Schoen tokes the herb

April 16, 2008 12:22 a.m.

According to Doug Schoen, estranged partner of Mark Penn and one-time pollster for Bill Clinton, says Hillary Clinton should abandon her purely positive campaign and instead go negative on Obama.

From tomorrow’ WaPo

Hillary Clinton took an important step Monday toward winning the Democratic nomination by launching an ad targeting Barack Obama’s recent comments about working-class voters clinging to “guns or religion.” The ad is a marked change from her recent determination to use a positive message until the Democratic convention, but for Clinton to capture the nomination she needs to completely abandon her positive campaign and continue to hammer away at Obama.

It pretty much goes on from there. But, seriously, what is Schoen smoking? Hasn’t Clinton been going after Obama pretty much tooth and claw for like eight weeks? Politics ain’t bean bag. And if you’re going to take down the establishment candidate you need to expect an onslaught, especially one with a potent and resilient base of support in the party. Perhaps the hothouse environment has simply gone on too long at this point. But it’s getting really hard for me not to conclude that a lot of these guys in the Penn/Clinton consultant world have simply gone insane.

There’s this meme I’ve heard recently that contrary to popular impression this campaign has been defined by what the Politico calls its “essential prissiness.” I guess if the point of comparison is one of the campaigns Karl Rove ran in Alabama or Texas in the 1990s that may be true. But it is hard for me to see where this is not the most bitter and negative Democratic primary in the last forty years. ’92 had some harsh moments. But Bill Clinton had it wrapped up too quickly for it to get too intense.

In any case, Schoen was once joined at the hip with Mark Penn, his polling and consulting partner. My understanding was that they were barely on speaking terms anymore — though Penn apparently reached out to him at one of the points earlier this year when he was swirling down the bowl of the Clinton campaign. And I notice he’s no longer listed as being a part of what was their firm Penn, Schoen & Berland. So I don’t know if we’re supposed to see this as in some sense coming from that direction.

But here’s the advice …

Clinton needs to argue that despite what Obama has said, he has done very little to actually promote and create bipartisan solutions in Washington and that he is, in fact, probably the Senate’s most liberal member. She needs to argue that his values are out of step with voters, as evidenced by his recent comments about why people are religious or seek to own guns. She also must argue that because of Obama’s lack of legislative accomplishments, he is ill-equipped to achieve what he sets out to do.

By making these arguments compellingly in public appearances, through television and radio advertisements, and direct mail, Clinton can take advantage of the clear majority of American voters who have already said that they wholeheartedly disagree with the views Obama expressed last week in San Francisco.

In other words, to win the nomination Clinton must portray Obama as an effete liberal, with San Francisco values, who is out of touch with ordinary Americans, who can’t reach bipartisan compromises and is an extreme liberal. Or to put it another way, she must run against him as a Republican.

I won’t put this on Clinton. The last I heard Schoen was working for Bloomberg. And his current connection with Penn is unclear to me. But I do think he is representative of some part of the consultant class. And from a Democratic perspective he represents something deeply malignant.

I’d be curious to hear from friends of mine who have or in other cases do work with, just what is up.

Late Update
: Several readers have written in to point to 1980 as a campaign that rivals or surpasses this one for bitterness. That and 1972 probably qualify. So I’ll amend my statement above with those qualifiers. Giving it a little more thought, while I’ll stick to my general point about relative acrimony and bitterness, I think there’s something distinct about this race precisely because there is so relatively little in policy terms separating the two candidates. The 1972 campaign would be an example where there was a vast chasm dividing the Democratic party. I won’t begin to dispute how bitter those divisions were. But I think the relative inability of partisans on both sides of this current contest to point to clear ideological or policy divisions separating them from the other side has given the acrimony of this race an especially personal edge. Also, as I’ve noted before, this long period without any contests but only spin and war-room bloodsport has really untethered the debate.

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