I got an email from the Change to Win union federation yesterday saying “Mark Penn Has to Go.” And Ezra Klein titled a post “Time for Mark Penn to Go.” The issue is Penn’s meeting with Colombian government officials to help push a trade agreement through congress at the very time when his boss, Hillary Clinton, is trying to portray herself as a trade skeptic. The mighty Ambinder remarked that “One of the toughest tasks for a political journalist these days is to try and find someone in Clinton world who is willing to defend Mr. Penn or his sense of political optics.”
Well, I would think it’s easy enough to find someone — Hillary Clinton who’s stuck with Penn through thick and thin. And in some ways, I admire her for it. She knows perfectly well that a great many influential people in left-of-center circles don’t like Penn, including many people in her inner circle. But she sincerely believes, and has believed for years, that Penn’s advice about political strategies is immensely valuable. That’s why he was an important strategist in the later years of the Clinton administration, that’s why he was the chief architect of her Senate campaign, and that’s why he’s been one of the main architects of her Presidential bid. There’s no sense in acting like he’s some guy who for some crazy reason seems to keep popping up near Hillary Clinton — they’re not identical, but close association with Penn and Penn’s approach is part of who she is.
So if it’s time for anyone to go, I think it’s time for her to go. And, of course, I do think it’s time for her to go. And Penn probably realizes that at this point nothing he does or doesn’t do is going to put her in the White House so he might as well start transitioning back to his real job. Hence meeting with the Colombians.