I'm sure that when the actual Atlantic article comes out, and when all the memos are available online, we'll see a lot more of this sort of reaction--probably not from me, though, as the semester is going to get cranked up soon and besides, there's more interesting reading for me than backbiting emails. But really, I don't need much more than this to form an opinion about Mark Penn.
The Penn memo suggesting that the campaign target Obama’s “lack of American roots” said in part: “All of these articles about his boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii are geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light.Mark Penn, hero of xenophobes everywhere. Penn suggested that Clinton's campaign try to "other" Obama, as though the fact that his name was Obama and that he's, you know, black didn't make that clear enough on its own. Penn encouraged the Clinton campaign to prey upon the fears of what Rick Perlstein calls in Nixonland the "Orthogonians."
“Save it for 2050. ... Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America American to the middle class in the middle of the last century. And talk about the basic bargain as about the deeply American values you grew up with, learned as a child and that drive you today. Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back.
“Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. Make this a new American Century, the American Strategic Energy Fund. Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds.”
Notice, in particular, that second paragraph--"Values of fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back." The suggestion is that if you're not from that middle America, middle-class, and let's be clear here, white upbringing, then you can't really understand fairness, compassion, etc. Penn recommended that Clinton try to paint Obama as "not one of us," the us being white working and middle class voters. And a lot of Clinton supporters--especially the few but loud who refuse to accept that Clinton won't be the nominee--have bought into it, to the point where they're making shit up about Obama's citizenship and legal qualifications to be President.
Clinton ventured down that path a couple of times--the West Virginia comments were among the most egregious to my mind--but I got the sense that her heart was never really in it, that as a member of a group that all too often gets othered, she wasn't quite willing to go whole hog into that type of argument. And for that, given the pressure she was apparently under from important people in her campaign, I think she deserves some credit.
Mark Penn, though, deserves a swift kick in the junk.