Hillary Clinton’s top strategist, Mark Penn, gave up his job after meeting with Colombian officials, in his capacity as a public relations consultant, to talk about how to get Congress to pass a trade deal that Clinton opposes. But on Monday, a day after Penn’s departure was announced, he participated in campaign conference calls, suggesting he would still play a significant role on Clinton’s staff. (The Swamp blog in the Baltimore Sun)
What the commentators said
“What a spectacle,” said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. Not only is it now “respectable” for Democrats to “accept, even welcome, military defeat,” but it is considered a firing offense for a "Presidential campaign functionary" to “so much as hint” that he favors free trade. Bill Clinton touted his support for free trade as proof of his “centrism” and understanding of “global competitive realities,” but now it has become a “Democratic taboo.”
Well, yes, if it involves cutting deals with Colombia, “a country with a history of murdering union organizers,” said Ari Berman in The Nation’s Campaign 08 blog. And Penn’s “union-busting” isn’t the only problem—his firm shills for a “number of unsavory characters (big tobacco, oil companies, etc) that Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton, have distanced themselves from.” The question isn’t why Penn had to go, it’s “why he had such a prominent position in the Clinton orbit to begin with.”
Penn’s “unpardonable sin” was the Colombia meeting, said Michelle Cottle in The New Republic Online, but the “rumpled, portly pollster” had been “a focus of animus within the Hillary campaign from day one.” He’s almost “universally regarded as rough, arrogant, antisocial, controlling, manipulative, brutally ambitious, and occasionally downright abusive—a hurler of cell phones, pagers, and Chinese food.” Plus, his strategy so far hasn’t been so hot, so many campaign insiders wonder why Penn’s comeuppance didn’t happen sooner.