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Penn/McAuliffe/Wolfson Idiocies

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Surveying the Wreckage.

“Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence — on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to ‘do the job from Day One.’ In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel…Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.The Atlantic‘s Josh Green, who covered the dirt on the Patty Doyle firing earlier this year, tells the story of Sen. Clinton’s primary bid from the inside (thanks mainly to being the beneficiary of vindictive document dumps from across the campaign hierarchy.)

Among the many interesting revelations, Mark Penn is apparently an even bigger asshole than he seemed during the primaries. Regarding Sen. Obama: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050…his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values…Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.” Classy.

Update: Speak of the devil. While giving kudos to McCain for his Paris Hilton ad, Mark Penn emerges from his cave to extol the usefulness of negative advertising. “Picking a president is not just about the candidates’ strengths but also about how their weaknesses can manifest themselves. Imagine if, in 2000, Al Gore’s advertisements had hit George W. Bush hard over incompetence on foreign affairs and as a trigger-happy cowboy.

Into the Memory Hole. | For the Record.

“‘She’s no longer campaigning for president,’ said Clinton spokesman Mo Elleithee. ‘She’s focused on her work in the Senate, campaigning for Senator Obama and other Democrats.’” With the Dems back on the same team, the Clinton campaign scrubs its website of anti-Obama material from the primary era. As such, this seems as good a time as any to definitively put to rest these Penn-inspired primary fictions as well:

  • Sen. Obama won’t be able to compete in crucial swing states.“: He’s currently up in Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, as well as Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Iowa, and Virginia…and does Montana count?

  • Sen. Obama can’t even win the big Dem states“: The most recent polls have Obama up 28 in California and up 20 in New York.

  • Sen. Obama has a ‘Latino problem’“: Obama currently beats McCain by 30 among Hispanics, 59%-29%. (This is already better than Kerry in 2004.)

    So R.I.P., goofy primary reasoning. You won’t be missed.

  • Underneath the Bunker.

    In the bunker there exists a different reality. In the bunker, Hillary is the winner: of the popular vote, of a series of big swing states, of the authentic American vote. In the bunker, Hillary is introduced by the indefatiguable Terry McAuliffe as ‘the next President of the United States!’ When asked about the reality outside the bunker — that Obama supporters were in a minor rage over Hillary’s speech — McAuliffe looked at me incredulously. ‘Tonight was Hillary’s night!’ he exclaimed. ‘We won tonight! We won in South Dakota! We keep winning!‘”

    Sigh. Or, put another way via R.E.M.’s Life’s Rich Pageant: “I will hide and you will hide, and we shall hide together here. Underneath the bunkers in the row. I have water, I have rum. Wait for dawn and dawn shall come, Underneath the bunkers in the row.

    Also, on McAuliffe’s point about it being “Hillary’s night,” see Jeffrey Toobin on CNN yesterday, referring to “the deranged narcissism of the Clintons.” They really don’t make it easy to cut them a break.

    Update: The endgame is now Saturday: “Clinton will host an event in Washington on Saturday ‘to thank her supporters and express her support for Senator Obama and party unity,’ according to Howard Wolfson, who did not explicitly state that Clinton is dropping out of the race. But other campaign officials said the event will coincide with her departure, despite her earlier reservations about stepping aside.” Well, better late than never.

    The Lesson of the Ring.

    Well, it’s sometimes seemed to have more endings than Return of the King. But, tonight, it looks like the primary season is finally, really, truly at an end, with Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois our duly chosen Democratic nominee. In the days and weeks ahead, it’ll behoove all of us, however hard, to let the primary bygones be bygones and to help reunite the party against our real foe, John McCain and the GOP. But, before we let the healing begin, I do have one more word to say about the Clintons, who above all else this campaign season has proven the truth of the old adage: “Choose your enemies wisely, for you will become them.

    Now, I’m not going to recite the full litany of grievances against the Clintons’ behavior of late one more time. I’d say that ground is already pretty well-covered in the election archives. But I will say this: It has become increasingly fashionable in the press and elsewhere to esteem Sen. Clinton — regardless of her other political transgressions — as gutsy, tenacious, a fighter. Say what you will about her methods, this line of thinking goes, she goes there. She does what needs to be done. In fact, argues otherwise discerning political observers such as friend and colleague David Greenberg, she is exactly the kind of fighter the Left has said they’ve been looking for. (Of course, she and her husband have been AWOL when it counted over the past seven years, but that’s neither here nor there in this view.)

