Tuesday, January 08, 2008

So That's Why People Hate Mark Penn

I'm a latecomer to the whole debate about Mark Penn, the much-reviled chief strategist and pollster for Hillary Clinton. His December smackdown on Hardball by his John Edwards counterpart Joe Trippi was much-deserved, but is it a case of a brilliant guy who shouldn't be put in front of a camera?

For those of you behind the story line as I am, Ezra Klein's review of Penn's book Microtrends would make one think it would be madness to put the guy in a position of any authority. The methodology is brutal:

In a chapter called “Aspiring Snipers,” Penn explains, “It’s the rare moment when a poll stops me in my tracks and reorients my understanding of things.” One such poll was conducted last fall, when Bendixen and Associates asked 601 young Californians what they’d be doing in 10 years. About 1 percent—so, a handful—said they’d be snipers. Certainly, that’s an odd reply. But Penn never mentions that the Bendixen poll had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent—four being a larger number than one. Additionally, it’s meaningless without further study. Anyone in the age bracket would attribute it to video games, or snipers being, let’s admit it, quite cool. Yet Penn, based on no follow-up interviews, detects a “new patriotism,” and a desire “to master complex mathematical formulas like how distance or wind might affect the path of the bullet.” This simply isn’t professional work.

There appears to be much more of the same. This is admittedly a stretch, but I can't help think that one commonality between Penn's logic and the Clintons' worst examples is an unquestioning belief that they are right, which leads to many of the most outrageous statements they make. They just don't understand the criticism because they are incapable of seeing their own faults.

Huh. That sounds a bit familiar.

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