campaign where I was actually really getting to like her. It may not be enough to win this contest, but it could be enough to heal some of the wounds that have been opened up within the party, and restore some of the respect that the Clintons have lost among those who have supported them for so long.

This isn’t a call for her to drop out (lest you think it is), but instead a call to finish strong, and to once again display the kind of leadership she could have provided. With Mark Penn gone, there’s one less person holding her back from doing just that.

More from memeorandum: The Moderate Voice, The Huffington Post, Marc Ambinder, Washington Wire, Talking Points Memo, Salon, Political Punch, Gateway Pundit, Donklephant, PunditGuy, Wonkette and Ben Smith’s Blogs. Hot Air,, The Washington Independent, Say Anything, MyDD, NY Daily News and Associated Press. Daily Kos, Firedoglake and Crooks and Liars. Time, Commentary, The Caucus and The Page. The Swamp and TPM Election Central. TalkLeft and Balloon Juice. The Campaign Spot, Patterico’s Pontifications and The Trail. Taylor Marsh,, and The Reaction

(editorial blessing by DrGail)

2 Responses to “Mark Penn: The Man Who Couldn’t Have Left Soon Enough”

  1. libhomo says:

    It turns out the whole thing is another Clinton lie. Penn is still with the campaign. It’s just a title change.

  2. Bostondreams says:

    So, yeah, he’s fired, but not really. Ha.


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