    Well, simply put, this is all hooey. Sen. Clinton’s behavior over the past six months and change has been exactly the wrong lesson for Democrats to draw from the politics of the last decade. I’ve said it here several times before, but, in a nutshell, here’s why:

    You don’t wear the ring. You destroy the ring.

    Or, in other words, the key to beating the Republicans is not by acting Republican. It’s by rising above their tendentious garbage and working to restore reason and sanity to our politics. At the very least, a Democratic nominee for president shouldn’t validate the base tactics of the GOP by wallowing in their wretchedness. For what shall it profit a woman, if she shall gain the whole world, and lose her own soul?

    Nevertheless, seemingly blinded by ambition, Sen. Clinton very quickly chose the wrong path. (In the place of a Dumb Lord, we would have a Queen…) She embraced the Rove playbook and dabbled in Al Qaeda hysteria. She validated John McCain and threatened to obliterate Iran. She called her opponent elitist and derided the “elite opinion” of the reality-based community. She played nice with Limbaugh, Scaife, and FOX. She flirted dangerously with the race card and lauded hard-working whites. She, for all intent and purposes, became the Republican candidate in the Democratic primary. She, and her husband, became part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

    To repeat something I said after Wisconsin in February, the night when Sen. Obama’s primary victory basically became mathematically inexorable: “If you’ll forgive the lapse into LotR metaphors, the treason of Saruman, once the noblest and wisest of our order, is almost subdued. The Battle for Middle-Earth is only beginning.” So, as we move forward after tonight, I’ll try as much as anyone to tone down the internecine fighting around here, and start focusing fire on our true opponents over on the Right. (That is provided, of course, that Sen. Clinton chooses to diminish, go into the West, and remain a Democrat.)

    But let’s also draw the appropriate lesson from the Clinton candidacy of 2008. The Clinton era is over, and this general election is now a chance for we as Dems “to show our quality.” We are not Dubya-Rove Republicans, and adopting their scorched-earth idiocies in a “tenacious” attempt to get elected is most assuredly the road to political, civic, and spiritual ruin.

    The End is Nigh? | Being Hillary Clinton.

    “‘I want to say also that this may be the last day I’m ever involved in a campaign of this kind,’ the former president told Clinton supporters in South Dakota, ABC and NBC reported on their news websites. ‘I thought I was out of politics, till Hillary decided to run. But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to go around and campaign for her for president,’ he added at the start of his stump speech.” There’ve been rumors floating around about Sen. Clinton’s speech in New York tomorrow, but has Bill let the cat out of the bag? One can only hope.

    Update: Sigh…A Clinton spokesperson categorically denies an imminent exit tomorrow. In related news, New York Magazine’s John Heilemann and The Atlantic‘s James Fallows ponder what Sen. Clinton is thinking these days. Heilemann: “[M]y response is simple: She wants to be president. Duh. And if it ain’t gonna happen this year, then her central objective is to make it as likely as possible in 2012.” Fallows: “The Clinton team doesn’t worry about hurting Obama’s prospects of winning in the fall, because they assess those prospects at zero. Always have…So by definition they can’t be making things worse. It is like sticking pins into a corpse — you’re not really hurting it any more. And if these efforts in fact make Obama’s victory less likely — well, then, reality will conform to their preexisting view.

    Update 2: Word this morning is Sen. Clinton will in fact concede (sort of) tonight. “The former first lady will stop short of formally suspending or ending her race in her speech in New York City…But for all intents and purposes, the two senior officials said, the campaign is over.Update 3: McAuliffe says not so. Get it together over there, y’all.

    Update 4: Well, for once McAuliffe was right — You can’t call that a concession. Sen. Clinton’s “un-concession” speech tonight in New York, delivered an hour after Sen. Obama had mathematically clinched the Democratic nomination, would’ve been stunning in its gracelessness, if it wasn’t so much in keeping with what we’ve seen all election season from her. Classy until the end.

    Jeepers Veepers.

