Hillary Clinton ran an excellent campaign during the primary season, and if the structure of the primaries had been different, she might have been the nominee. She has handled herself with class and grace since the defeat, quickly reading the writing on the wall, apparently having an easier time coping with reality than her husband. Yesterday she met with Barack Obama in Unity, New Hampshire — a place where they split the vote evenly during the New Hampshire primary — to reinforce the idea that they are working together to defeat Barack Obama.
What I find more interesting are the “Hillary Cultists” out there, almost psychotic in their rabid hatred of Barack Obama (and his supporters) determined to claim some kind of victimhood over their candidate’s loss. You can find their rants at “the Confluence,” which sounds like they are trying hard to convince themselves they are right, or “no quarter,” a place where the man who gave us the Michelle Obama video rumor continues to try to fly rumor whispers about Rezko, Obama’s birth certificate, or probably soon, his association with Martians. And though he has been shown to be wrong so often, the true believers who want to believe that Obama will somehow disappear keep coming back. Finally there is a truly bizarre site, “Hillary is 44,” with a photo of Hillary which appears to be from back when she was 44 years old. These folk wear their hatred of Obama on their sleeves as they whine about how they’re victims to the sexism of the Democratic party. Lastly, there is “Hillbuzz,” which seems to be obsessed with with the Chicago gay pride parade (huh?)
What drives these people? To be sure, if Hillary had won and Obama had lost I would probably be posting about Obama diehards, who would be complaining of racism, cronyism, and inside party big wig deals. They would be perhaps even more evident on the web, given that Obama’s supporters tend to be more active in the blogosphere and web discussion groups. This isn’t about Clinton or anything particular about her supporters, it’s about that subset of supporters in both campaigns who can’t let go of their emotion and instead become dogmatic, irrational, and angry.
Moreover, this does not include everyone who doesn’t switch support from Clinton to Obama. Many people aren’t driven by ideology and just go by who they identify with more. Some who liked Clinton just prefer McCain to Obama. Some have decided that they want to support Nader. That’s fine. I’m talking about that small minority who hold on to their bitterness and anger, turn it into rage against Obama and his supporters, and despite claiming to be life long Democrats or progressive/liberals have decided they prefer McCain to Obama. I mean those people who have fallen into a state that brings to mind the phrase the ‘cult of personality,’ where they are so focused on the person they identify with that the issues and larger picture becomes secondary. They truly believe the DNC conspired against Clinton, that this is unfair, and that they have been mistreated. It is not a rational belief.
The most bizarre argument they make is that Roe v. Wade doesn’t matter because the Court already has the votes to overturn it. That’s doubtful, but if that were true that would be all the more reason to take that issue seriously, you would think they’d want a President who could change that balance, or at least prevent it from getting even worse. But they are definitely not thinking rationally, it’s raw emotion.
Part of this is par for the course in politics. Campaigns are emotional, and people naturally become very intensely bound up in their candidate, especially if they are contributing money, time and effort on her behalf. It’s not easy to break that; it’s not easy to go from seeing the opponent and bad, someone who must be defeated, to accepting that the game is over and while close, your person lost. People want to blame the loss on nefarious elements, people in our culture embrace a victim mentality.
Most pundits believe that despite it’s close and hard fought nature, the Clinton-Obama fight was relatively mild; both held back because they knew that going negative would hurt them in the eyes of the Democratic electorate. Yet in the emotion of a campaign, supporters remember those moments when there was something offensive said, or an attack that seemed unfair. They remember process questions they lost, things that maybe should have been done differently. They fixate on these, go over them in their minds until they become so important that they construct a barrier that makes it impossible to let go. Both sides do it, but the winner can more easily let go since they have the prize; those on the losing side find it difficult.
On top of that, websites and discussion groups allow supporters who don’t want to let go of the emotion and accept that they lost to reinforce each others’ sense of victimization and unfairness. They bolster each others’ denial. And because of their bitterness, they draw angry comments from the other side, insults from Obama supporters which serve only to reinforce their sense of righteousness and victimhood. In fact, I suspect a lot of Republicans are playing this game pretending to be Hillary or Obama supporters in order to try to keep bitterness alive.
So the result is a small cadre of true believers, unable to distinguish reality from their emotional connection to an individual, driven to hate the other side and the other candidate. They feel self-righteous, believe that they see better the reality than do others, become more like cultists than activists. And if they are active on those websites, they’ll start feeling a groupthink loyalty to other like minded folk, and thus push aside any temptation to rethink their position. It becomes more jihad than political campaign.
The sad thing is that if Barack Obama wins, they will not enjoy the Democratic victory. While most Democrats would feel that this would clear away the wounds of the 2000 election, and create a chance at a real Democratic majority (since the Democrats are almost certain to gain in the House and Senate), the Hillary diehards will feel angry and impotent. They will be those few Americans who felt cheated in both 2000 and 2008, unable to join their fellow progressives and Democrats in celebration. If Obama loses, they’ll have a Pyhrric victory. It’ll be the kind of petty “I’m glad something bad happened to someone I don’t like” satisfaction, even while watching their policy preferences become less likely to be achieved.
For their sake, one hopes that the group of Hillary diehards slowly wake up to reality, and the emotion of the fall campaign starts pushing out the residual emotion of the spring campaign.