Atlantic Monthly Writes Hillary Clinton’s Campaign Was Inept And Mark Penn Heartless

The Atlantic Monthly pulls off another amazing read, and I think it essential if one wants to better understand the dysfunctional workings of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. In the midst of the political chaos is the man I have not been kind to on this blog, Mark Penn.  The article shows what a wretched soul this heartless machine carries.  It is not pretty.  But Joshua Green’s article is a must read.

Two things struck me right away. The first was that, outward appearances notwithstanding, the campaign prepared a clear strategy and did considerable planning. It sweated the large themes (Clinton’s late-in-the-game emergence as a blue-collar champion had been the idea all along) and the small details (campaign staffers in Portland, Oregon, kept tabs on Monica Lewinsky, who lived there, to avoid any surprise encounters). The second was the thought: Wow, it was even worse than I’d imagined! The anger and toxic obsessions overwhelmed even the most reserved Beltway wise men. Surprisingly, Clinton herself, when pressed, was her own shrewdest strategist, a role that had never been her strong suit in the White House. But her advisers couldn’t execute strategy; they routinely attacked and undermined each other, and Clinton never forced a resolution. Major decisions would be put off for weeks until suddenly she would erupt, driving her staff to panic and misfire.

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. What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.

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Penn also left no doubt about where he stood on the question of a positive versus negative strategy. He made the rather astonishing suggestion to target Obama’s “lack of American roots”:

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.
      It also exposes a very strong weakness for him—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. He told the people of NH yesterday he has a Kansas accent because his mother was from there. His mother lived in many states as far as we can tell—but this is an example of the nonsense he uses to cover this up.
      How we could give some life to this contrast without turning negative:
      Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child and that drive you today. Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back.
      Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. Make this a new American Century, the American Strategic Energy Fund. Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.

Clinton wisely chose not to go this route. But the defining clash within her campaign quickly became the disagreement over how hard to attack Obama, if at all. Invariably, Penn and Bill Clinton pressed for aggressive confrontation to tear Obama down, while senior advisers like Harold Ickes, Patti Solis Doyle, Mandy Grunwald, and Howard Wolfson counseled restraint and an emphasis on her softer side that would lift her up. The two strategies were directly at odds.

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Oh My God, Barack Obama Wanted Dijon Mustard On Burger! America’s Extremely Stupid Politics

Can you hear Europe laughing at us.  Especially after the farce that pretended to be a Democratic candidate’s debate on ABC.  Our political culture is off track and slipping fast.  Time has perhaps the best read on the matter.

In The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama tells an amusing story about his first tour through downstate Illinois, when he had the audacity to order Dijon mustard on his cheeseburger at a TGI Friday’s. His political aide hastily informed the waitress that Obama didn’t want Dijon at all, and thrust a yellow bottle of ordinary-American heartland-values mustard at him instead. The perplexed waitress informed Obama that she had Dijon if he wanted. He smiled and said thanks. “As the waitress walked away, I leaned over and whispered that I didn’t think there were any photographers around,” Obama recalled.

Obama’s memoir dripped with contempt for modern gotcha politics, for a campaign culture obsessed with substantively irrelevant but supposedly symbolic gaffes like John Kerry ordering Swiss cheese or Al Gore sighing or George H.W. Bush checking his watch or Michael Dukakis looking dorky in a tank. “What’s troubling is the gap between the magnitude of our challenges and the smallness of our politics—the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and trivial,” he wrote.

Read the rest here.

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Has The Atlantic Magazine Gone Soft?

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When James picked up the mail Saturday I noticed he glanced strangely at the cover of one of the magazines.  Instead of a weighty issue as the cover story of The Atlantic there was a large colored picture of Britney Spears for their story on the new paparazzi.  Between ‘gag’ and ‘what!’ I wondered what had happened to the magazine that always had a higher calling.

Today Advertising Age gives the reason.

At 150 years old, The Atlantic remains an intellectual journal of public affairs and culture. But owner David Bradley also wants it to end a long spell in the red. So in the past year it poached Justin Smith from The Week to become its president; committed to moving its ad-sales team from Washington to New York while integrating digital and offline efforts; abandoned its online pay wall to lure more visitors; placed new emphasis on events including the Aspen Ideas Festival; and commissioned a magazine redesign.

Now the Britney cover story is bound to attract new attention to The Atlantic. The magazine maintains that the issue’s editorial is not driven by Mr. Smith’s ambitious five-year business plan, the redesign or any of the rest — but it arrives at a time when The Atlantic’s pages and newsstand sales are down, while celebrity titles are still going stronger than any magazine category.

I for one hope that this is not a trend that continues as there are plenty of ‘dumbed-down’ publications that are just not worth my time.  I would very much hate to add The Atlantic to that list.  Advertising Age even hints at the backlash from readers such as myself.

But will core readers and advertisers stay true?

This is the question for magazines on the remake. The answers, especially amid the broader media-world transformation, can be brutal.

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