THE BLOG
04/07/2008 07:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mark Penn, Not Reverend Wright, is the Mega-Embarrassment of this Campaign

Choose one:

Sitting in Reverend Wright's church and hearing him say "God damn America" in the heat of rhetorical spasm...

...or sitting in a conference room and listening to Mark Penn, CEO of the PR and lobbying firm Burson-Marsteller, coolly spin up ways to defend Blackwater or Phillip Morris or Exxon Mobil. Or setting up the "Foundation for Clean Air Progress" -- a front group to "turn back EPA regulations for smog and soot."

I'd head for Chicago any day. I'd rather see authenticity than corruption.

Oh, and if I've misstated any of Burson-Marsteller's clients, forgive me. They don't list any of their current clients on their website. Carefully selected, benign case histories, yes. Current clients, no. (Just like the Clinton Foundation doesn't list any of its donors. That's opacity as a strategy).

I've been amazed for months that Mark Penn has been able to hold down the job of Senator Clinton's chief strategist, while being CEO of a global firm with 58 wholly-owned and 45 affiliated offices in 59 countries. My incredulity isn't based on the poor baby's time constraints; I'm sure that his clients are willing to trade his time for the dazzling lubricity of access.

What's surprised me is that the supposedly Obama-besotted press has largely given a free pass to Penn and the Clinton campaign for what is clearly a crazy conflict of interest. Does anyone believe for a moment that the lines between the presidential campaign and Burson-Marsteller's client work have been kept crisp and uncrossed? Does anyone believe that the bacteria and slime that grow in the murky world of lobbying and "strategic communication" aren't fattened by the entrée he provides?

Actually, there's apparently so much line-crossing going on that Mark Penn got confused about which business card to whip out at the meeting that got him canned. He was hob-nobbing with Colombian Ambassador Carolina Barko Isakson -- about a bilateral trade treaty that Senator Clinton opposes but his firm has been hired to advance -- without making it clear who he was representing at the meeting.

The confusion is understandable. The Clintons have been blurring the lines, and getting away with it, for years. The line between the Lincoln bedroom and the Lincoln legacy, the line between a pardon and a payoff, the line between snipers and flowers, the line between opposing the Dubai Ports deal and helping the UAE work it through the system at the same time.

Mark Penn represents everything that's wrong with the American political system: paid access, unfettered lobbying, market-tested nothingness, cross-over conflicts. This amoral manipulation, and the evil that grows from it, dwarfs the Reverend's rants from every conceivable vector.