Archive for August 29th, 2008

De-Clawed Pumas

When the PUMA movement formed after Barack Obama became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, they claimed they were fighting against the injustices suffered by Hillary Clinton in the campaign.  The acronym means “Party unity my ass,” (or in more polite company they shift it to “People united means action”) and a plethora of websites started posting conspiracy theories against Obama, charges of sexism as undercutting Hillary’s campaign, and claims that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had hijacked the party and selected a candidate they considered unqualified and weak.  They vowed to pressure the superdelegates, fight on to Denver, make a strong showing of party disunity at the Democratic National Convention and become a major political force to ‘take back’ the Democratic party.

This week in Denver, the pumas were completely, utterly and totally declawed.  They had already lost their political potency.  Their blogs became more strident, they deleted any comments that did not follow their party line (while complaining about alleged censorship from others) and increasingly delved into fantasy.  They were convinced they could shift the superdelegates to Clinton with data on Obama’s alleged weaknesses, they were convinced Obama wasn’t a real citizen (and angered/puzzled why the media didn’t pick up on the story) and slowly morphed into the internet equivalent of an inbred family out of touch with the broader world.  Once held to scrutiny by websites such as “Yes to Democracy,” it became clear the pumas lacked members, lacked money and were led by people with suspicious ties to the GOP.

This was on display in two major puma moments this week.  The first was a Daily Show appearance.  But it wasn’t a conversation with Jon Stewart, it was as subjects of a scathing comedy bit by John Oliver.  Oliver gathered some ‘pumas’ in the studio and cleverly juxtaposed their complaints that “it’s not far to call someone a racist for not supporting Obama,” to “Hillary lost because of sexism, and people didn’t support her because they are sexist.”  The obvious contradiction was lost on them.  Then Oliver consulted a child psychologist to figure out how to ‘heal’ these pumas, saying essentially that the pumas were acting like children who needed help.   On “Hardball” Chris Matthews interviewed a few who were spouting off that “Obama went to a Muslim school and was registered as a Muslim,” and “he isn’t legally qualified to be President.”  They sounded like nutcases, and when pressed by Matthews for where they were getting the information, they got angry.

Then to top it all off, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton give Obama ringing, clear and unqualified endorsements.  Even when they tried to say, “well, Hillary didn’t come out and see he is qualified,” Bill cut that off by stating that explicitly, and comparing Obama with himself 16 years ago.  Clinton himself had been the brunt of similar criticisms about his lack of experience, but that didn’t matter.

To be sure, there are many voters who supported Hillary but won’t support Obama.  There are many Republicans who can’t support McCain.  Most in each party will come around by November, but not all.   But not every Democrat for McCain is part of the “puma” movement.  The pumas are a small subset of voters who got so emotionally involved in Hillary Clinton the person that they became engulfed by a kind of ‘cult of personality’ so strong that they can’t let go even when the subject of the cult explicitly says “it’s’ not about me the person, it’s about the people who need help.” (that’s a paraphrase)

The dynamics behind the pumas are similar to the dynamics of fascism.  First, there is an emotional connection to both the ideal and more importantly to others sharing their belief.  Second, this morphs over time into the ability to create alternate realities, whereby the world literally looks different to them than to the rest of us.  Barack Obama becomes himself a caricature, an un-American child like egomaniac named Barry Sortero who was really born in Kenya, lost his citizenship when his mom moved to Indonesia, and only because of sexism was chosen by the DNC (you know that the Democrats hate equal rights for women, not like those progressive Republicans) to run for President.  They try guilt by association, and wonder why no one takes Rev. Wright or William Ayres seriously — they can’t believe that others don’t see these as major issues, even though it’s obvious that they are meaningless.

Some are resistant to reality at every level.  Over at “Hillary is 44,” they reposted her speech, but eliminated any reference to Barack Obama.   Noquarter simply mocks Obama, and on Tuesday triumphantly claimed that the Gallup poll shows Obama will lose, as McCain had a two point lead in that tracking poll.  (As of Thursday evening, when this is being written, Obama had bounced back to take a six point lead).  Hillbuzz seems to give up any pretension of being progressive, embracing McCain and Pawlenty (they claim he’s McCain’s choice), while ridiculing “Emperor Obamasotero” in the usual attempt to simply caricature and mock Obama.  The sad thing is, I think they are convinced by their rhetoric.  The Confluence simply got weird, mixing claims of persecution, media conspiracy theories, and finally a kind of “together against the world” sort of attempt to keep their emotional community in tact.  The best they can do is attack Obama’s set for his speech, ignoring that it’s pretty standard fare for politicians of both parties for such addresses.  Admitting defeat, their group left Denver early, having been ignored by most, and repudiated by the woman they claim to support.

What started as anger over losing a hotly contested race has turned for some into a long term pathology.  While most Clinton supporters have moved on, even if some have decided to vote for McCain, this group has a visceral hatred for Obama and, in a funny example of projection, see Obama’s supporters as being caught up in a cult!  They talk about Obama as being seen as the “messiah,” when by any objective measure he’s being treated much like people responded to Clinton, Reagan, or other popular candidates.   They cling to each other to bolster their emotional connection to the ’cause,’ and purge their blogs of comments that expose the contradiction between their perspective and reality.  Many of them truly believed that Hillary could still get the nomination, even though any astute political observer realized that it was impossible.

But these declawed pumas are running out of time.  Their numbers are dwindling, as people who were with them start to realize that they should be proud of the historic selection of an African American for President (even if they still would have preferred an historic selection of a woman), and that the issues at stake are bigger than any one person.  As they hear about the personal lives of Michelle and Barack Obama, as well as Joe Biden’s story, they recognize the silliness in the conspiracy theories and mocking rhetoric of the puma websites.

The “true believers” who will hold on to the end, so invested in their anti-Obama fantasies, afraid to change because it would be to give victory to those Obama supporters they’ve learned to hate and feel superior to, will find themselves alienated from the whole process.    They will fade, though websites are easy to maintain, and some will hold on to a community of readers — in the hundreds, not tens of thousands (let alone millions!).  Most will believe they were justified, but their movement became untenable so they have to focus on the reality fo the situation.   The Democrats are leaving Denver virtually united.  Yet, despite the puma irrationality, Obama still needs to convince Americans he can lead, and there will still be questions from the right that he’ll have to deal with if he wants to win the race in the fall.  But the puma movement is not only declawed, but essentially dead.

Leave a comment