We all know that Mark Penn is Hillary Clinton's top strategist. Penn also happens to be the CEO of the company that is representing John McCain, Burson-Marsteller. If Clinton won the Democratic nomination, Penn wins too. If Clinton loses the presidential election to McCain, no matter. Penn's company would win in that scenario too.
This obvious conflict of interest explains a large number of questionable attacks on Barack Obama. Penn's "Southern Strategy" against Obama (the process of doctoring photos to make Obama's skin and face appear "blacker") and Penn having Clinton claim that McCain is more ready than Obama to keep America safe are just two examples.
Clinton's scorched-earth campaign has one other effect -- it's dividing Democrats and causing progressives to consider abandoning her campaign in the general election. If that happened, McCain would benefit, and in the end that may be the goal. Penn's company has historically supported Republican politicians and policies, and any real reform-minded Democrat is a threat:
Burson-Marsteller is hardly a natural fit for a prominent Democrat. The firm has represented everyone from the Argentine military junta to Union Carbide after the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India, in which thousands were killed when toxic fumes were released by one of its plants, to Royal Dutch Shell, which has been accused of massive human rights violations in Nigeria. B-M pioneered the use of pseudo-grassroots front groups, known as "astroturfing," to wage stealth corporate attacks against environmental and consumer organizations. It set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris to fight tobacco regulation in the early 1990s. Its current clients include major players in the finance, pharmaceutical and energy industries. In 2006, with Penn at the helm, the company gave 57 percent of its campaign contributions to Republican candidates.
The same people who are smearing Obama and Howard Dean here on MyDD are the types of people Penn employs to "astroturf" and create phony grassroots support. Ultimately, this favors the Republican candidate, John McCain, and the company that represents him, Burson-Marsteller.
There are some people in the Clinton campaign who recognize the damage Penn is doing, and they want to remove him.
The depth of hostility toward Penn even in a time of triumph illustrates the combustible environment within the Clinton campaign, an operation where internal strife and warring camps have undercut a candidate once seemingly destined for the Democratic nomination. Clinton now faces the challenge of exploiting this moment of opportunity while at the same time deciding whether the squabbling at her Arlington headquarters has become a distraction that requires her intervention.
The bigger issue is whether Penn is actively working to destroy the chance of a Democrat winning the nomination in 2008:
Mark Penn's personal interests would clearly be best served by a Hillary Clinton victory.
A McCain presidency wouldn't be a bad consolation prize, however. It would be far better to have the head of his lobbying be tight with the president than to have a president like Obama who sought to impose new restrictions on his lobbyist operation.
Burson-Marsteller's work is primarily for corporations, ranging from Blackwater to Microsoft to the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the government of Abu Dhabi that recently purchased a 5% stake in Citigroup.
As Ari Berman's Hillary, Inc. details, there's every reason to be skeptical of Mark Penn's willingness to help Democrats. He's criticized Al Gore for running to far to the left in 2000 and when he was brought into the Clinton's orbit by Dick Morris, he wasn't even a political operative.
As the New York Times has reported, Mark Penn is the leading advocate within the Hillary Clinton campaign for her decision to go nuclear on Barack Obama. Mandy Grunwald, a Democratic political consultant, recommended against the Penn strategy, but Thursday night's debate closing notwithstanding, Grunwald seems to have lost the battle to Penn.
Using "astroturfers" to give the illusion of grassroots support, smearing Obama with lies and a Southern Strategy, and alienating progressive Democrats will only lead to one outcome: a Republican victory for John McCain, and a victory for Penn's company Burson-Marsteller, and a loss for progressive Democrats.