Will Clothes Cost Palin a Tax Cut?

[Republished from 2008Central.net]

Via Ben Smith, it is reported that Sarah Palin's wardrobe expenses count as income under the federal tax code. As someone currently taking Tax I, this seems pretty obvious.

Her Alaska salary is reportedly $81,648. Add in the $150,000 of clothes, and her income for the year would be $231,648.

Taking that over to Obama's tax calculator and ... she will probably not get a tax cut anymore; she would without the clothes, though. (I'll not that I have no idea what Todd Palin made in the past year, and do not particularly have an inclination to find out.) She would have lower taxes under Obama's plan just using her income as Governor. (Again, sans anything from Todd.)

Incidentally, I think this account of the need for the wardrobe is fair. But I'd still argue that these constitute income.

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FYI: Hofstra Debate Countdown Clock Has Wrong Time

I considered posting this in the live blog, but I think this note is worth its own post simply simply to prevent some folks from missing the debate.

The debate is scheduled to begin at 9pm eastern (8pm central time).  I live in the central time zone.  When I go to Hofstra's debate website, the countdown clock has the wrong time (see screen shot below).  Apparently, whoever set up the website didn't account for anyone living outside the eastern time zone to rely on it.  Anyway, spread the word in case some may be confused.

For me, the countdown clock should read 1 hour, not 2...

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Bloggers As Troublemakers?

Any other bloggers out there get the feeling that once a politician, campaign, journalist, or others find out that you're a blogger, they have a tendency to treat you as though you are a pariah and/or assume that you're troublemaker?  Throughout this campaign cycle, I have had a few experiences that support this feeling and another one took place earlier today.

On the one hand, I understand why people are wary of bloggers and why the word elicits negative connotations.  Unfortunately, the blogosphere can be a forum for absurd rumors and hateful vitriol.  On the other hand, the blogosphere is a necessary and extremely beneficial component of our political discourse.

I haven't really seen much discussion about this issue in particular, so if you have any thoughts or similar experiences, please share.

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Campaign Surrogates And "Sortagates" Cause Confusion On The Trail

[Republished from 2008Central.net]

TNR's Eve Fairbanks offers a plea for reduced surrogates, writing;

I haven't been around forever, but has ever a campaign felt so plagued by gaffes made by non-candidates?


Do McCain and Obama really need so many minions and representatives covering every cable show, every hour? Can't we do away with this evil proliferation of surrogates?

Indeed.  The campaigns definitely don't need the amount of surrogates and "sortagates" (my word for the person that seems to be speaking on behalf of the candidate, but turns out not to be) that they currently have.  From the campaign's perspective, murky surrogate-land gives them the advantages of having many surrogates to spread their message with the added advantage of being able to distance themselves or disown that individual should they mess up.  That being said, in many ways, the problem with the proliferation of surrogates isn't their increased presence.  Rather, it's the way that the campaigns and the press are using them.

Using surrogates to speak about the advantages of a particular policy position, to engage in debates and to speak on behalf of the candidate at times is a necessary and useful part of presidential politics.  That said, when a person is speaking as a surrogate, it needs to be made clear that they are in fact speaking on behalf of the campaign (and not just espousing their own views).  On the other hand, contrary to acting as a surrogate, when someone is acting as a "sortagate," the press should not treat them as though they were a surrogate.  Here in lies the problem.  The press, with the assistance of the campaigns, has successfully blurred the line between a campaign surrogate and someone that is just advocating/supporting a candidate.  Accordingly, when interviewing sortagates, the inquires should not focus on official campaign positions or responses, but rather, the inquires should be more in the direction of advocacy for whatever position they want to be advancing.

Now, if the press were to re-establish this line, then they would certainly be squandering the ability to gin up controversies and gaffes surrounding sortagates.  So, from a purely selfish perspective, it is highly unlikely that the cable news shows will go to any effort to clarify this mistake.  Perhaps the campaigns will?  Although surrogate/sortagate proliferation benefits them, it does run with the risk of losing control of the daily message because someone unaffiliated with the campaign may have sneezed, and because that sneeze sort of sounded like a curse word, it dominates news for a day.