    After Sen. Clinton gets toxic and ridiculous over Michigan and Florida — In a clear attempt to poison the well (and fire up the smoke machine), she compared the DNC’s decision to adhere to the rules she herself agreed to (when it suited her) to Election 2000, Zimbabwe, and the civil rights movement — her aides, fundraisers, and husband try to foist Sen. Clinton as Obama’s veep. But Rural Votes’ Al Giordano says hold up: “The Field can now confirm, based on multiple sources, something that both campaigns publicly deny: that Senator Clinton has directly told Senator Obama that she wants to be his vice presidential nominee, and that Senator Obama politely but straightforwardly and irrevocably said ‘no.’ Obama is going to pick his own running mate based on his own criteria and vetting process.

    In the meantime, regarding delegates: Obama picked up two more Edwards delegates and supers Pilar Lujan (GU) and Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA) crossed paths switching (Lujan to Clinton, Cardoza to Obama.) Also for Obama since the last update: Rep. Jim Costa (CA), Rep. Joe Courtney (CT), and DNC members Scott Brennan (IA), Jenny Greenleaf (OR), and Wayne Dowdy (MS). (In the meantime, Clinton picked up 2 more UADs from Ohio and Massachusetts.) Thus, the most recent tally: Obama +7, Clinton +2. Sen. Obama is now 57 delegates away from the (current) magic number of 2025.

    Finger-Pointin’ Time.

    “Many answers fell into a handful of broad themes we’ve been hearing for months now. (She shouldn’t have run as an incumbent. She should have paid more attention to caucus states. She should have kept Bill chained in the basement at Whitehaven with a case of cheese curls and a stack of dirty movies.) Others had a distinct score-settling flavor…But whether personal or clinical, new or familiar, the critiques are all the more striking for having come directly from those neck-deep in the action. So, here it is, an elegy for Hillary ’08, written by some of those who have worked tirelessly to keep it alive.” Now that reality has finally set in, TNR’s Michelle Cottle gets residents of Hillaryland to ruminate on what went wrong. Among the more telling:

  • There was not any plan in place from beginning to end on how to win the nomination. It was, ‘Win Iowa.’ There was not the experience level, and, frankly, the management ability, to create a whole plan to get to the magical delegate number.

  • Hillary assembled a team thin on presidential campaign experience that confused discipline with insularity; they didn’t know what they didn’t know and were too arrogant to ask at a time early enough in the process when it could have made a difference

  • We would just cringe. Ugh. Such an out-of-touch corporate run kind of campaign–exactly what you’d expect from Mark Penn.

  • [Bill’s] behavior that started off in Iowa, carried on in New Hampshire, and culminated in South Carolina really was the beginning of the end. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, he just kind of imploded. I think, if I had to look back on it, it became more about him than about her. It really was destructive overall.

  • Mark Penn and Mandy Grunwald dismissed the possibility of youth turning out heavily in Iowa for Obama, saying on the record after the Jefferson-Jackson dinner ‘They don’t look like caucus-goers.’

    In related news, Sen. Obama picks up another super, Rep. Pete Stark of CA.

  • The Big State Fallacy.

    “Yet for all of her primary night celebrations in the populous states, exit polling and independent political analysts offer evidence that Mr. Obama could do just as well as Mrs. Clinton among blocs of voters with whom he now runs behind.” Are the media finally going after the Clinton camp’s last, sad buttress? In tomorrow’s NYT, Patrick Healy pushes back against the dubious Clinton claim that she’ll run better in the “big states” based on the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. “According to surveys of Pennsylvania voters leaving the polls on Tuesday, Mr. Obama would draw majorities of support from lower-income voters and less-educated ones — just as Mrs. Clinton would against Mr. McCain, even though those voters have favored her over Mr. Obama in the primaries. And national polls suggest Mr. Obama would also do slightly better among groups that have gravitated to Republicans in the past, like men, the more affluent and independents, while she would do slightly better among women.” In other words, when it comes to comparing primary and general election performance, we’re basically talking apples and oranges. (Just ask Al Gore.)

    For his next trick, Penn disappears.

    “After the events of the last few days, Mark Penn has asked to give up his role as chief strategist of the Clinton campaign.” With Colombia-gate the straw that finally leveled the proverbial dromedary, Mark Penn is gone from Team Clinton. Better late than never, I suppose, but this would’ve been more helpful if done several months ago. And isn’t the captain supposed to go down with the ship?

