Top Clinton Adviser Wanted to Go After Obama as Lacking American Roots and Values

By Lee Speigel

Aug 10, 2008 7:44pm

Having obtained hundreds of internal emails and memos, Joshua Green of The Atlantic has a fascinating piece about the internal fighting at Hillary Clinton HQ.

Yes, they’re still leaking to make each other look bad. Given the narrowness of Sen. Barack Obama’s win over Sen. Hillary Clinton, one wonders what the outcome would have been had they channeled some of this energy into defeating Obama instead of one another.

But I digress.

Among the most striking findings are memos and emails from senior strategist Mark Penn suggesting that the Clinton campaign suggest that Obama is something "other" than American.

"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," Penn writes. "Save it for 2050. It also exposes a very strong weakness for him – his roots to basic American values and culture are at best limited. I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and values…

"How we could give some life to this contrast without turning negative," Penn continued, "Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America 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…Lets use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds."

Clinton did not appear to take this advice.

After Clinton’s crucial wins in Texas and Ohio, Penn continued to press the case that Obama needed to be attacked. “Does anyone believe that it is possible to win the nomination without, over these next two months, raising all these issues on him? A ‘nice’ campaign that wins the states along (sic) that can be won — will that be enough or do serious issues have to be raised about him? If you believe that serious issues need to be raised then we have to raise the without continual hesitation and we should be pushing the envelope. Won’t a single tape of (the Reverend Jeremiah) Wright going off on America with Obama sitting there be a game ender?"
   
Not all of Penn’s advice was so distasteful.

He wrote a memo in March 2007 laying out the demographic keys to Clinton’s victory, pushing her to be the champion of “the Invisible Americans,” namely “WOMEN, LOWER AND MIDDLE CLASS VOTERS."

But that said, there seemed little strategy to directly pursue these voters until too late in the game.

Instead, in-fighting was the name of the game.

Superlawyer Bob Barnett wrote an email to roughly 20 Clintonistas on March 6, 2008, with the subject line: "STOP IT!!!!"

"I have held my tongue for weeks," Barnett wrote after yet another story was published of Clinton campaign officials blaming each other for this and that. "(N)o longer. This makes me sick. This circular firing squad that is occurring is unattractive, unprofessional, unconscionable and unacceptable…My message is simple — STOP IT. Please."

It didn’t. 

- jpt

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