The Last Hillary 2008 Supporters: A Journey Into the Surreal World of the PUMAs


By Joe Campbell
July 7th, 2008

[digg-reddit-me]A puma, like the PUMAs
[Photo by victor+.]
Every once in a while, I try to check out that hidden corner of the blogosphere where Hillary Clinton supporters still live.

Over the course of the Democratic nomination, most of the online energy went to Barack Obama, Ron Paul, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Mike Gravel. The conservative opinionsphere jumped from Giuliani to Romney to, finally, reluctactly, McCain. The liberal opionsphere seemed to weigh the pros and cons of Edwards and Obama for some time, finally coming down decisively with Obama after Iowa. Hillary Clinton, in all of this, had few web proxies.

There were some – like MyDD and Taylor Marsh – but eventually, after the stalemate of February 5th and the string of twelve consecutive wins by Obama, a new mini-opinionsphere grew out of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mainly, they were women who had taken every slight against Hillary as a personal insult; some just had a deep and abiding distrust of Barack Obama, for whatever reason. What was most perplexing to me is that this movement finally bloomed the moment Obama had taken an insurmountable lead. Despite the win in Ohio and half of the Texas two-step, and the win later in Pennsylvania, Obama never fell behind after his string of victories in February, and never even came close. And any clear-eyed analyst could see from that point that the nomination was Obama’s to lose.

But a certain segment of Hillary supporters found strength and popularity in denying the inevitable, in railing against reality.

Given the way this movement was born, it is unsurprising that small things – like Barack Obama’s mathematical clinching of the nomination or Hillary Clinton’s concession endorsement of Obama (a commentor pointed out that Hillary has yet to use the word “concede”) – would stop it. These PUMAs (Party Unity, My Ass) – as the acronym-prone, former Hillary supporter, and now die-hard anti-Obama activists now call themselves – continue to this day. Some of them, like Larry Johnson, play on fears, racial stereotypes and resentments and do their best Sean Hannity impressions. Others seem to be working full-time creating new acronyms, groups, and catchphrases. The newest and coolest catchphrase is “NObama, NOvember.”

Oddly, the arguments that are made tend to go like this:

  • Obama cannot win in November, which is why we need Hillary to be the nominee;
  • Let’s work hard to make sure Obama doesn’t win in November.

I have yet to see any acknowledgment from the PUMAs that Obama has won the Democratic nomination – and Hillary conceded it – unless you count the continuous references to stolen elections and the end of democracy as we know it. The closest I saw to an acknowledgment of Obama’s historic victory was at HillBuzz where – after suggesting that “we” would have to vote for Newt Gingrich over Obama – she wrote:

So, in the fall, barring a surprise Clinton re-entry into the race, it’s McCain over Obama for us.

In this world, there still is a chance for a surprise Hillary re-entry! Befitting the surreal world in which these blogs exist, many are still convinced that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, if only she is given a chance.

A group called The Denver Group has been formed to take action regarding the Democratic Convention in Denver with two of it’s primary goals listed as:

  • Speeches allowed by supporters of Senator Clinton on behalf of her candidacy.
  • A genuine roll call vote with Senator Clinton as a legitimate candidate. [Emphasis aded.]

In her personal blog, Heidi Li, one of the founders of The Denver Group writes, speculates on recent news:

As Senator Obama looses support, he may well be more and more afraid that if Senator Clinton’s name is put in nomination at the Democratic Party’s convention, then Senator Clinton might actually win the nomination.

It is unclear what Ms. Li means by Obama’s loss of support – as most recent polls show him leading John McCain by significant margins. But items like these aren’t acknowledged in PUMA-land.

HillBuzz tries to explain how her fellow Hillary devotees are feeling, and what is motivating them to oppose Obama so strongly:

Our loyalty is to Hillary Clinton, personally, because we believe in her and her goals. We are no longer to the Democratic Party, because we stopped believing in it on May 31st. Whoever came up with the idea to steal 4 of Clinton’s delegates in Michigan and give them to Obama is responsible for this – you can thank that person in November…

We’re hard pressed to think of anyone Obama could run against that would force us to choose him over the opponent. At this point, after the way Obama’s campaign has treated us, and continues to treat us, we’d vote for Gingrich over Obama. And he divorced his wife while she was dying of cancer. But, we trust Gingrich to protect this country and respect its values and traditions…

So, in the fall, barring a surprise Clinton re-entry into the race, it’s McCain over Obama for us. [My emphasis added.]

