October 24, 2020

Penn Stayed

Penn StayedBack in the 1990s, I used to manage the Oregon distribution center for a still well-known cookie and muffin distribution company. There was a company-wide reorganization in 1996 and I lost my job. Everyone was a little worried about how I’d take it, especially since I damned near lived at the place, had just been named Manager of the Year, and treated the distribution center like my own little fiefdom that I ruled in short pants and with a constant hangover, but I was fine. I got a decent severance package and left with my head held high, and a lot of office supplies and a case or two of cookies in the trunk of my car. I had good employees who gave me a heartfelt farewell, but the out-of-state management who’d come in to drop the axe and oversee my exit was perfectly happy to see me go without a fight.

The next morning I had to come back to the office to drop some things off before I started enjoying my first day on the unemployed rolls. The Regional Operations Manager and the pedophile slob they promoted to replace me were practically ashen when they saw me walk in the door at 8:00 AM, all smiles and good mornings, like it was just another day and I was coming into work as I always did. Their expressions said it all: “What the hell is he doing here?” One look at their stricken faces, and I thought for a moment about sitting down at my desk as if the previous day’s dismissal had been a dream I thought I’d had, or that I thought they’d been joking. Only now and then can I be that brazenly mischievous, and I had a several thousand dollar check from them, so it didn’t seem right, or prudent.

I can only imagine what rejoicing Clinton campaign staffers must have thought this morning when who should show up on the morning’s conference call but erstwhile chief strategist Mark Penn, who just handed in his resignation this weekend after trying to run Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign at the same time he represented the Government of Colombia in a free trade deal that Hillary Clinton vocally opposed.

This is not a healthy development for a campaign in slow tailspin. When Penn stepped down yesterday, there was no doubt rejoicing from a campaign that had grown tired of his obstinate and bullying ways. However, as it turns out, Penn will not only continue to conduct polling for Clinton’s campaign, with his firm Penn Schoen & Berland Associates, but will remain in the campaign and is helping her prepare for her April 16 debate with Senator Barack Obama.

Clinton has held onto Penn through several staff shakeups, and it’s anyone’s guess why, given the baggage that Penn brought to the campaign as CEO of the PR firm Burson Marsteller. Burson Marsteller is most notorious for their defense of American security firm Blackwater Worldwide who is still under fire for what Nuri al-Maliki calls their “massacre” of 17 Iraqis and the wounding of 24 others last fall in a bloody overreaction to a “suspicious” approaching vehicle in Nissour Square in Baghdad. Rachel Madow on Air America tonight recapped a “Greatest Hits” of Burson Marsteller and the several handfuls of clients whose reputation has suffered an unfortunate black eye and needed Burson Marsteller to apply a little makeup: the owners of Three Mile Island, Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, the government of Saudi Arabia after 9/11, Romania’s Nicolai Ceauceascu government, and on and on.

The most astonishing thing about this story is finally seeing news footage of Mark Penn after all these months of stories. I expected a steely, chiseled player who would barely look away from the blonde on his arm as he put one slug from his Walther PPK in your brain. Imagine my surprise to see a puffy, overweight schlub with the gin blossoms and more than one weird combover patch on his head, who is one pair of inch-thick tortoise shells away from looking like Billy Carter. This is the man the mining company calls after they dump 432 swimming pools worth of battery acid into a river that feeds into a creek that runs past an elementary school? I wouldn’t trust him to drive my nephew to school–and my youngest nephew is 22 years-old and in graduate school.

This is neither good news for nor a good move by the Clinton campaign that he’s been willing to stay and that Hillary has kept him on. I haven’t been to a Hillary rally lately, but I can only suspect there are more than a few weisenheimers mimicking sniper fire at her appearance. She’s gone on Jay Leno to poke her own fun at her misstatement–that she made four or five times–but between this and her income disclosures with her Friday afternoon tax return dump, she’s trending toward what could very charitably called “disingenuous”, and, make no mistake, the man with the hardhat and the sack lunch in central Pennsylvania knows all too well what that word means.