October 29, 2020

Poison Penn

Poison PennNo one ever accused of Hillary of having scruples in choosing who she associates with in her quest for the White House. There’s nothing wrong with hiring a fox to guard your henhouse if the survival of the chickens is secondary to your goal of winning the deed to the farm. Foxes can in fact be very useful as any number of Hillary Clinton surrogates have proven lately. Whether they pass muster with the rest of the barnyard doesn’t seem quite so important.

Friday was Day 2 of the Randi Rhodes Suspension and I’m not ready to join the choir and say that she was wrong. For a few months now, there have been intermittent murmurs about Hillary’s dubious choice for her campaign’s lead strategist, Mark Penn, whose own company has “dubious” practically written into their mission statement.

Besides his day job pointing out heads to cut for the Clinton campaign and as President of polling firm Penn, Schoen and Berland, Penn is CEO of the PR firm Burson-Marsteller.

Early in the campaign, one of Clinton’s early sacrificial lambs was her New Hampshire Campaign Co-Chair Billy Shaheen. During an earlier interview, Shaheen had helpfully pointed out–only for the good of the party, of course–that he worried that Obama just wasn’t right for the nomination because of the candidates admitted past drug use (the admission had been made in Obama’s memoir, Dreams Of My Father–published in 1995; these weren’t bakery-fresh revelations that Shaheen was commenting upon). Shaheen resigned and went back to the hotel to await the trickle-in arrival of the considerable remainder of the martyred surrogates of Survivor: Clinton ’08, apologizing for making Obama’s cocaine use a campaign issue.

And there the story ended. The story about Senator Obama’s drug use, which no one had brought up before the Clinton campaign’s Shaheen. Because the campaign shouldn’t be about the fact that he used drugs. Hillary apologized to the Senator, and Mark Penn went on MSNBC’s Hardball to fully support Shaheen’s resignation. “Well, I think we’ve made clear that the issue related to cocaine use is not something that the campaign was in any way raising and I think that’s been made clear…”

John Edwards’ senior strategist Joe Trippi very nearly popped a vein. “I think he just did it again. He just did it again. Unbelievable. This guy’s been filibustering on this, he just said ‘cocaine’ again.”

Penn objected to Trippi’s interpretation of his comments, and was quick to point out, “I think you’re saying ‘cocaine.’ I think you’re saying it.”

Well, whoever said “cocaine” in the same discussion about Barack Obama, Penn made it clear that this shouldn’t be an election about Barack Obama using cocaine, and that effectively put the issue to rest, after the next four news cycles, and there’s nothing he can do to control what comes up when someone types in “barack obama cocaine” in Google, and he certainly can’t keep a good Christian housewife from Scranton or Columbus or Manchester from saying, “I kind of liked Obama, but I did hear he had a drug problem.”

The other murmurs related to Penn have had to do with one of Burson-Marsteller’s marquee clients, Blackwater, who last fall needed some serious P.R. help in the wake of a government-contracted Iraq security assignment where, according to military reports, Blackwater guards unloaded their weapons on unarmed Baghdad civilians, killing 17 of them.

Penn made the news again Friday when it was disclosed that he had met with one of his clients, the government of Colombia, to discuss a trade agreement that Colombia is pushing…that Hillary Clinton is on record as opposing. Penn explained the meeting as “an error in judgment”. I’ve made a number of errors in judgment in my life, but for the ones I didn’t follow through on, I always caught myself before I got into long-distance travel and lodging arrangements, and actually fulfilling the trip.

Well, the smell of something Clinton. What’s new?

Someone I know very well (and doesn’t want to be named) is doing a catering this weekend for a Hillary Clinton event in Portland. She’s happy to have the business in this recessed economy, but she’ll hold her nose as she cashes the check. “I liked Bill Clinton, but they’re horrible now. All of this mudslinging and crap just makes me sick. I’m voting for Obama.”

So, Penn was caught looking innocent with blood and feathers hanging from his mouth. This wasn’t a calculated sacrifice like Shaheen or Geraldine Ferraro, I don’t think. This was just one of the foxes hungry for a chicken he thought no one would notice missing. He didn’t eat any prized fowl–no one cares about Colombia, after all–and he’s going to be useful to keep around when any of the other chickens step out of line.