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May 09, 2007

The Penn is Mightier

Matt isn't wrong to note that most big-time pollsters seem to have a remarkable capacity to look at the numbers and discern an aching desire among the American people for more forthright advocacy of whatever ideology the pollster holds, but Penn has a special cachet, if only because he's been associated with the Clintons for the past decade and change. Moreover, it's relatively rare for a pollster to ascend to such a high position in a campaign. Other high-profile Democratic pollsters (think Harrison Hickman, Stan Greenberg, Celinda Lake, etc) just don't have the power Penn holds in the Clinton campaign. As Anne Kornblut reported:

Eight years later, it is Clinton who is running for president, and Penn, 53, is her chief strategist. While not her campaign manager in name, Penn controls the main elements of her campaign, most important her attempt to define herself to an electorate seemingly ready for a Democratic president but possibly still suffering from Clinton fatigue.

In the four months since Clinton officially became a candidate, Penn has consolidated his power, according to advisers close to the campaign, taking increasing control of the operation. Armed with voluminous data that he collects through his private polling firm, Penn has become involved in virtually every move Clinton makes, with the result that the campaign reflects the chief strategist as much as the candidate.

So Penn is not only the most powerful campaign pollster in memory, but he's entrenched in the frontrunner's campaign, and was a dominant force in the last Democratic president's administration. There's simply no analogue, which makes his clear and precise ideology more of an issue than it is for pollsters whose similarly strong beliefs don't fall on such receptive, and powerful, ears.

Penn's enthusiastic corporate work also creates some worrying conflicts of interest. If Penn has Clinton's ear, and his longtime partner Doug Schoen is doing polling, advocacy, and, well, flacking, for Pharma, it's hard to imagine that Clinton will forthrightly oppose the industry's interests once in office.

May 9, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

There's something seriously wrong with me when I can't read that phrase, even with the extra "n", and not think "The Penis Mightier!"

Posted by: Ben | May 9, 2007 10:52:44 AM

"There's simply no analogue"

Subtract the "was a dominant force in the last administration" part, and Karl Rove is a pretty good analogue...

Posted by: Petey | May 9, 2007 10:59:24 AM

Keep swinging with this one, man. But we're going to have to help you brainstorm some new "Penn" post titles.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 9, 2007 11:14:37 AM

It should be clearly that Hillary has a rather severe case of ambitionitis - to the extent that Hugh Laurie's House walked off the job on Fox when confronted by the symptoms. She cares about being President, not saving the world, fixing US health care, or returning to the rule of law.

But it turns out that Mark Penn is nearby with his prescription pad, and has Hillary in 18 months of Triangulation 500 mg, twice a day with lots of water. Side effects: posturing, focus on little symbolic things, and big talk on major issues sans any committments.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | May 9, 2007 1:13:19 PM

Good job, guy.
*I* see that as very important information.
[Which 'before-the-blog', I should probably never have known.]

Posted by: has_te | May 9, 2007 1:22:43 PM

Snarky, thinly-supported and reasoned hatchet job, as has been all the anti-Penn stuff I've seen. It's odd to me that you wonder why a mere pollster would have such a high position when it's clear that Penn's not just a pollster, that he's a campaign consultant/strategist, experienced in what he's doing. You keep repeating the union-busting charge with no substantial evidence. You give a handful of quotes from over the years that actually get at a few different ideas to support the view that he always reaches the same conclusion no matter the data, as though it were obvious that the data relevant to those points has fundamentally changed. Most of what he says has been the received wisdom about Democrats anyway, hardly unique to him, and is only controversial now among anti-DLCers who have largely forgotten both history and current events. You act as though Bill Clinton's election was a counterexample to Penn's advice, when in fact it largely supports it. You seem to assume that the politics of class resentment and populism are the same thing; it's no accident that Edwards has scaled back the "Two Americas" stuff in favor of a more positive, less divisive message. You even snark about the emphasis on swing voters. You don't think swing voters are still likely to make the difference in any close election? Or should we just assume that this time we don't need to worry about it being close, in which case we can just send all the consultants home early?

If you want to attack the campaign of the person still most likely to be the Democratic candidate, wouldn't it be wise to use more care? Why undermine the most likely candidate on such thin evidence? If you're worried Penn's a union-buster, get some real evidence of union-busting before you irresponsibly repeat the charge. If you don't think swing voters will be the difference, give some real evidence of that. If you think we should be more divisive in our rhetoric about class, give good evidence (the allusion to Gore isn't strong evidence at all that it doesn't limit a candidate's appeal--it only shows it does appeals to some). If you think we should shout for big government and such, give the evidence (not just universal health care, which obviously Hillary's on board with). Don't trash the likely candidate's campaign with half-baked insinuation. It isn't fair; it isn't smart.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 9, 2007 1:37:40 PM

Here's an example of the union-busting from Ari Berman's Nation article:

