By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tell us something we don’t know

I just spent, oh, the last hour and a half reading Roger Simon’s dauntingly well-reported piece for the Politico on how Barack Obama managed to beat the Clinton juggernaut. (Chuck Todd was praising it on Tom Ashbrook’s show this morning. Do we really believe he had time to read it?)

Like Joshua Green’s Atlantic article on what went wrong with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it is full of insight and nuance. And, like Green’s piece, I ultimately found it unsatisfying. Here’s the problem: No one other than a political junkie is going to read such a story. And we political junkies have been living all this in real time for many, many months.

Both Simon and Green remind us of details we might have forgotten, skillfully weave a mass of information into coherent narratives and come up with some previously unreported nuggets. (Green: Mark Penn is smarter and more awful than we thought. Simon: Obama’s brain-trusters actually believed they could knock Clinton out in the opening weeks of the primary season.) In the end, though, they don’t do much more than tell us what we already know.

If there’s one thing of value I learned from the two accounts, it’s that no one should believe the Democrats would be in better shape today if Clinton had won the nomination — especially if she had won it easily, and had not had to put her dysfunctional campaign staff to the test.

OK, two. I think it’s a pretty good bet that Simon and Green are going to write books about this historic campaign. At nearly 16,000 words, Simon’s article is already about a quarter of the way there.

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  1. Tony

    Thanks for posting this and, again, like you said, beyond us junkies, there isn’t a lot here we haven’t heard already. However, in eyeing it quickly, I’m struck by what a disaster competing in South Carolina was for the Clinton campaign. I really didn’t realize this but had they had openly let it go and allowed Edwards to come in a strong second, they may have been a bit stronger in the Super Tuesday states. They would not have had Bubba coming uncorked or a massive almost 30 point loss either. As well, Edwards probably would have continued into the Super Tuesday primaries and potentially could have siphoned off votes from Obama. Granted, some polling suggests that Edwards took more votes from Clinton. So, who knows at this point.

  2. Don, American

    It ain’t over yet. Watch Slick Willie at the convention.

  3. Mark

    Is it just me or did the Simon article seem really unfair?It seemed like the Obama campaign, by speaking on the record, was able to give what seemed liked talking points about how organized the Obama campaign has been. The reader was forced to accept the timeline and narrative of people like Axelrod and Plouffe – who obviously still have a vested interest in portraying a competent campaign machine. Clinton’s former aides all spoke off-the-record, and were therefore at will to trash a defunct campaign.Simon even reported anonymous rumors (Solis Doyle watched soap operas in her office) even though the subject of those rumors had denied them. I liked the Joshua Green article. It seems like Simon was manipulated by the Obama campaign – and his version of the Clinton campaign’s collapsed was unfair.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Mark: I know what you mean. But the people who worked for Clinton lost, so it’s to be expected that they have transformed themselves into off-the-record backstabbers, as opposed to the Obama folks, who are happy and on the record.You raise a good point about Simon’s not-for-attribution anecdote about Solis Doyle. Here’s what I hope it means: Simon has verified it, feels comfortable going with it, and wants us to believe him based on his reputation.I have no reason to think Simon is using anonymous sources to shovel unverified crap out there.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Mark: I went back and re-read that section of Simon’s piece. It seems clear that what he’s doing is showing how dysfunctional the campaign was, not that Solis Doyle was actually watching soap operas in her office. Here’s the section:The Hillary Clinton campaign was an unhappy family. I was told by Clinton campaign staffers that Mike Henry, the deputy campaign manager, stalked Clinton headquarters in Ballston, Va., with a baseball bat in his hand. I was told that Patti Solis Doyle stayed in her office watching soap operas and refused to return the phone calls of governors, members of Congress and Bill Clinton. I was told that there were suspicions that Mark Penn, the campaign’s pollster and chief strategist, “cooked the books” in presenting his polling results. (All denied the accusations.) It was that kind of campaign.I think Simon’s point is that Clinton campaign folks believed this to be true, whether it actually was or not. Perhaps he could have been clearer.

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