Penn Wanted To Scorch The Earth
by Josh Orton, Mon Aug 11, 2008 at 04:51:14 AM EDT
In a forthcoming article in The Atlantic, Josh Green reports that Mark Penn wanted to strongly contrast his candidate with Barack Obama on the issue of Americanism:
The Penn memo suggesting that the campaign target Obama's "lack of American roots" said in part: "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. ... Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America American 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."
We don't have to go down this road too far, but I think there's general election utility in briefly examining this revelation (since we're already rehashing the flaws of primary candidates).
Penn was a man out of options - Obama had rocketed to the top of the Democratic party, while Penn's client teetered on the verge of defeat after her wins in Ohio and Texas failed to substantively alter Obama's delegate lead. Penn had maxed-out the contrast on significant issues, pounding Obama for his health care plan. And absent a time-machine, Penn couldn't do much to draw more contrast with Obama on the Iraq war.
So he pushed for the same strategy Karl Rove had used for years. Perhaps Penn thought the same game plan that ran out of gas for Republicans could get a few more miles out of it if the candidate was black, or already suffered from anonymous internet smears about his religion.
Regardless, this is where we can expect McCain to go. The "celebrity" ad was only the beginning. If McCain wants a shot at states like Michigan, he's going to have to play dirty.