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Tilting at Windmills

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June 12, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

PENN SPEAKS....Michelle Cottle wants us to read Lisa DePaulo's Q&A with Mark Penn in GQ:

I highly recommend giving the piece a read, if for no other reason than to confirm all of your preexisting biases about what a spectacular egomaniac Penn is.

I'm on it! Actually, though, I found this passage a little more interesting than Penn's obsessive self-defense:

You wanted to hit [Obama] harder?
Well, I wanted to question the basic underpinning of his campaign.

....Why didn't you?
Well, I started down that road.... President Clinton took on the Iraq back-and-forth. But the rest of the campaign didn't want to tackle Iraq. They always felt that that was a losing proposition for her, and they always pulled it back.

....Why do you think the rest of the team was afraid to go after him?
I think they thought that her position on Iraq wasn't strong enough to sustain a debate on Iraq.

Or popular enough.
Right. But her position, remember — we went through the early discussion of "Was it a mistake? Should she apologize?" Of course, the rest of the team wanted her to apologize. [laughs] And you know, she weathered that extremely well. She didn't apologize, because she had given a speech outlining her position. On that day. And that speech held up. It actually explained why she voted for Iraq and why it was a sincere vote at the time.

So does this mean that Penn and Bill Clinton were the team members primarily responsible for keeping Hillary from being more forthrightly contrite about her vote to authorize the war? I wouldn't flat out say that this was the key issue that allowed Obama to beat her, but it certainly ranks in the top two or three.

As for the rest, it's true that Penn spends most of the interview deflecting blame from himself. On the other hand, he also makes some fairly trenchant points about the difference in media treatment between Obama and Clinton that ring pretty true to my ears. Among other things, he brings up the driver's license issue, the tears in New Hampshire, and the media's general infatuation with all things Obama. And he also has this to say about the Obama campaign:

Look, there's no question that the Obama campaign took comments that could not in any way, shape, or form in an objective reality be seen as racist, and they told surrogates to characterize them that way.

Apparently the healing process still has a ways to go. Still, the whole thing is worth a read. Underneath the spin there's some interesting stuff.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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Comments

Gee. I love picking scabs.

When is the healing going to begin?

Um. McCain?! He's the guy to beat. No?

Posted by: Everyman on June 12, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I think it was the vote in the first place and not the lack of an apology. But you never know...

Posted by: Jammer on June 12, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

I highly recommend giving the piece a read, if for no other reason than to confirm all of your preexisting biases about what a spectacular egomaniac Penn is.
I would rather ignore Penn and find ways to keep McCain out of the White House instead.

Posted by: AJB on June 12, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

F Penn, no healing required with him, he just needs to go, and thankfully I think he will.

I recall quite a few conversations with friends (some Hillary supporters, some not) early in the campaign about her refusal to say the vote was a mistake and all of use thought it rang of too much Bush-style politics. I'm not sure her acknowledging that vote as a mistake would have changed anything, but it would certainly have diminished the negatives and old-style politics label she got stuck with.

Posted by: tom.a on June 12, 2008 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama had cried or teared up on camera at any time during the campaign, he would have been finished. Done.

Posted by: BL on June 12, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

I wouldn't flat out say that this was the key issue that allowed Obama to beat her, but it certainly ranks in the top two or three.

It helped, but in the end it was Obama himself that was the key issue, hence the personal attacks on him and Michelle.

Like it or not he has a star quality that "Lights up a room" in the words of a Repub pundit. Add that to top notch organization and ya got a candidate capable of great success.

Posted by: keith g on June 12, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

On what planet is Mark Penn an authority about what can be seen as racist?

Clearly, many things that weren't -intended- as racism were -felt- as racism. That's kinda one of the problems of racism.

Posted by: gussie on June 12, 2008 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think Kevin means Sen. Clinton was prevented from being more "forthrightly contrite" about her 2002 Iraq vote. What it sounds like he means is that she was discouraged from faking contrition.

For what it's worth, if she had faked contrition convincingly enough early in the campaign, before Sen. Obama had gathered momentum and gotten the tremendous boost from winning the Iowa caucuses, I think it would have been enough to get Clinton nominated. It would have violated Permanent Campaign Rule No. 1 -- No Flip-Flops, Ever -- which is probably why Clinton was so determined not to do it. Really, though, even PCR 1 is more a guideline than an actual rule.

Posted by: Zathras on June 12, 2008 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Interestingly, what I remember vividly about Clinton's explanation of her AUMF vote - and my wife had the same reaction - was how patently insincere it sounded at the time. It's not always easy to remember at this late date what an atmosphere of fear the administration had managed to generate in 2002, but back then it took courage to vote No; it was a political risk. Some Democrats had the courage. Clinton did not. It was clear then and it's still clear.

