What We Can Learn From the Clinton Memos

Hillary Clinton Crying
Photo: Getty Images

As we blogged earlier, The Atlantic has gotten its hands on a treasure trove of Hillary Clinton's campaign memos, revealing the dysfunction, infighting, and indecision that led to the once-inevitable campaign's eventual downfall. Some of the details are fascinating, allowing us to look into the thoughts, nay, the very souls, of Team Clinton. Plus, with Barack Obama on vacation, John McCain not making news, and the Olympics in full swing, the current campaign has hit something of a lull. Which is why today the political commentariat is zeroing in on those Clinton memos.

• Chuck Todd and friends say the memos "paint a picture of Mark Penn as someone who just doesn't seem human...[and] show Hillary Clinton as shockingly paralyzed." It's clear that Clinton's management problems would have been an issue whether or not John Edwards had run, despite Howard Wolfson's revisionist claims. [First Read/MSNBC]

• Josh Marshall concludes that despite the "clucking about whether the campaign's message just accidentally stumbled on to charged words and association," it's clear now "that the people in charge of the message weren't sloppy and unlucky but rather what you would expect, professionals following a detailed plan." [Talking Points Memo]

• Marc Ambinder doesn't get the sense from the Obama campaign that they are "particularly troubled by the revelation" that Mark Penn wanted to portray Obama as "foreign." [Atlantic]

• Allahpundit thinks the "real surprise" of the piece is that there's "no evidence of any malfeasance by the Clintons. Incompetence aplenty, to be sure, but all the dicier stuff comes from Penn." [Hot Air]

• Ben Smith finds this Penn line — "He may be the JFK in the race, but you are the Bobby" — "a bit ironic in light of the late-in-the-day RFK flap." [Politico]

• Greg Sargent thinks it's interesting "just how far off Hillaryland's radar that guy from Illinois was." John Kerry, Edwards, and Al Gore all got their own entries in one of Penn's early overviews of the race, while Obama was bunched in with Chris Dodd, Tom Vilsack, and Joe Biden. [Talking Points Memo Election Central]

• James Fallows takes note of how "the perfection of the technology for spreading and sharing written material has made writing weirdly less useful for conveying private thought," as anything you e-mail "could turn up somewhere unexpected months or years or decades later." [Atlantic]

• Nate Silver is surprised that in Penn's discussion of important demographic variables in the race, he "gives short shrift to the most important demographic variable of all, which was race." The 100-point swing in support she suffered among black voters "translates to a 20-point swing among all voters. And that, essentially, was how the primary was lost." From the memos, it's clear "that the Clinton campaign had very little idea this was coming." [Five Thirty Eight]

• Taylor Marsh wonders if, in light of the Edwards affair and now these memos, "the stars" are "converging to sabotage the Democrats," or if Democrats are doing it to themselves. [Taylor Marsh]

• Mike Allen thinks the "juiciest" memo is Penn's New Hampshire–strategy memo testing which negative messages about Obama were most effective at making voters less likely to vote for him. Allen calls this "McCain's Blueprint." [ Politico] —Dan Amira

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.