    Well, victory may have been a macrotrend that eluded Penn’s grasp. Still, if nothing else, we’ll always have his ridiculous post-mortem spin jobs. Of “Impressionable elites,” “insignificant states,” and useless primaries, at least one might be remembered someday as a 2008 campaign catch-phrase. Update: The Field also feels a Titanic motif.

    The Clintons’ Colombian Connection.

    “The meeting was an error in judgment that will not be repeated, and I am sorry for it.” Clinton consigliere and inveterate torturer of reason Mark Penn gets into trouble for playing both sides of a Colombian trade deal, is forced to apologize, and subsequently gets sacked by the nation in question. If only Sen. Clinton had followed Colombia’s example months ago, she might still have a shot at the presidency right now.

    In related news, Al Giordano of Rural Votes explains why Colombian president Alvaro Uribe is rooting against Obama, and why that speaks strongly in the Illinois Senator’s favor. “The Uribe regime, after all, continues a chummy friendship with Bill Clinton, granting him the government’s ‘Colombia Is Passion’ Award last June. That, during the same 2007 spring when former vice president Al Gore cancelled his appearance at a Miami environmental conference because he did not want to share a podium with Uribe, the hemisphere’s poster boy for state-sponsored terrorism, narco-trafficking, and assassinations of opposition political, labor and social movement leaders.

    The FL/MI Smoke Machine.

    “Contrary to the gullible media’s belief that ‘time’ is a ‘powerful ally’ on Clinton’s side, in fact, Clinton’s only ally is uncertainty. The minute it becomes clear what will happen with Michigan and Florida — re-vote them, refuse to seat them, or split them 50-50 or with half-votes, as some have proposed — is the minute that Clinton’s last ‘path to the nomination’ closes. The only way to keep spin alive is to keep uncertainty alive…Penn can claim that there is a path to the nomination, but under any possible actual resolution of the uncertainty, there is not.”

    TAP’s Mark Schmitt explains Clinton’s FL/MI strategy: prolong the chaos. “[T]he specific resolution doesn’t matter, because whatever it is, it will introduce certainty and finiteness, and without the comfort of ambiguity, the Clinton spin-campaign cannot survive. The Clinton campaign began — unwisely — by spinning inevitability; it ends, equally unwisely, by spinning cosmic uncertainty. In between the two spin campaigns, they apparently forgot to give people enough of a positive reason to actually vote for Senator Clinton.

    Update: It’s out of this same desire to muddy the waters, says Al Giordano, that the Clinton camp is now trying to put the brake on the Texas caucus results: “Only by generating smokescreens can it obscure from everybody’s view that Clinton has ceased to advance in national convention delegates while party leaders – from the national to the local – continue to converge in a near-consensus that Obama is the nominee that has earned it, that the voters most support, and that they view as most able to defeat McCain in November.

    Stepping Back for the Big Picture.

    With a six-week lull between now and the next contest, during which I hope to spend more time focusing on Harold Ickes than on Harold Ickes (sorry, dissertation humor), now’s a good chance to buck Mark Penn and refocus on the macrotrends in the primary race right now:

    For one, superdelegates are clearly trending towards Obama. “Among the 313 of 796 superdelegates who are members of Congress or governors, Clinton has commitments from 103 and Obama is backed by 96, according to lists supplied by the campaigns. Fifty-three of Obama’s endorsements have come since he won the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, compared with 12 who have aligned with Clinton since then…[Since Ohio/Texas] the Illinois senator has won backing from nine superdelegates and Clinton one, according to the campaigns and interviews.” (Speaking of which, he picked up another one today in Wisconsin’s Melissa Schroeder. As you probably know, you can keep track of the supers over at DemConWatch.)

    For another, whatever sound and fury Mark Penn tries to kick up about Pennsylvania and electability, it’s a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. In the most recent general election poll of the state, Obama still does better than Clinton against McCain there (although, thanks to all the recent negative press, McCain has moved ahead of both since this poll.) To his credit, Clinton supporter and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, off-message once again, today conceded Obama can take PA over McCain. (And in any case, as Michael Dukakis can tell you, past primary performance is often not a valid predictor of future outcomes.)