I have great respect for Hillary Clinton. She's brilliant, she's dedicated, she's hard-working and I think she sincerely wants to help the disadvantaged. But her political ambition poisons her.

Just my two cents.

Posted by: Fred from Pescadero on June 12, 2008 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Kevin, the healing process has a way to go. The Obama campaign has stated that he will not go to too much trouble to woo "Hillary voters" but will instead focus on Republicans and Independents. What we Hillary supporters want to know is, if we change our party registration from (D) to (R) or (I), will that make us more palatable to the "new Democratic coalition" that ostensibly doesn't need us anymore?

Posted by: Motherlode on June 12, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

Payback's a bitch. Bill did exactly the same (with racism subsituted with other shticks). Karma bites, no?

Posted by: Name on June 12, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Payback's a bitch. Bill did exactly the same (with racism substituted with other shticks). Karma bites, no?

Posted by: Name on June 12, 2008 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

If not for Hillary's vote for the AUMF, Obama would have had much less reason to run in the first place. Considering the incredible unpopularity of the war, there was a huge opening for someone (besides Kucinich) with a consistent record opposing the war in Iraq.

When it comes to people who consider Iraq a top issue, I don't think there is anything Clinton could have said to bring those people around. No one buys her assertion that she was duped by Bush and manipulated intelligence. Plenty of people looked at the same information, then looked at Bush, then came to a different conclusion. That leaves two possibilities: 1) She actually is a hawk (and her subsequent Iran vote reinforces this), or 2) She isn't, and she voted for the AUMF because she felt her political viability depended on it.

If she then renounced her Iraq vote during the primary, all that would have done was reinforce Possibility 2. I think the only way she could have won people over was by doing something dramatic, like going to the mat to stop war funding or establish a timetable for withdrawal.

Posted by: Joe Bob on June 12, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Motherlode = McCain troll.

Posted by: Shine on June 12, 2008 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

What we Hillary supporters want to know is, if we change our party registration from (D) to (R) or (I), will that make us more palatable to the "new Democratic coalition" that ostensibly doesn't need us anymore?

here's what you need to know about voting for McCain.

if you're OK with what McCain promises regarding that issue, then you are simply not a Democrat, and you probably wouldn't have voted for Clinton in the first place.

Posted by: cleek on June 12, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Shine, I've never voted for a Republican in my 30 years of voting, so I hardly think I could be called a McCain troll. And I didn't say I was voting for McCain. I will not, EVER.

I'm just trying to point out the absurdity of the Party throwing 50% of us (many of us lifelong and activist Dems) under the bus in favor of reaching out across the aisle, so to speak.

Posted by: Motherlode on June 12, 2008 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

"Look, there's no question that the Obama campaign took comments that could not in any way, shape, or form in an objective reality be seen as racist, and they told surrogates to characterize them that way."

Absolutely true. I preferred Clinton, but I did not oppose Obama, except for this one matter. To me, he'll forever be "the guy who called Bill Clinton a racist because it would help win SC".

Posted by: david on June 12, 2008 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

"Look, there's no question that the Obama campaign took comments that could not in any way, shape, or form in an objective reality be seen as racist, and they told surrogates to characterize them that way."

There's some truth to this. I think it was a smart move in a lot of ways -- most of all because, using the sensitivity that exists within Democratic ranks over this issue, they set the predicate for the general election that race-baiting is completely beyond the pale, and more than that, the boundaries of acceptable behavior very tightly. And the media bought it. Any move in this direction by the Republicans will be immediately called.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on June 12, 2008 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Jeez. I thought it was all pretty simple. The US is both mysogenistic and racist in certain ways. They both run as strong undercurrents that I see and hear every day, probably the more for being a white male, because people don't guard what they say.

Each candidate suffered from the relevent bias. But whereas Obama maintained much the same message and personality throughout his campaign and has some certain charisma, Clinton drove all over the place emotionally, and her acting just isn't that good. The longer she went the less I liked her. And her last week or so was damn near demagogic.

The better candidate won. Time to move on and for the Democratic Party to plan to use the power effectively and responsibly.

Posted by: notthere on June 12, 2008 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

So, is Bill Clinton still a racist?

Posted by: david on June 12, 2008 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

For all the apologists and dead-enders, Hillary was not defeated by some terrible media conspiracy.

See recent Pew Research Center study:

"the dominant personal narratives in the media about Obama and Clinton were almost identical in tone, and were both twice as positive as negative ... The trajectory of the coverage, however, began to turn against Obama, and did so well before questions surfaced about his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Shortly after Clinton criticized the media for being soft on Obama during a debate, the narrative about him began to turn more skeptical -- and indeed became more negative than the coverage of Clinton herself."

So give it up.

Posted by: Adam on June 12, 2008 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently the healing process still has a ways to go.