It’s worth pointing out that the writer of this piece only refers to two non-self-referencing facts: Newt Gingrich’s tawdry personal life and the May 31 compromise that split the Michigan vote. There is no talk of policy; there is no discussion of what an Obama or McCain administration would look like. Instead, the writer is trying to make two points:

  • Obama didn’t treat “us” well – a highly dubious point on it’s own;
  • And “we” will vote for anyone except Obama to punish him.

An ancillary reason to trust Gingrich and to not trust Obama is that we need a president who will “protect this country and respect its values and traditions.” I’m sure elsewhere in the PUMA opinionsphere someone has listed the reasons why Obama doesn’t want to protect his country and doesn’t respect it’s values and traditions.

Balancing out this vision of Hillary as messiah is a visceral hatred of Barack Obama, as demonstrated in this oft-repeated phrase:

Obama simply cannot be trusted. Obama cannot be trusted on any issue. Obama cannot be trusted by his friends. Obama cannot be trusted by his enemies. Obama cannot be trusted.

This Hillaryis44 post repeats this same phrase three times and Larry Johnson and many other PUMAs have taken it us as a slogan to go alongside NObama, NOvember.

PUMAs and Projections

The John Birch Society so feared the efficacy of Communist subversives, that they created a secret society that mimicked the imagined Communist subversive threat. Republicans believed that CNN was a far left organization pushing the Democratic agenda under the guise of objectivity – so they created Fox News to take on the same role for the Republican party. American history is replete with examples of groups who deliberately mimic their enemy’s imagined tactics.

The movement that grew out of Hillary Clinton’s losses proves to be yet another example of this trend in American history. The PUMAs (Party Unity, My Ass) seem to have embraced the (real and imagined) aspects of the Obama campaign that led them to reject Obama’s candidacy:

  • They explicitly see Hillary Clinton as a messianic figure, the only one who can save the Democratic party. (See above.)
  • They deliberately disrespect and attack those demographic groups that did not support Hillary in the primaries. (Remember when Hillary was introduced by a man attacking “the latte-drinking, Prius- driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust fund babies crowding in to hear [Obama] speak!”)
  • They have adopted the right wing talking points used to attack Obama. (This might be unfair, as it could have been Hillary surrogates themselves who gave the right wingers like Sean Hannity these talking points – so while Obama supporters did adopt certain right-wing talking points about Hillary to use against her, Hillary supporters may have invented the talking points against Obama and given them to the right-wing.)
  • Although they started out defending the role of superdelegates as those people who have the best interests of the Democratic party at heart, they now attack them for being un-democratic (and un-Democratic) – which is something Obama surrogates never came close to doing, but Clinton supporters constantly accused them of doing.
  • Many – though not all PUMAs – have resorted to race-baiting and gender-card-playing, at least on occasion. (The constant rumors of a Michelle Obama ‘Whitey’ video come from one of the founding PUMAs.)
  • They take umbrage at the smallest slight and impute near evil motives on every move that Barack Obama takes. (Which to be fair, is something some of Obama’s supporters did do – Andrew Sullivan for example.)

The key lesson I take away from this journey into the alternate reality that the PUMAs live in is this: they are a force to be reckoned with and a force that will remain in politics for some years – at least as long as Barack Obama is in the national political arena. To paraphrase Michelle Goldberg’s excellent piece in The New Republic exploring the crisis in the women’s movement that Hillary’s campaign created, the psychic wound irritated in this hard-fought primary is not Obama’s fault, but it is his problem.

Obama has already taken steps to woo Hillary Clinton’s supporters – and he will win most of the 18 million over to his side. Within those big Democratic states that Hillary Clinton won in the primary, Obama now has a sizeable lead over McCain (and in many, he also had a large lead over Hillary before the primaries ended). But there are some – and they are organized, they are angry, and they are wealthy – who will continue to fight until past the end. And there are many others who will be sympathetic – remembering how Hillary’s campaign made them feel.

If Barack Obama is elected in 2008, expect to see a PUMA or two sneak into Congress. And expect a few Congresswomen and Senators to ally with them. Hillary herself will keep her distance.

Unless Obama is able to somehow heal this particular psychic wound, the PUMAs will continue to cause him problems. It’s hard to say what impact these PUMAs will have. But if it is true that all it takes to change the world is a small group of dedicated people, then the PUMAs will be able to have an impact – as they are small in number and large in dedication.