The Atlantic's new issue has a long piece, out today, focusing on a number of Hillary Clinton insiders' memos and e-mails which paint her campaign at least as dysfunctional as you suspected and probably more so. Even author Joshua Green was amazed at how much paper he was given to wade through, saying "paranoid dysfunction breeds the impulse to hoard." With that, Spencer Ackerman and I dive right in, trying to figure out whether Mark Penn is a sexist, a genius, an idiot or some combination thereof while parsing the non-decision not to give The Sexism Speech.
MEGAN: Ok, given the absence of news other than the fact that I was right about Edwards' timing issues with his story and the halt to military action in Georgia, perhaps we can dissect The Atlantic's piece on Hillary's campaign based on all the email and memo traffic. SPENCER: You know, nothing incoming but the reggae drumming. Yeah I did what you should always do after getting the shit kicked out of you at a Rancid show you're too old to be at: read a Tolstoyesque campaign post-mortem at 2 am. MEGAN: (I hereby highly recommend that everyone take a moment and click through and read that link, by the way, as it's a piece of very excellent writing by Spencer. We'll wait.) You were much more productive than I. I just came home and went to bed. SPENCER: When I was I guess 8 I remember skinning my knee really badly and seeing a bunch of goo pus up past my shredded skin. For whatever reason — like a science experiment, I guess — I figured that more goo would emerge if I split the skin further, and sure enough I was right. Now that was fascinating — weird viscosity, unfamiliar color, surprising heat. I've never seen anything like it until I read this Josh Green piece about Hillary. So point one: Mark Penn. Complex figure after all! MEGAN: Oh, man, I'm about to just give up and let you right. You obviously beat me to coffee-drinking, not that my stomach can handle it after that mental image. SPENCER: Red Bull not coffee. Carbona not glue. MEGAN: Yes, Mark Penn: not the biggest problem! I was amazed. SPENCER: Anyway Mark Penn. Actually worse than you thought. Get a load of how he assesses Obama's promise to America:
Save it for 2050.MEGAN: Well, except that he elbowed everyone out of the way and ignored chain of command and basically acted like he was fighting his colleagues. SPENCER: Holy shit dude! It actually gets worse. MEGAN: You know what amazed me? SPENCER: This?
Listening to Brit Hume say that Obama is surging while Hillary failed to do X is almost comical and certainly transparent. The right knows Obama is unelectable except perhaps against Attila the Hun, and a third party would come in then anyway.MEGAN: No, but that's pretty stunning, too. My point is far geekier than that:
Though Penn was "chief strategist," he was a paid contractor, and thus barred from most targeting and budget planning.Which means, in effect, that Penn spent 90% of his time trying elbow people out of the way that he couldn't even replace unless he gave up or took a leave of absence from his other very lucrative job, which he didn't want to do. SPENCER: HAHAHAHA I am trying to write about this very issue in an Iraq context. Ray Odierno, who next month will be the U.S. commander in Baghdad, implies that he's going to carry out Petraeus' same population-protection strategy except with... 30,000 fewer troops. YOU CANNOT STRATEGIZE IF YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND/CONTROL YOUR RESOURCE CONSTRAINTS. You know what you get if you do? MEGAN: So rather than acknowledge the lesser role that was BY LAW required to play, he let her fill those spots with actual people and then fought and undermined them every step of the way. SPENCER:
Ickes seemed attuned to the asymmetric risk that accompanies overwhelming front-runner status: the collapse of momentum that would accompany an unexpected loss. He posited that Edwards and Obama could sustain losing Iowa and New Hampshire but worried that Clinton could not; he urged that she spend "substantial" time in Iowa; and he recommended a contingency plan that would haunt the campaign when his own budget team didn't fulfill it. Noting the difficulty of raising more than $75 million before Iowa, Ickes stressed the need to maintain a $25 million reserve, presumably as insurance against a setback. The campaign wound up raising more than $100 million-but, according to The New York Times, by the time Iowa was lost, $106 million had been spent. The $25 million reserve had vanished, and the campaign was effectively insolvent.MEGAN: But, it never really hits on who spent that money. That was always my question.Or did I miss it with my sleep-filled eyes? SPENCER: But this is the thing I wanted to note about Penn: Josh is really good at pointing out that more than anyone else, Penn actually understood Clinton's path to the nomination: women, lower/middle class voters, self-ID'd Democrats.
