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March 23, 2007

The Penn Is Mightier Than The Card Check

Mark Schmitt writes:

The bottom line is I kind of keep track of [Hillary pollster Mark] Penn. And like every good Washingtonian with a few million dollars in mortgages, he seems to hold at least three jobs at once: He's Senator Clinton's pollster and political advisor. He runs his own corporate polling firm, Penn, Schoen and Berland. And, finally, he is the "Worldwide President and CEO" of Burson-Marsteller, the fifth largest public relations firm in the world. That's a big title, and it seems like it would be a big job. Prowl around the Burson-Marsteller web site, and you'll see that it's a company that does lots of things.

One that might be of interest to liberals thinking about whether to support Clinton is "Labor Relations." In this section, Senator Clinton's top advisor's company says, "Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor's coordinated campaigns whether they are in conjunction with organizing or contract negotiating ... That is why we have developed a comprehensive communications approach for clients when they face any type of labor situation."

You're kidding me. Hillary Clinton's top pollster runs a public relations firm with a unionbusting department. Has anyone, you know, told the unions?

March 23, 2007 | Permalink




Posted by: aimai | Mar 23, 2007 12:06:06 PM

"Labor situation"

Aka: managment issues.

Posted by: Slothrop | Mar 23, 2007 12:07:06 PM

We work closely with Professor Jarol Manheim of George Washington University, who wrote The Death of a Thousand Cuts: Corporate Campaigns and the Attack on the Corporation, which stands as the authority on corporate campaigns.

Here's an interview with Manheim that tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Short version: everything he says or writes is entirely from the perspective of corporations, which (or should I say who, given the Santa Clara decision) are under attack by people who want to extort more money (unions) or destroy them (enviros and others).

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 23, 2007 12:21:37 PM

Sometimes guilt by association is totally appropriate. The phrase "You are judged by the company you keep" didn't enter the discourse and stay there all these decades without some basis in popular belief.

Hillary's campaign DOES resemble some giant corporate roll-out campaign for a 'new' product, but those campaigns all too often are just new packaging for an old product. 'New and Improved' Hillary!

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss....

Hell, next we'll learn that Hillary favors a 'all new' unitary executive.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 23, 2007 12:33:05 PM

Jesus, that pisses me off. It shouldn't surprise me

I wonder if this kind of thing doesn't eventually erode Clinton's precarious advantage over Obama and Edwards. The conventional wisdom is that Hillary is trouncing everybody, but in the early primary states her lead is either quite surmountable or nonexistent.

It kind of sucks that Obama is running. I think there's a real chance of him and Edwards splitting the progressive/ anti-Hillary vote. We've got a pretty good candidate in Edwards. Like any candidate he has flaws (mostly with respect to foreign policy), but Obama shares them.

What I would like to see: Obama drops out, Edwards announces that if he wins the nomination, Obama will be his running mate. Then, they campaign as a team in the primaries as the anti-Hillary, and Hillary goes back to the Senate.

Posted by: Jason | Mar 23, 2007 12:46:09 PM

Like large law firms, large PR firms generally have all kinds of clients, and offer them all their best services. In both cases, you have to be careful about confusing the people the firm represents and the arguments used in their defense with what particular people really think.

I suspect you can find similar connections in all the major campaigns.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 1:20:45 PM

Sanpete, there are two big problems with what you're saying.

First, people are legally guaranteed vigorous legal defense, a market that someone will always be required to fill, but there is no legal guarantee of PR representation. When people take on questionable or unsavory legal clients, we understand that's the nature of the business. There will always be someone who does it, and the process of their work matters. Lawyers who represent evil clients are upholding the rule of law, which is something we can all respect. Such is not the case for PR.

Second, most legal defenses are more-or-less technical or factual in nature; the lawyers' arguments do not make explicity value judgments or requests. PR is not that way; the whole point is to create a favorable environment / public opinion of one's clients. In theory at least, what happens with judges and juries is about facts, not values. When a PR firm takes on unions, they're not out there arguing the legal right of the union to organize or the technical, economic merits of the situation. PR fights more or less take the form of "we're saints, they're devils." So yeah, it is certainly worth considering that Clinton's chief pollster does that with unions.

Hey, maybe it's not the end of the world for you as a voter, which is fine. But it ain't the same as with lawyers.

