My key excerpts from Ezra Klein’s review of Mark Penn’s book for In These Times:
That’s the Penn defense, and he and his friends have long stuck to it. “Mark is somebody who is very, very comfortable with quantification,” enthused Doug Schoen, his polling partner of over 30 years. “He is very comfortable with numbers.” It is this reputation that, so far as I can tell, Mark Penn has written Microtrends to dispel. Unlike most pollsters, Penn never releases his raw numbers, only his analysis. So we must take it on faith that his methodology is rigorous, his polls accurate and his interpretations fair. This book is our first opportunity to observe, at length, how adroitly Penn handles raw data. And the answer is stunning, even to a doubter like me. Mark Penn cannot handle numbers. If this book were turned in as the final to an entry-level statistics class, Penn would not only be failed, but the professor might well retire in shame.
I first flipped through Microtrends while at the YearlyKos convention, and Penn, astonishingly, seemed to comprehend the importance of the loosely connected, grassroots-driven, progressive movement’s flowering. “I suspect the lefty boom will bring a surge in the promotion of sheer creative energy,” Penn writes, “driven by an idea that is at the heart of this book—that small groups of people, sharing common experiences, can increasingly be drawn together to rally for their interests.” I was shocked—Penn was speaking admirably of “lefties,” not trying to recast them as moderates, not trying to write them out of the party? He was endorsing open-source politics, rather than a top-down structure? I had misjudged the man!
I read on. Penn was talking about actual lefties—people who are born left-handed. Increasingly grim, I absorbed the first hard blows of Penn’s interpretative technique: “More lefties,” he enthuses, “could mean more military innovation: Famous military leaders from Charlemagne to Alexander the Great to Julius Caesar to Napoleon—as well as Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf—were left-handed.” He uses the same thunderingly awful logic to argue that we’ll see more art and music greats, more famous criminals, more great comedians, more “executive greatness,” and better tennis and basketball players.
I would only add that while each political consultant is a beautiful unique snowflake, there’s a real systemic rot in the whole trade. Read my review of Bob Shrum’s book, this article by Amy Sullivan, and this one from Noam Scheiber.
Minor error corrected