Back in 2003 two large unions, UNITE (which later merged with HERE, the hotel and restaurant union) and the Teamsters, launched a major drive to organize 32,000 garment workers and truck drivers at Cintas, the country's largest and most profitable uniform and laundry supply company. Its longtime CEO, Richard Farmer, was a mega-fundraising "pioneer" for George W. Bush. Despite posting $3.4 billion in sales and $327 million in profits last year, the company had a record of overcharging consumers, denying workers overtime pay, keeping unsafe working conditions (an employee in Tulsa died recently when caught in a 300-degree drier) and using any means necessary to block the union drive. Management fired employees under false pretenses, according to worker complaints documented by the unions; vowed to close plants; and screened anti-union videos. A plant manager in Vista, California, threatened to "kick driver-employees with his steel-toed boots," according to a complaint UNITE HERE filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). To put a soft face on its harsh tactics, Cintas hired Wade Gates, a top employee in B-M's Dallas office, as its chief spokesman. Gates coined Cintas's shrewd response to labor: "the right to say yes, the freedom to say no," which has been repeated endlessly in the press. In a speech at the USC Gould School of Law last year, Gates outlined Cintas's strategy, calling for an "aggressive defense against union tactics." Says Ahmer Qadeer, an organizer for UNITE HERE: "It's the Burson influence that's made Cintas much, much slicker than they were." The unions have won two NLRB rulings against Cintas, but for four years the company has continued to resist the organizing campaign.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | May 9, 2007 3:20:40 PM

And there's this:
"When Penn markets categories such as "soccer moms" and "office park dads," he seems to be doing the same kind of analysis. But it's hard to know, because unlike almost any other Democratic pollster, he never shows his work."

How exactly is Penn a master pollster and strategist? And how on earth is he going to advance the cause of progressivism in America?

Posted by: Paul | May 9, 2007 3:35:41 PM

I wish I knew why democrats have a death wish. they know Clinton is the most unappealing candidate who will not attract any voters outside of half the dems. the other half will either vote indie or not at all.
Why do we keep picking the worst in the bunch time after time. Mondale, Dukakis, Kerry??? why. Even 2000 Gore was no prize. We forego the appealing candidates in order to pick the one to surely turn off voters.
And if we don't like the candidate what in the world makes them think other people will>??
then they sit around and whine because they lost again and cannot figure out why!
Because if we persist on choosing losers like Hillary we damn well deserve to lose!
So, this is where Penn comes in. He knows it doesn't matter what his polls tell him. He just knows dems are always dumb enough to fall for the so called more experienced candidate rather than the most appealing. And he knows we will take the most disliked one if they have so called experience enough. He sells Clinton on her last name and so called experience regardless of how flawed her judgement and negatives.

Posted by: vwcat | May 9, 2007 10:49:12 PM

Neil, was Penn even at Burson-Marsteller when the union-busting your quote refers to is supposed to have occurred? Did Gates engage in union busting himself, or only do PR and consulting relating to more proper tactics? What union tactics does he propose to resist, and how? How close is Penn to all this? (The details given are pretty hazy and I can't tell which, if any, have been verified.)

In any case, here is what follows the part you quoted:

In 2004 Hillary Clinton asked for an investigation into whether Cintas received preferential regulatory treatment from the Environmental Protection Agency in return for giving large political donations to President Bush. Union officials say she's been supportive of their organizing drive. She's a co-sponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would allow workers to form unions if a majority sign cards authorizing representation, thus avoiding the coercion and intimidation commonly practiced by companies like Cintas during union election campaigns (Cintas bitterly opposes the EFCA). She told the International Association of Firefighters recently, "I believe that it is absolutely essential to the way America works that people be given the right to organize and bargain collectively." Penn has portrayed Clinton as a hero to America's underdogs. "She has a very, very strong base among the Democratic primary voters--first and foremost among voters who have real needs, people who may not have healthcare, people worried about losing a job, people who know someone serving in the war, people in the working and middle class, people whose lives really depend upon having the kind of champion and advocate that Hillary represents," Penn said to the Washington Post.

Yet Hillary apparently sees no contradiction between her own advocacy, as painted by Penn, and the anti-union, pro-corporate work of her chief strategist's company. "Clearly not," says spokesman Howard Wolfson. "I don't think it reflects on her at all. Mark's work away from the campaign is Mark's work, and his campaign work is separate from that."

Posted by: Sanpete | May 10, 2007 3:02:51 AM

"Neil, was Penn even at Burson-Marsteller when the union-busting your quote refers to is supposed to have occurred? "

He's been with them for a **lot** longer than that.

Posted by: captain goto | May 10, 2007 1:26:22 PM

He was brought in at the end of 2005.

Posted by: Sanpete | May 10, 2007 3:04:55 PM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 8, 2007 6:03:32 AM

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