Well, we're hoping for healing among the Democrats. I don't think Penn qualifies. Which was part of the problem.

Posted by: on June 12, 2008 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Motherlode: Point is that there are McCain trolls who pose as former Clinton supporters. McCain supportrs implicitly encouraged by the McCain website to post comments on liberal blogs. The website site doesn't say that they should impersonate disaffected Hillary supporters, but let's face it, the Republican Party is the Party of dirty tricks, ratfucking, swiftboating and operation chaos. Impersonating an angry Hillary supporter makes sense.

McCain trolls notoriously populate Politico, pretending they are outraged Hillary supporters. So any link to any Politico story raises a yellow flag, at the very least.

A common thread to McCain troll comments is to take some relatively innocuous statement from the Obama campaign and spin it into some kind of personal insult against Hillary. Lanny Davis does this regularly, and while he's not exactly a McCain trolls, he provides a template for the trolls to follow.

I read that article you linked to, and I'm not sure where anyone said Obama wasn't interested in Hillary supporters. The campaign assumes that most Democrats will vote in their self-interest; I dunno, maybe they foolishly believe that Democratic women will not want to see Ginsberg and Stevens replaced by Scalia and Alito clones and don't want to say goodbye to Roe and Griswold.

I'm also not sure why any Democrat should have to woo fellow Democrats, particularly life-long Democrats.

The high profile HillRaisers aren't happy, in part because many of them will not be getting those plum ambassadorships (sorry Susie Tompkins Buell), and there will be a certain segment of the Party that will not vote for "an inadequate black man" no matter what the circumstances, as well as those feminists who are so personally attached to Hillary and her campaign that but a vote in favor of someone else is a personal attack on Hillary and all women, so yes, not everyone is happy, but to perpetuate the fiction that there is mass disaffection among Democrats is to play into Republican hands.

Finally, most McCain trolls include a declaration that they have been Democrats for "30 years" (its never 10, or 40, most often its 25 to 30) and that because of whatever-manufactured-outrage du jour they are seriously considering voting Republican "for the first time." It's the equivalent of "I'm not a racist, but ..." It kind of screams "I'm a troll!"

Sorry, but your comments falls squarely within the parameters of a McCain troll.

Posted by: Shine on June 12, 2008 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

First, Penn is slime. Just had to get that out of the way.

Second, I certainly don't think her Iraq war vote was a winner (it was one of my biggest reasons for opposing her nomination), but I guess we'll find out for sure in the fall. Personally, I don't think we'd be in a better position against McCain with someone who had a McCain-lite position on Iraq.

Third, it's true that there was a media treatment disparity. And it's fair to criticize the Press for it in an effort to improve their behavior (working the refs, as Alterman would say.) On the other hand, it's not a very good excuse for losing. The Press isn't magically going to grow scruples. Especially since her campaign was premised on the idea that she could better fight off Republican attacks.

I think her position on Iraq was a mistake, and I think her plan to run on experience (and political feistiness) in what clearly is a reform year was a mistake.

But really, I think strategy played a bigger role, here. Supertuesday was supposed to be the knockout punch, but the Obama team managed to beat her that day by going after the little states and working the caucuses better. (And really, while caucuses may have overrepresented the activist wing of the Party, someone with her money, clout, experience, and organization should have been able to put together a better caucus effort.) Then she lost in a bloodbath in 13 straight primaries while she focused on Ohio and Texas. Huge mistake. If she hadn't ceded primaries, she might have not gotten into such a hole. And then, when the press did start to turn on Obama (Wright, flag pin, whatever), she would have been in a position to take advantage.

In short, they ran a pretty horrible campaign. And almost won, too, so she has to at least take that to heart.

Posted by: Royko on June 12, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

"See recent Pew Research Center study"

See the Daily Howler archives for the grave methodological problems with those studies. E.g. they didn't care whether coverage was true.

"Especially since her campaign was premised on the idea that she could better fight off Republican attacks."

Her campaign was not prepared to be falsely smeared as racist by fellow Democrats. I guess that could be considered a failing on her part.

More generally her campaign was unprepared for the media bias, which certainly is a failing.

Posted by: rilkefan on June 12, 2008 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

As a supporter of Sen. Clinton, neither her vote for AUMF or her explanation figured that importantly in my deciding to support her. I have always presumed that one reason for her "aye" vote was simply that sometimes you have to trust that the President will do what is right. She did so and paid a high political price for trusting that Bush II would act presidential.
When I read her speech explaining her vote, I wondered then, and still do, why she didn't go one step further and state that, while she would in the same circumstances, vote for a similar AUMF, she wouldn't do so again for Bush II. Something along the lines of "fool me once..."

Posted by: Doug on June 12, 2008 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Clearly some of what HRC said and much of what her surrogates said was designed to polarize the Dem voters along racial lines.

