Don't Blame Penn For Everything

Mark Halperin has a baker's dozen of reasons why Hillary Clinton should have ousted Mark Penn before now. Many center on Penn's contentious, ego-dystonic personality.

Many Clinton allies blame Penn for the parlous state of Clinton's chances. But consider:

(1) The major strategic error -- not planning for and contesting the caucuses -- can be placed on the shoulders of President and Senator Clinton, even though Penn agreed with it and nurtured the belief that Clinton did not need to worry as much about the ordinary pledged delegates.

(2) That this election hinges on voters' desire for "change," is clear. Whether Penn or anyone in Clinton's world could have realistically turned Hillary Clinton into the candidate of change is very much an open question.

(3) There is nothing mutually exclusive about running a campaign based on "strength" and "experience" and "change." Indeed, were Clinton to pull off the miracle and win this thing, her "strength" and "experience" would be an asset to her in the general election. Balancing the three is the challenge.

(4) Penn is not responsible for Clinton's losing Iowa. Barack Obama is.

(5) Even if you accept that Penn's strategic advice was bad -- and my contention here is that it wasn't really that bad -- Hillary Clinton was the one to actualize it and follow it. I do think Penn and others were wrong to simply assume that Barack Obama could never build a viable primary coalition from the types of voters who were attracted to him. The assumption was based in an historical fallacy: just because these voters had never turned out before or exceeded the turn-out of "beer track" Democrats doesn't mean that, with the right candidate in the right year, they wouldn't. (And they did.)

(6) Clinton will lose this primary narrowly. About half of Democratic voters will have chosen her over Obama, a fact that will be lost in the final delegate tally. Clinton is responsible for increasing the turnout of white working class voters and women.

There's plenty of blame to go around, and history will probably accord Penn his fair share, but tempting as it will be for Clinton allies to throw Penn under the bus, they probably shouldn't.

NB: Penn's mistake notwithstanding, he still retains the confidence of the Clintons and will still play a major role in the campaign. What does that tell you about the quality of advice the Clintons believe him to impart?