My prescription: clarity.  The campaigns will likely need to start the effort, by making campaign spokespeople and official surrogates more available for TV interviews, so that the news folks don't have to rely on sortagates.  This will provide them with increased message control, and, could also increase the quality of discourse (given how utterly uniformed some sortagates are).  If the campaigns continue to allow the line between campaign spokespeople and sortagates to be blurred, then it's going to be pretty hard for me to be sympathetic when some stupid mistake from a sortagate blows up the news cycle for a day.  As far as I'm concerned, once a problem is identified, if you don't stop facilitating it, then you're complicit.


Blogging the election? Then consider joining the 08 Bloggers Network.

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Dueling Conference Calls: Obama And McCain Campaigns Discuss Obama's Decision About Public Finance

Ordinarily, I don't post notices of conferences calls on MyDD, unless there is a particularly good reason.  However, I did write a diary on the subject today (that is still in need of revision), so I figured I'd post links to the calls in case anyone was interested in hearing some background information on this subject firsthand...

This evening, the McCain campaign held a conference call with their General Legal Counsel, Trevor Potter, to discuss background information regarding Barack Obama's decision to opt out of public financing.  Audio of this call is available here.

The Obama Campaign contacted the McCain Campaign and requested that their General Counsel, Bob Bauer, also participate in the call, so that the campaigns could jointly address the issue. Bauer was not on the call. I'm not sure if McCain's campaign rejected the offer or just ignored it; it is worth noting that a few seconds of the McCains Campaign's private conversation was accidentally broadcast prior to call and one of the individuals there was speaking about the Obama campaign's offer and suggested that they have their own conference call, so it's clear the McCain campaign was at least aware (I did not include this portion of the call in the audio posted, which is consistent with my policy of not doing so - as I also did for the Clinton campaign when that accidentally happened to them as well).

The Obama campaign then held their own conference call with Bob Bauer to respond to the McCain call.  Audio of this call is available here.

As already noted, if you're interested in this issue then these calls are worth listening to.  If you're not, well, then, thanks for reading...

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Obama Breaks Campaign Funding Pledge?

[Republished from 2008Central.net]

Update [2008-6-19 13:20:54 by 2008 Central]:[NOTE: Since this diary was initially published, additional information regarding some of my questions have been answered. Although the accounts are disputed, there was at least one meeting between the Obama and McCain campaigns regarding this issue. Thus, until further research and verification can be done, please take considerations indicated below with this information in mind]

This morning, in an email to supporters, Barack Obama announced that he will be opting out of the public financing system for the general election (video).  The announcement has been widely expected for a few months now, so it wasn't very much of a surprise.

Obama explained his decision, saying:

It's not an easy decision, and especially because I support a robust system of public financing of elections. But the public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken, and we face opponents who've become masters at gaming this broken system. John McCain's campaign and the Republican National Committee are fueled by contributions from Washington lobbyists and special interest PACs. And we've already seen that he's not going to stop the smears and attacks from his allies running so-called 527 groups, who will spend millions and millions of dollars in unlimited donations.

It's completely fair for a candidate to contend that the problems with campaign finance system are so significant that it would be better not to participate in it.  However, there's a bit more to this situation that raises some questions.

First, here's a review of the time line (emphasis added):

In February 2007, Obama asked the FEC if it would be possible for him to accept money for the general election without disqualifying him for opting into the public financing system later in the process if he were to return the money.  The FEC ruled that this would be acceptable.  Thereby allowing Obama to preserve the option of opting into the public financing system for the general election.

When Obama made the request to the FEC, Obama Campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, said:

"Senator Obama has long been a proponent of public financing of campaigns and we are asking the FEC to take a step that could preserve the public financing option for the party's nominees"

And, a lawyer for the Obama Campaign, added:
"Should both major party nominees elect to receive public funding, this would preserve the public financing system, now in danger of collapse."

The primary purpose for Obama's request to the FEC was to allow for both parties candidates to come to a truce for the general election, the NY Times summarizes:
But Mr. Obama, campaigning on pledges to clean up politics, argued in his filing with the commission that the public financing system had insulated candidates from a corrupting dependence on big donors. He asserted that the system could be preserved for the general election through bipartisan agreement if party nominees returned early contributions.