Her campaign whines that some of the "innocent" remarks were taken wrong. But if you make some racist remarks and then deny they are racist, you can't really expect people to take denials on the "innocent" remarks seriously.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on June 12, 2008 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

"Clearly some of what HRC said and much of what her surrogates said was designed to polarize the Dem voters along racial lines."

Clear to you, perhaps, but so what? Can you make a case for the pre-SC memo comments spin being anything but mendacious?

Posted by: rilkefan on June 12, 2008 at 7:53 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I'm just one guy, but the anecdote is telling. All the way till Feb 3 or so, I was painfully undecided between Clinton and Obama. Went back and forth.

In the end, it crystallized in my mind--I had a slight preference for Obama, because Hillary could neither justify her AUMF and Kyl-Lieberman votes, nor did she have the guts to fess up.

Apologizing is neither here nor there. Being able to look your own mistakes squarely in the eye is a test of character and integrity, and she failed.

Or maybe Mark Penn failed, but who cares--Hillary was the candidate, and so I voted for Obama. Haven't regretted it, while my wife has come to regret her own vote for Hillary.

Posted by: Amit Joshi on June 12, 2008 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

The post (and the linked post) do a remarkably poor job of actually engaging Penn's arguments. In particular, if he's correct about the budget issues surrounding the missing $25 million before the string of caucuses Obama won, that's a strong defense of his position. And, well, his argument around the driver's license issue seems sensible.

Posted by: rilkefan on June 12, 2008 at 8:05 PM | PERMALINK

> When is the healing going to begin?
>
> Um. McCain?! He's the guy to beat. No?

Just looking at the objective evidence outside his being involved in Hillary's campaign, would you classify Penn as a Republican or a Democrat?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on June 12, 2008 at 9:20 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that you, Kevin, can't still at this late date see that Clinton intentionally used race as a weapon, perhaps more out of desperation than malice, does not make you a racist but it does make you seem a bit clueless. For what it's worth I'm a white male and no fan of identity politics but even I didn't need Obama's "surrogates" to explain to me how the Clinton's were fanning racial resentments among whites.

Posted by: whalt on June 13, 2008 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

The Clinton campaign did not race as a campaign tactic. The examples presented by the Obama supporters were tendentious at best, culminating in the ridiculous interpretation of Senator Clinton's RFK reference. I believe you will see a real use of racially based tactics in the general--Fox News "Baby Mama" being just the appetizer.

Enjoy the MSM lovefest while you can. I bet Senator Obama's impatience with idiocy (unlike Senator McCain, who plays along with the joke) will alienate them soon enough; it may already be waning.

Posted by: Dazir on June 13, 2008 at 3:04 AM | PERMALINK

The moral of the story: losers like Penn will triangulate you out of a chance at the presidency.

Hell yeah Hillary lost because she didn't apologize for Iraq. I know I would have voted for if she had, but since she took the Penn line on Iraq and refused to apologize I voted for Obama. Simple as that.

Mark Penn is a loser.

Posted by: The Fool on June 13, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

but, of course Mark Penn is going to defend her decision not to apologize for Iraq. It was Mark Penn who led the advisory team that told her she had to vote for the war in the first place. He's been there from the beginning of her Senate career and he is partially responsible for that one huge misstep that provided Obama the wedge he needed to begin tearing down her "inevitable" nomination.

She cast the vote but Penn gave the advice. He couldn't let her apologize for it because then he'd have to admit he was wrong.

Posted by: JP on June 13, 2008 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

but, of course Mark Penn is going to defend her decision not to apologize for Iraq. It was Mark Penn who led the advisory team that told her she had to vote for the war in the first place. He's been there from the beginning of her Senate career and he is partially responsible for that one huge misstep that provided Obama the wedge he needed to begin tearing down her "inevitable" nomination.

She cast the vote but Penn gave the advice. He couldn't let her apologize for it because then he'd have to admit he was wrong.

Posted by: JP on June 13, 2008 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

"Her campaign was not prepared to be falsely smeared as racist by fellow Democrats. "

Do you believe that Clinton's comment about Jesse Jackson was supposed to be a positive statement or was it intended to have negative connotations?

If it was negative (and IMO it was) is there a way to construe its negativity without having racist implications?

If so, please do so.

Posted by: Sebastian on June 13, 2008 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Writing Flight,under street involve break no image like on decade visit interest sequence hurt yard gain huge observe both also white chance thin bind county solicitor on deal deep award before demand smile select suggest check huge defence turn show politics editor teach particularly careful explore circumstance requirement formal test expert answer expense among on forget initial live bus hit spot late easily usual reduction stop straight scene close hand pension accident girl guide people risk mark inside including house council concentration characteristic could rest approach female

Posted by: hotel tuerkei buchen on January 28, 2010 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK
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