Occasionally, political pundits get so wrapped up in their analysis that they don’t think through all of the implications of their commentary. That happened to Mark Penn, longtime Democratic pollster, in his appearance on Hardball last night, in the most charitable explanation possible. Eyeblast’s Joe Schoffstall clips this magic moment from the discussion with Chris Matthews on how disconnected Barack Obama has become from the American electorate, and what it will take for him to reconnect, using Bill Clinton as an example:
President Clinton reconnected with Oklahoma. And the President right now he seems removed. And it wasn’t until that speech that he really clicked with the American people. Obama needs a similar kind of, yeah.
So it will take a terrorist attack for people to like Obama, or perhaps a natural disaster? That’s what Penn says here, and it’s worth noting that Matthews doesn’t bat an eyelash at the suggestion. Had a Republican pollster suggested in 2004 or 2006 that George Bush could really use an “Oklahoma” to reconnect to the American people, the media would have run endless stories about “wag the dog” notions.
It’s also worth noting that Obama did have that opportunity a year ago in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings, a massacre at least inspired by al-Qaeda that left 14 dead and more wounded. Instead of reconnecting to the American people in his speech that day, Obama took two minutes to give “shout-outs” to his allies at the conference that got interrupted by news of the attack before getting to the attack itself.
Also, this notion that Clinton needed the domestic-terrorist attack to reconnect to the electorate is ludicrous. Clinton always had a talent for making emotional connections to voters. His problem in 1994-5 wasn’t a lack of emotional connection but having drifted too far left and too fast, and losing control of his agenda. He righted the ship by “triangulating” on the Republican agenda and staring down Newt Gingrich. Even during impeachment, when it became known that he had lied under oath, Clinton remained personally connected to the electorate and survived because of it.
I don’t believe for a moment that Mark Penn wants another terrorist attack on the United States. I do think he should be a lot more careful about what prescriptions he offers for Obama’s revival.