The plausibility of such an agreement is not clear. One nominee is likely to have a financial edge on the other at the outset of the campaign, and accepting public financing would mean relinquishing that edge.

Following the FEC's ruling on the matter on March 1, 2007, McCain accepted the Obama campaign's proposal to work out a bipartisan arrangement regarding public financing.  McCain's campaign manager at the time, Terry Nelson, said:
"Should John McCain win the Republican nomination, we will agree to accept public financing in the general election, if the Democratic nominee agrees to do the same."

At the time, this was welcomed news for the Obama campaign and the public financing system.  Obama spokesman, Bill Burton, responded to McCain's acceptance by saying:
"We hope that each of the Republican candidates pledges to do the same."

Mr. Burton added that if nominated Mr. Obama would "aggressively pursue an agreement" with whoever was his opponent.

In September 2007, Obama responded "yes" to a survey question from Midwest Democracy Network that asked: "If you are nominated for President in 2008 and your major opponents agree to forgo private funding in the general election campaign, will you participate in the presidential public financing system?."In addition to his "yes" response, Obama stated:
In February 2007, I proposed a novel way to preserve the strength of the public financing system in the 2008 election. My plan requires both major party candidates to agree on a fundraising truce, return excess money from donors, and stay within the public financing system for the general election. My proposal followed announcements by some presidential candidates that they would forgo public financing so they could raise unlimited funds in the general election. The Federal Election Commission ruled the proposal legal, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has already pledged to accept this fundraising pledge. If I am the Democratic nominee, I will aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.

[THESE ARE THE CONSIDERATIONS INDICATED IN THE NOTE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE DIARY] Yet, in today's announcement, Obama supported his decision on the basis that the public system was broken and thus not worth saving.  This certainly doesn't seem to comport with his previous statements on the subject.  And, it raises some questions:

  • Nothing about the system has changed since February 2007, so why was the system worth saving then and not worth saving now?

  • Did the Obama campaign at least try to pursue some type of fundraising agreement with the McCain campaign? If so, what was the nature of these discussions? (Both the McCain and Obama campaigns have been contacted regarding this question. I will follow up if/when they get back to me).

That said, the reality is simple: it is politically smart for Obama to remain outside of public financing.  First, he has an enormous fundraising potential and to self handicap would be silly.  Second, as noted, the attacks from independent groups are likely to get especially nasty, so it would be a huge political risk to limit his campaign's ability to directly respond.  As already noted, these are completely fair reasons for not opting into the system.

My issue isn't with Obama refusing to take public funds.  Rather, my issue is with Obama spending most of 2007 arguing in favor of the public financing system and promising to support it should he become the party's nominee, only to disregard those previous statements when he actually became the party's nominee.

Further, I think it is a political miscalculation for the campaign to assume that people will not care about Obama's changed position on the issue.  Here's why: The Obama campaign is based largely on the promise of change, on doing things differently, on real and tangible results.  Yet, when given the opportunity to change things now (like the public financing system or engaging the GOP nominee in several joint campaign events), the Obama campaign consistently comes up with excuses on why that change isn't proper at the moment.  Obviously, these kinds of moves are not going to hurt Obama with current supporters; however, it may hurt him with independents and Republicans that want to believe in him, but see these kinds of isuses (albeit small in the grand scheme of things) as signals that Obama may not deliver on the promises of his campaign.  This could very well be a problem for the Obama campaign and they should be ever mindful of it.

Now, if they tried to work out an agreement with the McCain campaign, but couldn't, then the circumstances are different.  If this is the case, they should make this point clear.  Although, my bet is on the fact that they didn't really "aggressively pursue an agreement."

With campaign slogans like "Change you can believe in" and statements about "the fierce urgency of now," it might behoove the campaign to do things differently every once in a while, so that skeptics (and supporters) have an opportunity to see change they can believe in.

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Hypocrisy?: Obama Campaign Holds Call On Clinton And Bosnia Today; Questions Her Honor...

[Republished from 2008Central.net]

With approximately 10 minutes notice to reporters, the Obama campaign held a conference call today with Pennysylvania Bosnia veterans to discuss Sen. Clinton's previous remarks on Bosnia.  The timing of the call is somewhat odd, especially in light of Sen. Obama's statements regarding political distractions at ABC's debate earlier this week.