If we double perform with WOMEN, LOWER AND MIDDLE CLASS VOTERS, then we have about 55% of the voters. The reason the Invisible Americans is so powerful is that it speaks to exactly how you can be a champion for those in needs [sic]. He may be the JFK in the race [He means Obama — Spencer], but you are the Bobby.That right there was 100 percent correct. I got the feeling in the piece that Josh was actually sort of convinced that Penn actually did think more strategically than the rest of the team. MEGAN: Oh, totally, I think the problem was getting them all at the same time. I would give Penn more props if it had been the plan to target women and then swing back around to get the lower- and middle-class men. But it doesn't seem like it was. The strategy that got women to vote for her was one he opposed. Can we say that Mark Penn doesn't "get" women? SPENCER: Well actually let me amend that: he had the best 30,000-foot-altitude vision, but he — and the rest of the campaign — evinced an absolute blind spot toward the basic facts of how to win a protracted nomination battle (ie, win the most delegates)... I really want to make another Iraq analogy but I will resist temptation! MEGAN: Oh, yeah, also, I loved the Ickes memo on delegates, from December 22, 2007. SPENCER: YES PLEASE talk about that. What struck you about Mark Penn thinking about women as an odd and unfamiliar abstraction? MEGAN: I mean, it seemed to me his entire strategy on women was to gin us all up with the idea that her campaign was breaking barriers!(TM) and then go on to getting men's votes as though women didn't care about issues and whatever. Which, sure, some of us don't and were indeed all ginned up for a barrier-breaking woman President, but not a 2-to-1 margin of us like Penn was expecting. Plus, Penn's actual strategy was not to emphasize her female-ness, but just rely on women to recognize that a woman candidate breaks barriers while he campaigned for the other vote.
1) Start with a base of women. a. For these women you represent a breaking of barriers b. The winnowing out of the most competent and qualified in an unfair, male dominated world c. The infusion of a woman and a mother's sensibilities into a world of war and neglectStart with a base of women how exactly? SPENCER: Like a binding ingredient! Crush pine nuts and Nilla wafers in a food processor, then pour 1/2 a stick of clarified butter to bind; spread over a pie tin and bake at 350... MEGAN: It isn't until he gets to talking about men that he talks about issues. He strategy of women is that OF COURSE there's some of us that will vote for a woman no matter what and then quietly sexism-bait us and put a pink ribbon on war policy and then turn to the boys and talk about serious issues. SPENCER: Really, though, her lifetime of work gives her a base of women, doesn't it? I don't really see why that was wrong — but it definitely — and this is a huge irony — indicates that HRC could have... taken women's issues for granted! You don't think she talked about equal pay and reproductive issues and health care and things that are typically thought of as women's issues, although of course all issues are women's issues and stop glowering at me like that... MEGAN: But he's talking about getting 3-to-1 margins with women voters. She doesn't have a 3-to-1 margin because of her lifetime of work. SPENCER: Good point. MEGAN: Of course, Penn lists health care as an issue to talk to the men about, which fundamentally misunderstands the role that women play as purchasers in the health case system. SPENCER: And all the more to your point. Let's talk about the Equality/Sexism non-speech! SPENCER:
In the aftermath of Obama's historic race speech on March 18, Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas congresswoman, urged Clinton to deliver a speech of her own on gender. Clinton appeared very much to want to do this, and solicited the advice of her staff, which characteristically split. The campaign went back and forth for weeks. Opponents argued that her oratory couldn't possibly match Obama's, and proponents countered that she would get credit simply for trying, inspire legions of women to her cause, and highlight an issue that everyone in the campaign fiercely believed was hurting them-sexism. But Clinton never made a decision...MEGAN: Yes, the non-speech. The one all the women Penn wanted on board wanted her to give but she never gave because she already had their support and didn't have to. SPENCER: Megan, should she have made the speech? To put this as delicately as I can, playing off the deep deep desires of women for a woman president was a very good strategy for Clinton, except that it had to be combined with an actual ability to overtake the delegate lead Obama amassed, and that never happened. MEGAN: I don't think she should've made it in response to Obama's speech. Barring a hook, a specific instance of major sexism to with to tie the speech, I think it would've looked like a tit-for-tat. But I think after New Hampshire, before Obama's race speech, then would've been a good time to speak out AND it might have produced tangible consequences. SPENCER: Yeah I'm with you on that — imagine if she went right from the crying/NH victory and said fuck this, you know what's not fair about the way women in this country are treated? let me count the ways... MEGAN: Right, that would've been awesome. But I mean, after March 18th was Pennsylvania at the end of April, which (you'll recall, since we were there) she won anyway. I don't think it would've moved the needle in North Carolina or even in Indiana by much, possibly in Oregon but not in Kentucky. SPENCER: Whoa look at you, Chuck Todd. I'll leave the whiteboard stuff to you. MEGAN: Sorry, but that's the truth. For her overall political career, for her legacy, yes, I would've wanted her to give the speech. But after March 18th, and I hate to side with Mark fucking Penn, but he was right on this. It wouldn't've done her any good. SPENCER: You know what's missing from this piece? Any discussion — aside from a cursory graf — that the reason why she lost was her Iraq vote. MEGAN: Yeah, it's like that only mattered in Iowa. Um, no. Only, and New Yorkers keep saying this, she might not have won re-election in 2006. I don't necessarily buy that, especially given the way the Republican party self-destructed in that race, but that wasn't foreseeable. SPENCER: if she voted against the war, Obama would have practically no traction and she would have kicked the shit out of Edwards. And, uh, speaking of kicking the shit out of Edwards, you HAVE to check out this looney-tunes column from Sally Quinn. Just read the first graf (that's all I read). SPENCER:
I just want to smack him across the puss, as my Savannah-born mother used to say. I want to smack him across that pretty puss, those pretty eyelashes, that pretty hair. I want to shake him and knock his pretty head against the wall.How many psychological tics can you count? The two "puss" references? The battered-husband fantasy? GODDAMN IT BEN BRADLEE LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO! YOU'RE SO FUCKING STUPID BABY AND I LOVE YOU SO MUCH AND WHEN ARE YOU JUST GOING TO FUCKING LISTEN TO ME. MEGAN: The blaming the wife? I love how, obviously, Edwards told her the whole truth and nothing but. Because that's when men do, when caught out there, they don't mitigate AT ALL. SPENCER: Okay, that's all I have to say. MEGAN: Wait, before we go, we can totally tie that back into Hillary! Because where have we heard this kind of rhetoric before? SPENCER: Where have we heard it? MEGAN:
Not only did she allow him to run, exposing herself and her children to the pain and humiliation that would inevitably come, she could have allowed him to destroy the Democratic party in the process. This man was running for the President of the United States on a lie and she knew it. If he had not entered the race it could have changed the outcome of the primary. And what if he had won the primary? Think of the people they betrayed — yes, THEY. They betrayed their devoted staff, the supporters who sent in millions of dollars, the taxpayers who supplied Secret Service protection (I want my money back) , their party and their country. She stood by and let him lie and lie and lie.Oh, wait, this was the same shit the Right spewed at Hillary. SPENCER: Really a shame she never made that sexism speech. HRC: It's not too late.