I read the piece itself but not the actual memos — although, given what Jake Tapper found, maybe I should have. The one semi-bombshell detail, Mark Penn’s strategy to target (by implication) Obama’s “lack of American roots”, was scooped by Politico a few days ago so all that’s left is a little extra flesh on the bones of a story most people were already familiar with. Did you know, for example, that the campaign was rife with personality clashes and strategic disagreements exacerbated by Hillary’s slow-footed, paralyzing managerial style? Were you aware that it was effectively broke before the primaries got going and she had to loan it money? Had you heard that her dopey advisors didn’t start thinking about the delegate count until it was too late to counter Obama’s organization advantage in the caucus states? You should have: All of those angles have been covered before ad nauseam and duly blogged across the political spectrum. (A fact acknowledged by author Joshua Green.) The most interesting scooplet from what’s left:
Yet the clashes and paralysis continued. In the aftermath of Obama’s historic race speech on March 18, Sheila Jackson Lee, a Texas congresswoman, urged Clinton to deliver a speech of her own on gender. Clinton appeared very much to want to do this, and solicited the advice of her staff, which characteristically split. The campaign went back and forth for weeks. Opponents argued that her oratory couldn’t possibly match Obama’s, and proponents countered that she would get credit simply for trying, inspire legions of women to her cause, and highlight an issue that everyone in the campaign fiercely believed was hurting them—sexism. But Clinton never made a decision, and seemed troubled by the concern of Ann Lewis, perhaps her most venerable feminist adviser, who opposed such a speech for fear that it would equate sexism with racism—another contrast with Obama that Clinton feared she would lose.
She was right not to do it. It would have come off as a feeble copycat attempt to match Obama’s identity politics speech with her own, and Team Barry would have responded true to form by whispering to the media along the exact lines Ann Lewis feared.
Fun facts plucked at random: The campaign kept tabs on Monica Lewinsky in Portland lest any unfortunate run-ins occur; it was Bill, not Hillary, who approved the “3 a.m.” ad; and hapless pollster Mark Penn actually nailed the key elements of the coalition that carried Hillary to victory in the late primaries all the way back in March 2007. More amusing than the article itself, perhaps, is TPM’s bullet-point summary of key revelations, most of which have to do with the idea — gasp — that the Clintons and Penn were willing to attack St. Barack on his electability and Jeremiah Wright. Democrats? Behaving less than virtuously?
But back to Tapper’s post. Exit question: What “tapes” did Penn have in mind in his December 30, 2007 memo? Judging from his March 30, 2008 memo touching on the Wright scandal — more than two weeks after it broke, do note — I’m guessing that they had copies of Wright’s sermons last year and had sat on them for fear of a backlash from TPM-types if they’d released them. Which brings us to an obvious follow-up question: If they had the tapes all along, were they the ones who leaked them to Brian Ross and ABC, setting off the scandal?
Update: Actually, you know what the real surprise of this piece is? There’s no evidence of any malfeasance by the Clintons. Incompetence aplenty, to be sure, but all the dicier stuff comes from Penn, not Bill or Hillary, and it’s unclear to what extent they followed those dicier bits of advice. In fact, Tapper’s post suggests it was the Clintons who were the superego to his id: If they did have the tapes of Wright all along and sat on them even while Hillary was being slowly buried by the delegate margin in February, it’s an uncharacteristic show of restraint.