Maj. Gen. Walter Stewart observed:

"Imagine the lack of moral authority she has now to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier."

He later added an observation about Sen. Clinton's potential for leadership:
"So, let's look at moral authority as the essential element of leadership.  President George Bush, Sen. Clinton, Sen. McCain have squandered the moral authority of the United States of America and our ability to lead the free people's of the world; and the oppressed peoples of the world towards freedom.  Sen. Barack Obama displays the moral authority we need for a change in Washington D.C."

Michael Kotyk began by saying:
"Sen. Clinton's remarks are what I guess you would call a 'whopper' in the military terminology.  It's a breach of honor.  And, it's something that she has done continuously and even in regards to her support on NAFTA."

As noted, this conference call is in sharp contrast to Obama's remarks on Clinton and Bosnia during the debate earlier this week.

First, Obama suggested that the only reason his campaign initially criticized Sen. Clinton on the subject was because they were asked about it:

OBAMA: Well, look, I think that Senator Clinton has a strong record to run on. She wouldn't be here if she didn't.

And, you know, I haven't commented on the issue of Bosnia. You know, I...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your campaign has.

OBAMA: Of course. But the -- because we're asked about it.

Fair enough, but the issue is pretty old now.  No one asked them to hold an entire conference call on it today.  So, I'm not entirely sure how today's call fits with these statements by Sen. Obama.  In the same response, Sen. Obama added (emphasis added):
But, look, the fact of the matter is, is that both of us are working as hard as we can to make sure that we're delivering a message to the American people about what we would do as president. Sometimes that message is going to be imperfectly delivered because we are recorded every minute of every day.

And I think Senator Clinton deserves the right to make some errors once in a while. Obviously, I make some as well.

I think what's important is to make sure that we don't get so obsessed with gaffes that we lose sight of the fact that this is a defining moment in our history. We are going to be tackling some of the biggest issues that any president has dealt with in the last 40 years.

Our economy is teetering not just on the edge of recession but potentially worse. Our foreign policy is in a shambles. We are involved in two wars. People's incomes have not gone up, and their costs have. And we're seeing greater income inequality now than any time since the 1920s.

In those circumstances, for us to be obsessed with this -- these kinds of errors I think is a mistake. And that's not what our campaign has been about.

Does this mean that today's call, which focused entirely on Clinton's Bosnia remarks, was a mistake?

I understand the political reasons why the campaign held the call today.  But, it strikes me as somewhat unnecessary and inconsistent for them to have done so.  And, it will almost certainly open them up to unnecessary scrutiny from the press.

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Time Allotments For ABC News Clinton-Obama Debate In Pennsylvania

[Republished from 2008Central.net]

Below are the time allotments for tonight's ABC News Democratic debate in Pennsylvania between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:

This allotment represents total speaking time for each candidate, excluding their opening remarks.

Related at 2008Central.net:

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Live Blog Of ABC News Clinton-Obama Debate In Pennsylvania

[Republished from 2008Central.net.  This liveblog on MyDD will be updated periodically.  For the latest, view active liveblog at 2008Central.net]

Tonight, ABC News will be hosting a debate in Pennslvania between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  We'll be liveblogging the debate, as usual, so stay tuned...

8:00: Introductory statements. Obama talks about hope, Clinton talks about the founding fathers and concern. Also that government is not standing up for people across America; almost that they're bitter or something. Also plugs detailed plans on her website.

And ... a commercial break already? Umm, ok.

8:08: Gibson talks about each of them appealing to different constituencies. Asks about the Cuomo plan to take the other as the Vice President and the other should agree. Obama demurs first, and says that the party will come together by the convention. Gibson is not happy with that answer, and presses Clinton, who says that she will do everything possible to make sure one of them is elected. What a silly question. I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that they got the stupid question out of the way early.

8:12: Obama is asked about the bitter/cling comments. Obama says it’s not the first time or last he “mangled up what he meant.” He’s talking in a really apologetic tone. Says promises have been broken, and wedge issues take precedence over real issues that can be fixed. Doesn’t really talk about the anti-trade or immigrant comments.

