In Focus: The Decline and Fall of Mark Penn
The takeaway from Mark Penn's departure from the Clinton campaign is not the question of whether he was fired or he resigned in disgrace. It is that he so clearly believes Hillary is done for that he made sure to start re-plying his trade as a lobbyist before her concession speech was drafted. If even the disheveled frog prince of Democratic politics counts himself lucky that he hasn't quit his day job, we can be certain that the mood among Hillary's overpaid spinsters and functionaries is grim indeed.
Susan Davies of the Wall Street Journal broke the story that Penn, acting in his capacity as chief executive of Burson-Marsteller Worldwide, a communications and lobbying firm, attended a meeting with the Colombian ambassador to discuss the promotion of a bilateral trade agreement. Though Colombian emissaries have met with advisers to both the Obama and McCain camps, those advisers had not been there to honor their own corporate contracts. Penn's action is thus seedier than Austan Goolsbee's reassurances to Canada about Obama's true trade policies, because Penn was acting on his own behalf, not to mention advocating an economic policy that his candidate-employer is said to oppose.
Penn apologized Friday for his "error in judgment," but that didn't stop Colombia from firing Burson-Marsteller, by far his more serious loss of business last week. He was also downgraded in the Clinton apparat to a pollster (he's got another company to help him in that role, too), leaving Geoff Garin and Howard Wolfson as the sole "message" men.
Clinton's desire to portray herself as a trade protectionist is heightened now that Obama, who is endorsed by the Teamsters, has narrowed her lead in Pennsylvania, a crucial working-class state that Clinton had all but sewn up a few weeks ago. The AFL-CIO was not pleased about her chief campaign strategist's two-track diplomacy:
"The Penn situation -- and the lack of action by you -- raises serious questions about the veracity of your claims of what you would do should you become president," the unions said in a statement released Saturday.
Of course, this isn't the first time Penn has acted as if his loyalty to the campaign was entirely negotiable. He told the Los Angeles Times in February:
"I have had no say or involvement in four key areas -- the financial budget and resource allocation, political or organizational sides... Those were the responsibility of Patti Solis Doyle, Harold Ickes and Mike Henry, and they met separately on all matters relating to those areas."
Which makes him, if not quite a Judas of the Richardson stripe, then a hand-washing Pilate of the internal machinery. Greed, double-talking, opportunism, a singular ambition, matched by a willingness to sacrifice others when they are no longer seen as useful or on the winning side... The irony of all this is that Penn is now out of two jobs because of precisely those vices that once endeared him to the Clintons.
At Comment is Free, Michael Tomasky writes: "But you do have to wonder about the new internal structure that will replace the existing one. Penn had the last word on everything - the candidate's schedule, what she did and did not stress in her speeches, how she phrased things, which surrogates would go on television and out on the stump and how they would phrase things, the ads the campaign ran, the wording and images used in those ads ... dozens of pretty important things. Now, those responsibilities evidently shift to communications director Howard Wolfson and another pollster, Geoff Garin, with others presumably playing somewhat more equal roles. It's actually possible that there may be too many cooks in the kitchen."
Ed Morrissey at Hot Air says: "the $10 million that Penn made from the Hillary campaign while essentially steering it into the shoals. Hillary had expected to win this nomination in a cakewalk, and yet got derailed by a candidate with even less experience in national office than she has. Even a year after his entry into the race, Penn never quite recognized the call for change outweighed the desire for a Clinton Restoration. The millions of dollars Hillary spent on his advice could just as easily been burned for heat."
While Say Anything notes: "The current leadership in Columbia, under Alvaro Uribe, has been one of our most consistent allies in South America. One of the two Democrat contenders for President is firing people for working on a treaty with Columbia. Is this how Democrats plan to rebuild America’s image in the word?"
Michael Weiss is the New York Editor of Pajamas Media. His blog is Snarksmith.