Campaign Crawlers

Poison Penn

Hillary commits to free trade in comebacks. Even Obama's.

By 4.11.08

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In one of the cleverest -- or most hilariously inadvertent -- moves by a newswriter, FOX Radio News at midday of April 8 delivered a report crafted to sound as though Hillary Clinton was praising Barack Obama. It went like this:

IN PENNSYLVANIA, WHERE HILLARY CLINTON FORMERLY LED IN THE POLLS BY DOUBLE DIGITS, BARACK OBAMA HAS NOW MOVED WITHIN SIX POINTS. MRS. CLINTON SEES THE SITUATION AS RESEMBLING THE NCAA COLLEGE BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP.

[CUT TO SENATOR CLINTON SOUNDBITE]: "I DON'T KNOW ABOUT YOU, BUT A LOT OF US WERE SITTING UP LATE WATCHING THAT GAME LAST NIGHT AND SAYING TO EACH OTHER, 'WHAT A GREAT COMEBACK!'"

Somehow I don't think she was looking to give kudos to Senator O for banishing her margin in Penn. Instead, her real response to the precipitous slippage in her foothold has been to banish Penn to the margins. Mark Penn, that is, not William. He is the guru who masterminded Bill's reelection in ninety-six and Hillary's Senate coup in aught-aught, who has now been eighty-sixed because he ought, ought not have met the Colombian trade rep.

Actually, I can cut the gags right here, because this story is sufficiently self-caricaturizing. Here is what happened. All these Washington strategist/lobbyist types create these partnerships with names that sound like law firms (and sometimes are), then open plush offices on K Street. Some executive from Amalgamated Widget comes down to the posh quarters of Healthy, Wealthy & Wise and is so impressed by his surroundings (note pictures on wall of lobbyist with dignitaries, functionaries and the occasional luminary) that he plunks down a hundred-thousand-dollar retainer. Now he expects them to a) teach him how to portray widgets to lawmakers in a more appealing way and b) do most of the presenting themselves.

This explains how Mr. Penn, who has billed Bill and haled Hill for umpteen millions, also has the government of Colombia as a client. Mrs. Clinton currently finds it expedient to declare her opposition to a free-trade agreement with Colombia. Penn's firm had contracted with Colombia to help promote such an agreement. Nominally, Penn himself was not working on the Colombia account; it was assigned to a colleague. The whole pretense of the multi-dimensional law firm environment gives ample cover for such fictions. Except, oopsy, Mr. Penn drifted into one of the Colombia strategy meetings the other day.

Oh, the indignity!

How could a man whose job is to create Hillary pith like, say, "FREE TRADE IS TOO COSTLY", go down the hall to plug a Colombian pitch like, say, "COLOMBIA IS THE GIRL NEXT DOOR"?

Here is where things got even funnier. Penn had to resign from the Hillary campaign. To resign was not enough without first offering an apology. The apology mollified the American union guys but angered the South Americans. Colombia took offense at the notion that working with them called for an apology. So they fired him too. After this series of free trades, Mr. Penn was out a couple of gigs and a load of moolah.

He had been on borrowed time, anyway, as the scapegoat of choice for the Senator's sagging fortunes, what with Hill going downhill fast. You see, he came up with "Experience" as the motto but was outflanked by "Change," the brainchild of Obama's crack staff. Despite the stupendous originality of these two watchwords, wouldn't you know that the losing one would be deemed blameworthy? Such is the price of genius, my friends. You could write as well as Shakespeare, and still The Tempest gets you, not to mention The Shrew.

You can just imagine the panic that beset Penn when the comrades came to take him on that final walk to the microphone. Is it really all over? Have the accolades dried up? Must he leave K and go straight to L? Will Sally Quinn invite him anymore for crumpets? Will Chelsea ever again doodle a smiley-face in the corner of his birthday card? Will the checks have a one anymore or just the zeroes? And maybe he should have had Hillary make "Gumption" her big word? That was the last positive noun still unused in campaigns.

His only chance was to think fast and come up with a phrase that pays, only this time to save his own skin. But the well ran dry and he just could not summon up... a great comeback. Let us see if his boss lady can do much better.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.