8:15: Clinton talks about her grandfather from Pennsylvania. Says she does not agree that people cling to religion when Washington is ignoring them, and says the same about guns. But she agrees that people are frustrated with the government. Talks about understanding and listening to one another.

8:16: Stephanopolous asks if Obama can beat McCain. Clinton says it’s important to win, and will be either her or Obama. Talks up McCain as a formidable opponent. Says it is important to go after every single vote. On a follow up, Clinton says Obama can win directly, but she is better prepared with a better coalition.

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Mark Penn's History, Why He Failed, And What It Means


With the demise of Mark Penn as a daily figure in this campaign, I wanted to take a retrospective look back. Not just to the beginning of the campaign, but to the beginning of Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992. It makes the events of the past 3 or 4 days that much more astounding.

I. The Perot Campaign

Like all sweeping epics, this story begins in much the same place that it ends. In this case, it is with Penn making a lot of money and a Clinton presidential campaign have monetary problems. Of course, in this case, Penn did a month's worth of work for the Ross Perot campaign in 1992, while Bill Clinton was the candidate in debt. Penn was with Perot from the very beginning. In fact, he received almost half of the first disbursements of the Perot campaign. (Washington Post, 4/21/92). On the same day, in fact, it was revealed one Bill Clinton was 2 million dollars in debt after the Illinois and Michigan primaries, ironically. (LA Times, 4/21/92). What did Perot pay for? Perot's own words show little confidence in Penn: ""Friends of mine... just couldn't breathe without one, so I said  get one.  Spent 10 minutes looking at his results.  Everybody says I  paid him too much for it." (The Hotline, 5/5/92).

After that poll, though, Penn stopped working for the campaign, apparently as even Perot found Penn too expensive, combined with Frank Luntz growing closer to Perot. (Washington Post 5/5/92). That didn't stop Penn from doing what he is now incomparably famous for: spin that is completely unbelieveable to anyone who has taken a long term view to anything. In early June 1992, after he had stopped working for Perot, Penn said, "It certainly is too early, but the fact that the public has not solidified is a  very positive factor for Perot, indicating  the possibility that he can overcome the pattern of third-party trailoffs and  sustain support to November."

This culminated in what now seems like an absurd remix of the present election. From the July 12, 1992 edition of This Week with David Brinkley:

SMITH: [voice-over] If Bentsen's right, that means a much nastier fall campaign, so it was perhaps no accident that, a week after the worst unemployment figures in eight years, Vice President Quayle was out testing what sounded very much like a personal attack on Governor Clinton.

J. DANFORTH QUAYLE, U.S. Vice President: One reason George Bush will win this election is that the American people know his character. He is honest, not slick.

SMITH: [voice-over] "Slick Willie"- remember him, the candidate who didn't inhale marijuana and who didn't sleep with Gennifer Flowers?

Gov. CLINTON: [February 1992] Your nation is losing its economic edge.

SMITH: [voice-over] Voters liked Clinton's message of change, but were put off by questions about his character.

MARK PENN, Pollster: Can you trust him? Is he really sincere and believable? I think that it's the women in America who have more doubt about him than anyone else and they're the ones that have to be convinced over the next week that he's a sincere candidate who's going to help them.

Moreover, the following quote from the July 26, 1992 Washington Post might describe why he ultimately resigned now. (And the harm of him now resigning earlier):

Despite a year of image rehab, Quayle still is a sure laugh on late-night television. "He's seen as a fool," said Mark Penn, a political consultant and pollster who worked with independent Ross Perot earlier in the year. "Is this race such that Bush can win with a [perceived] fool on the ticket? No. He needs a partner who is a lift among swing voters, instead of a partner who's really a drag on his efforts."

II. The Distant Past - Anderson et. al.

Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas. Hillary Clinton was working for a top Arkansas law firm. John McCain was serving in the Senate and trying to live down the Keating Five. Barack Obama was entering Harvard Law School. Where was Mark Penn? Taking questions live on C-Span before the New York Primary. (Syracuse Post-Standard 4/17/88). Ok, seriously, he was already a Democratic pollster, but it certainly underlines where he comes from.