Posted by: jhupp | Mar 23, 2007 1:55:12 PM

What jhupp said.

And third, Mark Penn is the frigging CEO. He has choices about what he wants the business to be. He has choices about what kind of clients he wants. He has choices about how to present the firm. The choices he makes about these things tell us something about his basic values.

Look, we're not talking about building a brand here. We're talking about influencing public policy in a direction inimical to unions, environmental concerns, and so on. If that isn't what Mark Penn is all about, then maybe he should quit the firm.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 23, 2007 2:06:15 PM

JHupp, you exaggerate the differences. Lawyers (or firms) aren't required to represent any particular client, and some simply refuse to represent some clients or kinds of clients. They have the choice. I assure you that many in the PR world view their work in very much the same way lawyers see theirs, as part of a process in which clients are entitled to the best representation of their views, for reasons directly analogous to those that apply in court.

And the work is also far more similar than you allow. The lawyer typically has a big part of the job to make the client look as good as possible.

Beyond that, has anyone shown that Penn or his firm has demonized unions, or is that merely assumption? Maybe it's better for unions to have the likes of Penn representing corporations than less sympathetic characters.

And again, whatever Penn's views are, if you start tracing the various leanings and connections of political advisors you very quickly run into odd associations. Penn is a useful advisor for Clinton because he knows a great deal about some voting blocs that Clinton has a natural interest in. I think the attack on her via Penn (less here than at TAPPED) is partly a matter of people who are already distrusting of Clinton looking for more reasons not to like her, and being lazy about the details that actually matter.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 2:46:30 PM

Sanpete, if you look at the guy they 'work closely with' on labor issues (either follow my link or google him), you'll see the demonization of unions and public-interest groups.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 23, 2007 3:09:18 PM

Jason, in case you haven't noticed, Obama is beating Edwards. Quite handily. Why should he drop out in favor of someone running far behind him?

Posted by: Mac | Mar 23, 2007 3:24:30 PM

Seems to me that if you're in charge of either a PR firm or a law firm, then your choices about who to represent are moral choices that say something about you. So I agree with Sanpete on that, but I draw the opposite conclusion.

If Mark Penn runs a PR firm that does unionbusting, then I have a big reason to distrust everything he says. If he instead ran a law firm that was involved in the same activity, I don't see why I shouldn't feel the same about that too.

Along the same lines, John Edwards was a plaintiffs' lawyer, and Barack Obama was a civil rights lawyer and constitutional law professor. Neither of them used their considerable legal skills on the side of management against labor, nor for other elites against other disadvantaged groups. Surely it's appropriate to take those choices into account in deciding whether to vote for them.

Posted by: Tom | Mar 23, 2007 3:31:23 PM

I'm going to lodge disagreement with anyone who claims "candidate Y should drop out so the opposition can unite against the front runner".

At the moment, most of Hillary's support comes from low-information voters, she tends to be people's second-favorite. This makes sense given her high name profile, her status as the only female candidate, and her very vague issue profile.

So lots of people like 1 potential candidate the most, and then would go for Hillary. Whenever pollsters do polls with second choices or eliminating various potentials and contenders (such as Clark, Gore, etc dropping) HRC's numbers go up and the other candidates don't benefit much.

If either Obama or Edwards were to drop, the benefit would largely go to HRC (especially in the early states where her lead is substantially smaller). If you primarily don't want HRC to win, you should want as many candidates around so that too many low-information voters don't go with her as their second choice and top choice available.

Posted by: Tony V | Mar 23, 2007 3:33:32 PM

I have a friend who is a public defender. A while back she was obligated to defend a man accused of child molestation (he plead and got 30 years). A friend of her mother whom she knew, but not all that well, refused to acknowledge her on the street when they passed because of her 'choice' to provide the man with a defense. My friend pointed out that we should want the criminal to receive a competent and vigorous defense, so that justice is served and there is no grounds for the criminal to appeal and perhaps escape punishment altogether.

I do not think there is a similar analogy to the choice of a PR firm, no matter what PR consultants tell themselves so they can sleep better at night.

Posted by: Drew | Mar 23, 2007 3:57:54 PM

Tom H, first, you're talking about Mannheim personally, while I'm talking about Penn and his firm. Second, I see no demonization of unions and public interest groups in the interview you linked to. It appears to me just to be a clear-eyed analysis of how unions and related groups work against corporations. Mannheim isn't Satan in this context.

