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The Ballad Of Mark Penn

It's funny how, in the Times worthwhile behind-the-scenes account of the Clinton campaign, the ideas rejected because they would have worsened an already bad situation were almost always Mark Penn's:

At one point, Mr. Penn argued that Mrs. Clinton should find subtle ways to exploit what he called Mr. Obama’s “lack of American roots,” referring to his Kenyan father and his childhood years in Indonesia and even the offshore state of Hawaii, the campaign officials said. Mr. Penn recommended that Mrs. Clinton own the word “American” — she should talk about the “American century” and her “American Strategic Energy Fund,” and so forth. She should add flag symbols to her logo, he suggested. ...

Mr. Penn pushed to go after Mr. Obama more directly for his association with the minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., but Howard Wolfson, the communications director, Mandy Grunwald, the media chief, and others resisted. ...

The next day, though, Democratic supporters in Congress pressed her on a conference call to give up quickly. She gave in, hung up and asked top advisers to prepare a plan to withdraw. They met with her at campaign headquarters, where every member of her inner circle recommended she pull out and endorse Mr. Obama without preconditions or negotiations — every member except Mr. Penn, who said she should hold out for concessions.

But Mrs. Clinton was, at last, ready to call it quits and switch focus to the general election, two aides recalled. “Let’s get on with it,” she said.

The Times also had this precious, if perhaps unsurprising, detail:

Election night [in Pennsylvania] brought home the varied complex personal and political dynamics at play. Mr. Penn, once the most influential voice in the Clinton universe, showed up at campaign headquarters outside Washington to watch the returns but virtually no one would talk with him and he left early.

Update: Penn appears on the Times op-ed page today with something of a counterpoint. In a nutshell, he argues that his strategy was basically a success--that, if anything, the Clintons should have listened to him more. And that his colleagues (presumably Harold Ickes and Patti Solis Doyle) should have done their jobs better:

Are there a lot of other things the campaign could have done differently? Of course. We should have taken on Mr. Obama more directly and much earlier, and we needed a different kind of operation to win caucuses and to retain the support of superdelegates. From more aggressively courting young people earlier to mobilizing the full power of women, there are things that could have been done differently.

While everyone loves to talk about the message, campaigns are equally about money and organization. Having raised more than $100 million in 2007, the Clinton campaign found itself without adequate money at the beginning of 2008, and without organizations in a lot of states as a result. Given her successes in high-turnout primary elections and defeats in low-turnout caucuses, that simple fact may just have had a lot more to do with who won than anyone imagines.

Not sure this is going to solve his "no one would talk with him" problem at that next Clinton campaign reunion... 

Also, there's this curious graf:

The Clintons have spent their lives fighting as much as any leaders in their generation for greater equality across racial and gender lines. I believe nothing they said was ever intended to divide the country by race. Any suggestion to the contrary was perhaps the greatest injustice done to them in this campaign.

Well, maybe. But, as that other Times piece points out, it's not like Penn didn't try to get them to play the race card.

--Noam Scheiber