Mark Penn has been attacked for being both a pollster and a strategist. A look at Penn's career through  this regard shows something deeper. Penn's career can be said to more or less begin with John Anderson's campaign in 1980.

A National Journal article in 1980 looks very interesting in retrospect (National Journal, 10/18/80):

You wouldn't know it from watching them in action today, but until recently political pollsters lacked both celebrity and clout.

It was only a few years ago that pollsters in politics were likened to accountants: behind-the-scenes technicians needed to keep a campaign running but seldom in on strategic decisions. Or they were dismissed as social scientists who played with computers to prove self-evident theorems.

Pollsters were considered useful to buttress political instincts and personal contacts in the heat of a campaign. But it was the polls, not the pollsters, who ran the show.

In the 1980 presidential campaign, however, that's changed. The pollsters are directing -- some would say dominating -- the campaign and are intimately involved in campaign tactics and strategies.

In-house polling helped, for example, to dictate the style and content of Republican Ronald Reagan's statements in his Sept. 21 televised debate with independent John B. Anderson. On the Democratic side, polling data suggested that Reagan would be vulnerable to hardhitting attacks on his public positions by President Carter and Administration officials.

Which one set of pollsters did not have that type of authority?
In Anderson's independent presidential campaign, by contrast, pollsters Mark Penn and Douglas E. Schoen are not at the center of operations. That place is filled by media adviser and campaign director David Garth, an acknowledged master at using polls to shape candidates' media images. (See NJ, 9/3/80, p. 1523. )

"He asks for specific things," said Penn. "We work with Garth closely and he integrates the data into the campaign... A part of his success as a political consultant is his success at turning polls into strategies

There are a couple of unflattering ways to look at this. One could look at the rest of Penn's career in a vein similar to Captain Ahab. While both were ostensibly successful - captain of a ship, leader of Penn,Schoen and Berland and Burson-Marstellar, Penn was Ahab-like in his desire to both be a pollster and a "Chief Strategist."
Mark Penn Was There
Moreover, one could also argue that Bill and Hillary Clinton (and others) trusted Penn with political advice, even though even John Anderson was smart enough not to.

A brief 1987 Advertising Age profile meant to indicate how revolutionary Penn was now reads more along the lines of how dated he may be (Advertising Age, 11/2/87).:

Mark Penn and Doug Schoen ... had an innovative idea which "at the time we had trouble convincing people to try" -- polling by telephone. That method is now the norm. In addition to being one of the country's top Democratic political pollsters, Penn + Schoen also does an increasing amount of market research for corporations, corporate image work, survey research for government agencies, single-issue research for associations and public interest groups, legal research and international political polling and survey research.

"We've used the techniques of political polling in foreign presidential campaigns in places such as Venezuela and Israel," says Mr. Penn.

What once was innovative now sounds like bragging for designing the piano necktie.

III. Rise With the DLC

In order to understand the fall of Penn, one has to understand his rise as well.

Mark Penn's rise with the Clintons during the Clinton administration has been well-chronicled. This excerpt from the National Journal indicates in what circumstances Penn's firm was brought in, after the mid-term elections that were a disaster not only then President Clinton, but also were regarded as a referendum on Hillary Clinton in particular. (National Journal, 11/18/95):

Clinton was faced with two choices on the mega-issues--the size and the legitimate functions of the federal government--that the Republicans have brought to the fore. He could throw in with the Republicans in balancing the budget, as Dick Morris, his behind-the-scenes political strategist, has urged. Or he could follow the path favored by deputy chief of staff Harold M. Ickes, Clinton's top in-house political adviser, and other die-hard Democrats inside the White House--to hold the Republicans' feet to the fire for wanting to cut domestic programs while reducing taxes for the rich. In the latest go-round, Clinton chose to do both.

In a way, Morris and Ickes represent the warring sides of Clinton's political nature--the centrist and the traditional Democrat--and of the constituencies he needs to attract if he's to win a second term. A well-connected Democrat said he knows for a fact that the two men don't like each other. ''They're not close,'' a White House aide acknowledged.

