22 March 2008

Clinton's right-hand man: who exactly is Mark Penn?

If you read enough reports on the race for the Democratic nomination for US president, there's one name that comes back at you again in quote after snide quote: Mark Penn, chief political strategist for Hilary Clinton. Penn's usual stock in trade is to dismiss as irrelevant any Obama gains. Most notably, he has claimed that the smaller states that Obama has won don't count and that caucuses don't count; most recently, he added that the endorsement of Obama by Bill Richardson, the Latino New Mexico governor who's endorsement both Democrat candidates had courted, doesn't count. And the less said about his early campaign memos talking up the 'inevitability' of Hilary's candidature, the better - let's just say they seem a bit premature now.

If there's a consistent analysis underlying these spin attempts, it is the idea that elections are won and lost by small 'c' conservative swing voters... and that any attempt at redrawing the map of US political politics should be shunned. So while Republicans were busily moving the 'centre' of US politics far to the right, the Clintonite Democrats were chasing to keep up with them. Whatever the flaws of Obama's campaign, it is at least an attempt to break with this strategy.

Penn's role goes beyond that of 'chief strategist', however. As CEO of public relations firm Burson-Marsteller, Penn is at the centre of the corporate web that surrounds Clinton's candidature. Burson-Marsteller is the PR agency of choice for governments engaged in human rights violations, and corporations seeking to scupper environmental legislation and action on climate change (see here for some background, albeit a bit dated). The firm is also well versed in anti-labour propaganda, which landed Hilary in some hot water with US unions last year.

1 comment:

Oscar said...

Something of a postscript to the above, which doesn't really go into Obama's candidacy beyond alluding to 'flaws' of his campaign... in short, I think his landmark race speech
was as good as any I have heard from a contender for the US President. As Kanishk Tharoor puts it on OpenDemocracy puts it:

"it is a measure of its impact that the bastions of conservative thought have been unable to respond to the newness of Obama's remarks. With their knives out and the table laid, conservatives were ready to carve up the expected, feeble "distancing" act. Instead, dinner was cancelled, and Obama, resplendent in his best smoking jacket, held court in the drawing room."

Not just Conservatives, I might add, but Clinton strategists too - who were avidly awaiting the attacks so that they might feed on their crumbs (while maintaining a studied silence).

The Guardian reports today that the Wright affair is still leaving Obama behind in the polls - in effect, with this speech he's over-estimated the intelligence of the US electorate - but a quick reading of today's US press suggests that the Guardian's interpretation of poll data might be flawed.