Ex-Clinton strategist: Obama needs event ‘similar’ to OKC to ‘reconnect’ with voters

The Raw Story | November 5th, 2010
By Stephen C. Webster

Talk about a bad analogy: Appearing on television recently, former Hillary Clinton campaign adviser and current public relations executive Mark Penn suggested that President Obama needs a moment "similar" to the tragic terrorist attack on the Oklahoma City federal building, in order to "reconnect" with voters.

He didn't even seem to flinch in making the comment.

Penn is currently president and CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a multi-national public relations firm. He also served in 2008 as chief strategist for then-Senator Hillary Clinton's run for the White House. Before that, Penn advised former British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his third run for the UK leadership post, and served clients such as AT&T, Texaco, Ford, Merck, Verizon, BP, McDonald’s and Microsoft.

After the events of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush experienced the highest approval ratings of his presidency, but the same could not be said of President Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing.

On April 19, 1995 -- the same day as the attack in Oklahoma -- President Clinton was sitting on a 46 percent approval rating, according to polling firm Gallup. Following his speech to the nation regarding the attack, a Time/CNN poll on April 27 found his approval had jumped to 60 percent, but it was back down to 42 percent by the end of May according to Gallup.

"Remember, President Clinton reconnected through Oklahoma, right?" Penn said, appearing on MSNBC's Hardball on Thursday. "And the president right now seems removed. It wasn't until that speech [after the bombing] that [Clinton] really clicked with the American public. Obama needs a similar -- a similar kind of ... Yeah."

By comparison, President Obama, freshly chastised by voters in the mid-term elections that flipped control of the US House into Republican hands, is in roughly the same place as President Clinton was after the 1994 mid-terms, although his party still controls the US Senate whereas Clinton's Democrats did not.

With an approval rating stuck at 44 percent according to Gallup, indicators as to how well the president's party is faring actually show a clear contrast between 1994 and 2010. Then, congressional Democrats were saddled with a 47 percent disapproval rating according to Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, whereas today they sit at 37 percent disapproval. 

All numbers considered, it seems at the very least cynical and at the very worst maniacal to suggest that a mass casualty event is just the thing Obama needs right now.

Following the Oklahoma City attack, Congress acted to implement most of the president's national security proposals, much as representatives did with the USA Patriot Act following Sept. 11, 2001.

Penn's claim is sure to stir up right-leaning conspiracy mills that insist federal agents helped Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on behalf of the Clinton administration. This is especially likely in the wake of President Clinton's analogy in April, comparing irrational tea party rage to the right-wing militia movement many credit with fostering McVeigh's thought process.