Insiders caution against exaggerating the ideological differences between them. Both are pragmatists who've known Clinton and his wife for ages and were schooled in the Democratic infighting of New York City politics. Ickes, a labor lawyer known as a liberal, has worked for Jesse Jackson but also ran the 1992 Democratic convention for Clinton, delighting the ''New Democrats'' on the party's right flank. Morris, renowned as a lone ranger among consultants, has labored for Republicans as conservative as Jesse A. Helms of North Carolina and for Democrats as liberal as ex-Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum of Ohio.

But it was natural that Ickes and Morris would become antagonists in the White House, especially in light of the furtive manner by which Morris arrived. The President had secretly been in touch with the Connecticut-based consultant, who'd salvaged Clinton's political career in 1982, during his 1992 presidential campaign and again during the month before the 1994 elections. Morris, an insider said, predicted --presciently-- that the Democrats would lose 50 seats in the House and cede control of the Senate. When Clinton fell into a funk after the election, contemplating what the Republican takeover meant for his political future, he kept calling Morris. He would telephone him late at night, leaving others around the White House in the dark.

It isn't Morris who has Clinton on a string, as the common impression has it, a political adviser to the White House ventured. It's the reverse. After last year's disastrous elections, Clinton came to ''a sense of what to do'' but found no support for it among his White House advisers and decided that ''he needed someone (else) in the mix,'' the adviser said. ''The President is using Dick Morris to staff his side of the argument.''

That's said to have started relations between Morris and Ickes, ostensibly the head of Clinton's political operation, off on the wrong foot. They got worse as Morris's influence grew. When Morris invited Penn + Schoen Associates Inc. to handle polling for the White House, it was taken as an affront to Ickes, who battled the New York City-based pollsters in the past. (Ickes has long been close to David N. Dinkins, while Penn + Schoen--and Morris--worked for Edward I. Koch, whom Dinkins defeated in a bitter 1989 mayoral primary.) In Clinton's politically monumental decision last June to me-too the Republicans on the budget, Morris prevailed over the ardent objections of Ickes and others.

As Clinton's public standing has revived in recent months, Morris is said to have gained the upper hand. A Democratic insider described Morris's role as Clinton's top political strategist and Ickes's as the chief implementer, akin to a corporation's chief operating officer--an arrangement, he said, that Morris likes and Ickes doesn't. (Neither would be interviewed for this article.) He ranked Morris in the top stratum of presidential advisers, along with Vice President Albert Gore Jr. and chief of staff Leon E. Panetta. Morris's influence, he said, has grown beyond the shaping of Clinton's public persona to include substantive policy, such as welfare reform.

Mark Penn was part of the resurrection of the Clintons as a political force. Given how dead they were regarded - and how Hillary in particular went from health care maven to traditional first lady before Penn arrived and moved the Clintons to the center, and has been instramental in her rise from that to Senator to Presidential candidate.

Describing the 1996 and 1998 elections, Mark Penn himself described the strategy of unifying different sides of the party in a speech to the DLC (11/4/98):

I think that they were energized by seeing the Republican right threaten the Clinton administration and everything that the Clinton administration stands for. My point initially was that really whether you're in the base or a New Democrat, you really were completely unified behind this agenda of Social Security first, education, patient's bill of rights. There was no disconnect with one side of the party or another. On the other hand, the Republicans couldn't really decide whether they wanted to go after impeachment, whether they wanted tax cuts, whether they wanted to privatize Social Security, they never really had a message. And that's why my initial point was, they had the money, but we had the message, and it was a New Democratic message. It was also a very, very unifying message.

This is essentially the first contested primary for the Clintons since 1992, when the competition was not so bold. In 1992, candidates were so scared of losing to Bush that they decided not to run against Clinton, leaving Bill to fight against more or less just challenges from the right (Tsongas) and the Pu Pu Platter on the left (e.g., Jerry Brown, who had the same health care plan Kucinich now advocates).

It's this conservative influence, and neutering of Clinton's initial agenda in order to save his political career that many liberals find infuriating.

Given the choice between Penn's centrism and Bob Dole in 1996, liberals will constantly choose the centrism.

IV. Modern Implications

Mark Penn tries to represent himself as the manifestation of electability, more or less.

Contrast the current election with the meta-themes about NAFTA and the economy with this address from Penn to the DLC on 1/24/01:

...I think that it's important to see that this election worked on two levels. One level was the regular issue level -- Social Security, health care, education.

