Sunday, April 6, 2008

Was The "Penn" Mightier Than The Sword

... at least for destroying the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Mark Penn has finally resigned his role as an advisor to Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign. This is probably the best thing that could have happened to her campaign. But sadly it's probably occurred too late to save it.

When I first learned that Mark Penn was CEO of the PR firm that represented Blackwater USA it certainly raised flags in my mind.

Beth Fouhy has reported for Associated Press:
" Mark Penn, the pollster and senior strategist for Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential bid, left the campaign Sunday after it was disclosed he met with representatives of the Colombian government to help promote a free trade agreement Clinton opposes.

Communications director Howard Wolfson and pollster Geoff Garin will direct the campaign's message and strategic efforts for the campaign going forward, Williams said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Penn, who serves as chief executive of public relations giant Burson-Marsteller, met with Colombian officials March 31 to help craft strategy to move the Colombian Free Trade agreement through Congress. Penn later issued a statement apologizing for the meeting, calling it an "error in judgment."

But the apology evidently wasn't sufficient. Aides said both Hillary and Bill Clinton were deeply angry upon hearing of the meeting and that Penn was quickly pushed to leave.

Penn has been a lightning rod for controversy throughout the campaign and managed to retain considerable influence in the operation almost solely because of the candidate's loyalty to him. He was known to get into angry shouting matches with other members of Clinton's team, including longtime adviser Harold Ickes and media strategist Mandy Grunwald, who often disagreed with his strategic advice and resented his unchecked authority to design the candidate's message.

Penn pushed Clinton to adopt a meat-and-potatoes, issue-based campaign that stressed her "strength and experience" but managed to overlook voters' desire for fundamental political change, which rival Barack Obama was able to capture.

Penn also moved to frame the New York senator as an establishment figure and quasi-incumbent, quashing some of the excitement she might have generated as the first serious woman presidential contender.

Critics also complained the as both pollster and senior strategist, Penn was engaged in a profound conflict of interest — testing the very campaign messages he himself created.

Penn has come under criticism for other Burson-Marsteller clients, including tobacco giant Philip Morris and corporate clients accused of union-busting activity. While Penn says he does not personally work on any accounts that could be construed as anti-labor, labor leaders have publicly expressed concern about his involvement with the campaign."

When you look back at some of the advice that Mark Penn gave Hillary Clinton, one has to wonder just whose interest he was serving. Was James Carville pointing to the wrong man when he cried "Judas"?

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