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Don’t Look At Me, I Didn’t Do It!

[ 12 ] June 8, 2008 |

Mark Penn washes his hands having helped to seal Clinton’s fate. (Penn’s column is also available in video form.)

The thing is that there’s actually considerable merit to Penn’s argument that money and organizational issues were the key defects of the Clinton campaign; their inability and/or unwillingness to compete in February primaries and caucuses was far more important than any “message” problems that could have been solved by shifts in campaign tactics. To the extent that message mattered, it was the substantive errors — Clinton getting the most important issue of the Bush era disastrously wrong, digging herself in deeper, and then compounding the error by voting for Kyl-Lieberman — that couldn’t easily be corrected after Obama won Iowa.

But this doesn’t really exculpate Penn. One way for the Clinton campaign to have freed up funds to create some organizational capacity in small caucus states would have been to not pay Penn’s firm millions of dollars for consulting services that Penn implicitly concedes to have been virtually worthless. If Penn is right about Clinton’s campaign, he must be wrong about the value of his “message” advice. Similarly, structural factors matter more than campiagn tactics in presidential elections — which is precisely why it was wrong for the Clintons to think that Penn was some sort of genius for helping a relatively popular incumbent in a booming ecomony win re-election. If Penn is largely right about the reasons for Clinton’s defeat, people are idiots to pay him what he charges for his services; he seems to be admitting the truth about the consultant racket in the Democratic Party.

So either Penn is wrong to evade responsibility like this, or he’s grossly overpaid. There’s no third option.

Comments (12)

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  1. elm says:

    Why is it either/or? I vote for both! (Also, wasn’t Penn giving advice on more than just message, but also tactics, etc.)

  2. Well, yes, the asnwer is actually “A lot from column A, a lot from COlumn B…”

  3. John Emerson says:

    It turns out that the little kid who sold his bike to give money to Hillary was a self-promoting pre-politico. Other than that, folding his $300 of bike money into Mark Penn’s $3,000,000 should have been enough in itself to doom Hillary.

  4. DJA says:

    That really is a gobsmacking mea nonculpa. Penn drinks their milkshake, and then complains that the campaign suffereing on account of having no milkshake.

  5. aimai says:

    It is of a stupidity most original. I like being told that the Clinton campaign “found itself” mysteriously out of money and “without organizations in a lot of states” and that “that simple fact”–*though no one apparently imagines it* is the key to understanding her eventual defeat. Really? No one imagines it?
    aimai

  6. Desert Hussein Rat says:

    John Emerson wrote:
    Other than that, folding his $300 of bike money into Mark Penn’s $3,000,000 should have been enough in itself to doom Hillary.
    The fact that Mark Penn made $3,000,000 off her campaign doomed Hillary in the first place. The kid with the $300 just karmically made it a good thing that he (and by extension, she) lost.

  7. karen marie says:

    someone explain the kid with the $300 thing?
    i must have missed something.
    i vaguely remember the “i sold my bike to donate money to your campaign” business but what does that have to do with penn?
    please insert dots for me, folks.

  8. FMguru says:

    Nice Rolling Stones reference in the first sentence.
    Penn’s complaint reminds me of athletes who demand enormous salaries, and then wonder why their team can’t build a talented supporting cast around them. Or who angle to be traded, and then wonder why their new team is so bereft of quality prospects and draft picks.

  9. rea says:

    Mark Penn washes his hands having helped to seal Clinton’s fate.
    Are you comparing Penn to Pilate? Or to Mick Jagger?

  10. Fledermaus says:

    So either Penn is wrong to evade responsibility like this, or he’s grossly overpaid. There’s no third option.
    Yes, option 3 is he’s a self-serving jackass with no consience.

  11. Ralph Hitchens says:

    “And sometimes your opponent just runs a good campaign.” He did, eventually, hit the nail. I read that op-ed as more in the way of diffusing rather than evading responsibility.

  12. [...] his otherwise sharp Democratic primary opponent, doesn’t think that analysis of this quality merits a 7 figure salary. Obviously, he doesn’t know what he’s [...]

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