And on those specific issues, Al Gore actually did pretty well, as you'll see. He wins the voters concerned about most of the specific issues. But it also works on a broader level in which these larger meta-themes tend to clash.

And so the result of that clash is that Al Gore really lost that exchange, because Bush basically was able to paint him as a big- government liberal. And even when you win the specifics of the issues, even when you've got basically the right direction, if they think you're a big-government liberal, they're not going to vote for you.

And that was the main reason, I think, that we find that Bush managed to hold on the last month of the election and Gore really never found a clear meta-theme. Populism was probably his clearest. Progress and prosperity, as you'll see, would have been and was his biggest ticket to success, but he pulled back from that message repeatedly.

This old-style populist message tended to limit and drive up his base rather than expand out to the center of the country. And you'll see in the data that while the message does reasonably well overall, it doesn't do well among the swing voters, and it particularly doesn't do well among the swing male voters who broke in the last month of this election. And had Al Gore been able to pick up 3 or 4 percent of those, then I also think this election would have been put away, and it would have been put away in a big way.

You know, in 1992, there were 18 million manufacturing jobs. In 2000, there were 18 million manufacturing jobs. Even though there was a growth of 22 million jobs, the manufacturing sector stayed exactly the same size. So the truth of the matter is, if a political candidate today wanted to go down and see the workers, he would go to a suburban office complex and say, "Hey, here are the workers of America," because that's how America has changed and how the demographics of how people live and work have changed.

But Al Gore, despite his New Economy groundings, really never made any appeals to the 21st century wired workers, people basically living under new conditions and new times with new needs. I don't think either of the candidates, if you go through the debates, really made much of an appeal to the newest voter group, and they went to Bush almost by default.

Mark Penn was the wrong chief strategist for a campaign against Barack Obama. He prided himself on moving away from traditional liberal voters and expanding the base. In a primary election where the main competition is a someone who naturally appeals to these groups and is an expert in drawing in new votes, Clinton would have to rely on the same support he had spent his career working around.

The flip side to this is the idea that he could lead Clinton to appeal to these groups. That's probably the reason he had the influence he did. There's a problem with that, though: he's never really done it. He's appealed to many of this sort by moving the Clintons to the center. This has resulted in the famed "credibility" gap where Clinton has trust issues. It also has created the odd negative numbers of the Clintons: despite being regarded as centrists on the left, they are regarded as virtual communists on the right. Centrism is acceptable to liberals when the alternative is conservatism, but given the choice - and primaries are all about choice - liberals will choose one of their own. Now, electability weighs heavily in that consideration, but electability is almost never the sole consideration.

In that sense, I think the short term excuses and justifications for Penn are sort of besides the point.

Hillary Clinton ran what was widely regarded as a reelection campaign. Given the responsibility of Penn (or at least Penn-type politics) for the last 6 years of the Clinton presidency and the elections of Hillary Clinton to the Senate, it's hard not to see both his loss and getting fired for advocating a centrist political position as an ultimate repudiation of his politics.

Hard, but not impossible.

Why? Because the statement itself indicates that Penn and his firm will continue to give advice and polls to the campaign. As long as there is a potential general eleciton to be won against Republicans, Penn's connection will still have some worth.

What's been laid bare is that he seems to have little ability to against Democrats. Penn advocated for Ed Koch in the 1988 primary, where Koch lost to David Dinkins. Perhaps someone could one day make thorough comparisons of those races; on face they seem to have a lot of things in common.

David Axelrod likes to use narratives to sell candidates. Mark Penn likes to use microtrends to describe elections. In the end, though, it might be the macrotrend that did him in. Had Clinton retained a bigger share of self described liberals, she would be the probable nominee today. In fact, the one issue where Clinton does have trust on issues is health care - where she earned that trust before Penn came along.

Even some of his greatest boasts are vapid when looked at with a critical eye: His slogan for Tony Blair famously was stolen from an episode of the Simpsons.

Farewell Mark Penn, if you are gone. I'm not quite sure who exactly will miss you.

A whole post, and I didn't even mention his construction, either.

[All citations from Lexis-Nexis]

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