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Ezra Klein on the Disloyalty of the Clinton Staffers


Ezra Klein | The American Prospect: Yesterday, Howard Wolfson started as a Fox News political analyst, where he'll join Lanny Davis. Today, Mark Penn announced he's going to “create a bipartisan consulting organization to advise corporations in crisis.” His first hire? Former Bush administration PR flack Karen Hughes.

The most powerful case against Clinton's candidacy was always her political advisers. They were, and are, the sort who sign up with Fox News, and enter into business partnerships with Karen Hughes. And they do all that while they're still associated with Clinton, and when their services might still be needed in the near future.

Clinton's domestic policy instincts often seemed better than Obama's, but her political instincts, as evidenced by the folks she gathered around her, were far worse. It was hard to believe anyone who's internal compass pointed progressive would nevertheless spend millions of dollars asking Mark Penn for advice. The answer, from Clinton supporters, was always that it was about loyalty. These folks had been in the foxhole with Clinton, and she trusted them.

But there's nothing loyal about Penn's decision to partner with Hughes, or Wolfson's decision to rush to Fox -- these moves hurt Clinton. They make her a less likely choice for vice president and ensure there will be yet more ammunition against her if she ends up running in 2012. Similarly, there was nothing loyal about Mark Penn continuing to run his unionbusting PR firm Burson-Marsteller while serving as chief strategist for her campaign. Even Karl Rove had to give up his other jobs before becoming Bush's Svengali.

The political professionals clustered around the Clintons have acted like self-interested operatives, not altruistic loyalists. Their presence has hurt Clinton, their conflicts of interest have hurt Clinton, and their professional decisions and public statements have emphasized all of her political weaknesses and all of the base's fears about her campaign. Frankly, she deserved better.

The performance of Penn, Ickes, Wolfson, and company in February--happily dishing dirt, blaming the others for the failure to wrap up the nomination on Super Tuesday, in the hope of getting brownie points with reporters--was the most staggering and astonishing act of political disloyalty I have yet seen...