Mark Penn is again revealed as the worst political consultant in Washington in an interesting article in today's Boston Globe. Among the many, many examples of his incredibly bad judgement, this one is particularly memorable:
At a social event last spring at the home of Mark Penn, then Hillary Clinton's chief strategist and one of the most prominent and well-compensated Democratic consultants in the business, a fellow Democrat wondered aloud if freshman Senator Barack Obama might wrest the nomination from the well-connected New York senator.
Penn, the dinner guest said, waved his hand dismissively. "Flash in the pan," Penn said, adding that the Clinton campaign saw former North Carolina senator John Edwards as her biggest challenge.
There, in a nutshell, is the arrogance, entitlement and bad judgement of the chief strategist to the Clinton campaign.
Why exactly is this guy the "one of the most prominent and well-compensated Democratic consultants in the business"?
Anyone who dismisses Barack Obama as a "flash in the pan" deserves to be laughed out of town. Of course, in reality, Mark Penn will continue to rake in the dough as a consultant regardless of his tragically wrong judgement and destructive advice to the Clinton campaign.
In politics, like in corporations, people fail upward.
The Boston Globe article, by reporter Susan Milligan, is an interesting analysis of the mis-steps of the Clinton campaign. One huge mistake was focusing on early primaries and expecting an easy win. Another, which I think cost her the nomination, was the emphasis on what Clinton clearly thought of as her strength: being a Washington insider.
Yet it was a far cry from the beginning of the campaign, when Clinton and her campaign staff were portraying her as the inevitable choice for Democrats. The decision to stress her experience and stature in the party played directly into Obama's plan to portray her as too tied to the system.
The close ties of the campaign to party insiders and the DLC seemed like an advantage at the outset, until Barack Obama proved that grass-roots organizing and a message of change from conventional partisan politics is what America really wants.
From their massive campaign war chest, the Clinton campaign "doled out more than $1.3 million to 10 types of consultants " such as the brilliant Mark Penn. They built a staff of "party activists with decades-long ties to the Clintons." All these insiders thought that they were destined to win.
In effect, her strategy was built on the premise that the nomination was hers to lose. "The entire process was set up with the expectation that Hillary was going to be the nominee," said Jamal Simmons, an Obama supporter who also worked on the 1992 Clinton campaign.
The plan backfired - badly.
Career political insiders like Mark Penn were blindsided by Barack Obama. The conventional thinking and insider patronage system that he expected to deliver an easy win ended up being rejected by Americans hoping for a new change in the way Washington works.
In the end, that "flash in the pan" was brighter, stronger and more intense than people like Mark Penn could ever imagine.