    Otherwise, Obama is up in the daily trackers, although those tend to be volatile. Most importantly, obviously, Sen. Obama enjoys a sizable, if not insurmountable, lead in pledged delegates, votes, and states, so we’re in very good shape, despite what ever sad butchering of reality emanates from Camp Clinton these days. So keep your chin up, y’all. If you got money, donate. If you got time, phonebank, write your supers, and/or get the message out. Let’s press this thing home.

    By the way, while looking for a good Penn-Microtrends link above, I found this NYT book review that begins with an anecdote about the TV show Numb3rs: “‘There’s no way the bad guys can win,’ my son assures me each time we watch the show together. ‘They can’t do the math, Dad.’” Truer words have never been spoken.

    Obama: Step off.

    “If I’m not ready, how is it that you think I should be such a great vice president?’ Mr. Obama said. ‘Do you understand that?’” Sen. Barack Obama probes an obvious fault line in the Clintons’ kitchen-sink attack. “‘With all due respect, I’ve won twice as many states as Senator Clinton,’ Mr. Obama said, speaking over the applause of nearly 2,000 people who rose from their seats. ‘I’ve won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I don’t know how somebody who’s in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who’s in first place….I’m not running for vice president. I’m running for president of the United States of America.’” Well put. (See it here.)

    For what it’s worth, Clinton goon Howard Wolfson tried to square the circle this morning with this gem: “We do not believe that Sen. Obama has passed the commander in chief test. But there is a long way between now and Denver.” Uh, that clearly doesn’t make a lick of sense. Why does the Clinton campaign continue to assume that we’re all morons? It’s infuriating.

    The Wolf who cried Starr.

    I for one do not believe that imitating Ken Starr is the way to win a Democratic primary election for president, but perhaps that theory will be tested.” A Starr is born? Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson makes the implicit explicit and directly likens Senator Obama to independent counsel and GOP bogeyman Ken Starr, suggesting that any criticism of the Clintons must be rooted in the “vast right-wing conspiracy.” Well, Wolfson, I don’t know Ken Starr personally. But, as fate would have it, I wrote the book on Ken Starr. And, news flash, Barack Obama is no Ken Starr. Y’see, I did copious research for And the Horse He Rode In On, and I discovered while doing so that Ken Starr, despite his self-righteous persona, was pretty much your run-of-the-mill hypocritical scumbag of a party hack. Now that doesn’t really describe Sen. Obama very well, but, as it turns out, that is exemplary shorthand for one Howard Wolfson.

    Exhibit A: What prompted Wolfson’s “Ken Starr” smear today? That would be the Obama campaign’s call to have Senator Clinton release her tax returns for the past seven years, something she’s continually refused to do despite the fact that it would take all of five minutes to accomplish and is considered relatively standard in political campaigns at any level, let alone a race for the presidency. Now, let’s flashback to 2000 for a sec: Then, Clinton flunky Howard Wolfson was running around with a guy in an Uncle Sam suit demanding that GOP Senate candidate Rick Lazio…wait for it, wait for it…release his tax returns.

    Their hypocrisy knows no limits.

    24, 24 hours to go…

    “All that matters tomorrow – and we might not know the answer until later in the week – is which campaign advanced in delegates and which campaign did not, and by how much. That Clinton spokesman Wolfson is saying here that the Texas Caucuses don’t matter is your clearest indication that he thinks they’re going to get shellacked at ‘em. He’s already spinning them into ‘doesn’t-matterland’ before they’re even held. That’s because it is precisely the caucus results that will advance Obama to a greater lead among pledged delegates nationwide than he has today.” As the election season builds to a fever pitch in Ohio and Texas, Clinton sends out more attack ads, and the Clinton campaign begins trying to move the goalposts all over again to stay in the race after tomorrow night, Rural VotesAl Giordano puts things in perspective.

    In the meantime, the polls — minus Zogby, who had Obama up 13 in California, and is thus someone I’m not putting much stock in at the moment — seem to suggest Clinton is pulling away in Ohio (although not by enough to really make a dent in the delegate situation.) Texas polls are more favorable to Obama, although at least one has Clinton pulling ahead there too. But, to be clear, despite these leads (which also don’t reflect the respective ground games), neither state shows anything like the margins Clinton needs to stay mathematically viable. Her campaign may continue wheezing and sputtering for several weeks yet, but — if these numbers hold up, even with Clinton wins — the race for all intent and purposes ends tomorrow…and not a moment too soon.

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