Mark Penn Argues For A Third Bill Clinton Term

by Noam Scheiber | January 25, 2008

I meant to weigh in on that Clinton conference call I mentioned yesterday but, between closing my print piece and the GOP debate, I never got a around to it... Anyway, nothing especially ground-breaking happened--it was mostly an implicit (and, during the Q&A portion, explicit) defense of their somewhat dubious radio ad pivoting off Obama's "party of ideas" comment about the GOP. (The ad ties him to all sorts of policies--tax breaks for Wall Street fat-cats, opposition to minimum wage increases--that he doesn't support.) The call involved Clintonites like former economic advisor Laura Tyson and former deputy chief of staff Steve Richetti talking about all the great ideas the Dems had in the '90s under Bill Clinton. When reporters asked about the leap from Obama's quote to tax cuts for the rich, communications director Howard Wolfson and strategist Mark Penn insisted the were merely using Obama's own words.

Amid all the back and forth, Penn did happen to utter something unintentionally interesting, though:

Obama has no record going back to that period [the 1990s], nothing like the strong economy, the record on the strong economy, that President Clinton has… Senator Clinton was first lady then, she understood the strategy employed… the ideas needed to turn the economy around from the Bush mess… We're entering another period like that [presumably the recession of the early 90s]. It's clear why the Obama campaign is trying to deploy this strategy to change people's view of past. Most Americans believe he [Bill Clinton] was a great president. They would have wanted him over the current occupant of the White House…

It's possible that Penn goes on like this all the time, and I just haven't been paying attention. But I've never heard a Clinton surrogate so explicitly compare Obama and Bill Clinton, as though he were the candidate, while giving such short shrift to Hillary. I mean, it was basically an argument for why Bill should have a third term while maybe Hillary could, you know, hang out or something. (She understood the strategy employed--that's the experience she's claiming? Hell, I understood the strategy employed and I was in high school in 1993.) Hard to see how this serves her well, even if Bill is as beloved as the campaign assumes.

Anyway, Penn's words, not mine...

P.S. It really does remind you of that Onion piece our commenters linked to a couple days ago.

--Noam Scheiber 

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