Tom not-H, I'm not sure you've really drawn the opposite conclusion from mine. My conclusion was that you have to be careful in drawing conclusions about people's personal views by simply seeing who they represent as lawyers or PR consultants. Perhaps you did mean to imply that no care is needed, in which case we do disagree. No one has shown that Penn or his firm is engaged in union-busting, only that they represent corporations who sometimes have trouble with unions.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 4:02:18 PM

I do not think there is a similar analogy to the choice of a PR firm

Why not, Drew? Do you not wish justice to be served in the court of public opinion? Or do think the only point that matters in what your friend said is the part about appeals and escaping punishment?

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 4:07:36 PM

care to come up with a similar analogy, then?

Posted by: Drew | Mar 23, 2007 4:24:08 PM

Drew, the idea is that, just as in a legal courtroom, justice in the court of public opinion requires both sides to be represented as well as possible.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 4:40:22 PM

Sanpete, I'm talking about Manheim's ideological leanings, which are clearly extremely pro-corporate and anti-union (and anti-public interest group). They say they 'work closely with' Manheim, and Manheim happens to be the only name mentioned in the page on 'labor relations'. I think on that basis it's not unreasonable to conclude that Manheim's ideological leanings guide the firm's work on 'labor relations'.

But hey, maybe someone should ask Mark Penn if he endorses Manheim's anti-union, anti-public interest ideology. Give him a chance to clear up any ambiguity, either by renouncing what is on the website of the firm of which he is the CEO, or by embracing it (and thus showing which side he's really on).

Do you not wish justice to be served in the court of public opinion?

There is no constitutional right to a PR representative. There is a constitutional right to legal representation. The two are not comparable.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 23, 2007 4:44:27 PM

thank you, Tom.

Sanpete, I believe in the court of public opinion, or democracy, if you will. i also believe that political candidates i'm inclined to support should not cavort with political consultants that 'provide the best possible defense' of union-busting available. call me crazy, but I don't think union-busting is defensible.

Posted by: Drew | Mar 23, 2007 4:48:49 PM

Tom H, I still don't see how Mannheim is "clearly extremely pro-corporate and anti-union (and anti-public interest group)." Clearly explaining the tactics of anti-corporation tactics doesn't make you anti-union, nor extreme. I don't see anything on his firm's website that Penn ought to renounce, unless you think corporations should simply not respond to attacks by unions.

The analogies I've pointed out between lawyers and PR reps have nothing to do with constitutional rights. They have to do with the process of justice. You haven't shown any difference in that regard.

Drew, again, no one has shown Penn to involved in union-busting.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 5:14:32 PM

Drew's public defender isn't in an analogous position to Mark Penn and his PR firm.

The public defender made the admirable choice to take a job that would involve giving the guilty and innocent alike the best defense possible, which is a constitutional right, and having good public defenders makes the whole system fairer and better than it would otherwise be. That's a very different choice from someone who's not a public defender specifically deciding to defend a clearly guilty child molester.

Mark Penn's PR firm specifically deciding to work on unionbusting resembles the latter.

Posted by: Tom not-H | Mar 23, 2007 5:20:35 PM

Tom not-H, could you please either point out or at least define what you mean by "union busting"? I don't see it.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 23, 2007 5:28:14 PM

I never said Penn was involved in union-busting, I said

'consultants that 'provide the best possible defense' of union-busting.'

So lemme get this straight. You want union-busting to have the best possible defense available in the court of public opinion. Ostensibly, its because you believe in democracy/justice. But you disagree with holding pols accountable for hiring people that provide said defense, which would be democratic/just. irony, no?

Posted by: Drew | Mar 23, 2007 5:38:08 PM

Diminishing returns, I'm afraid. I would just suggest that others read the interview and/or google Manheim and look at other links, and judge for themselves whether a guy who describes reform efforts as 'warfare against the company' is or is not pro-corporate and anti-union and anti-public interest group.

The analogies I've pointed out between lawyers and PR reps have nothing to do with constitutional rights. They have to do with the process of justice.

There is no useful definition of 'justice' in this context that is not based on constitutional rights. Separating them renders your use of the word 'justice' meaningless.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 23, 2007 6:41:36 PM

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