I confess that I’m continually baffled by the popularity of “Hillary PUMAs” – those (alleged) Hillary partisans who value her victory even over the victory of Democrats, both at the presidential level, and downticket. I’ve asked myself time and time again, what makes them tick? Why potentially sacrifice a Democratic presidency just to make a point? In the following post, I assume that the PUMAs have a rational goal, which they’re pursuing rationally, attempt to pinpoint that goal, and in the end abandon the presumption to arrive at their true motivation: anger, weaponized & exploited by the McCain camp. While it’s not fair to characterize PUMAs as puppets or affiliates of John McCain, one can at least perceive his barely-visible hand.
Make no mistake, PUMAs – you’re being exploited, albeit indirectly, and coerced into undermining your own dearly held beliefs.
Rational Goals, Pursued Rationally?
Before getting to that point, though, we have to dispose of rational explanations for PUMA-ism. We hear Hillary-or-die movements defended on the grounds that men don’t get women’s issues. Rationally, it seems that, if women’s issues are PUMAs’ interest, doing anything to harm Barack Obama, even in the name of getting Hillary on the ticket, is the height of nearsightedness. To fight a losing battle for a losing candidate (Hillary), the collateral damage of which threatens to elect a candidate opposed to women on nearly every issue, borders on the self-defeatist, despite any grudge you may hold. McCain, after all, is the height of anti-feminism, and no departure from the Republican Party’s traditional platform of the subordination of women. Although McCain may promise not to have a “litmus test” for judges, make no mistake: McCain will end legalized abortion, roll back the clock on women’s rights in the workplace, and he won’t stop there. If you need someone smarter than me to prove this to you, ask Jeff Toobin. A McCain presidency is an end to the law’s protection of women.
Certainly, one might oppose Obama on fairness grounds: have a YouTube clip or two , if you can stand to hear Neil Cavuto speak. If one judges the primaries to have been “rigged” – as these individuals clearly do – tanking Obama’s candidacy might be an effective way of warning against future transgressions by the Democratic party. The problem this time is rather in the cost of the lesson, than in the self-defeating nature of the action. If PUMAs seek to preserve the viability and integrity of the Democratic Party, they go astray in that hurting Obama, in this crucial election, risks destroying the Democratic Party beyond all salvation, and wrecking a progressive agenda for generations to come. If Obama does not win this one – make no mistake – it’s over. Any goal of saving the Democratic Party from itself, then, goes astray in that the “tough love” is to tough by half. The lesson would destroy the party, and leave no-one to benefit from learning it.
That excludes rational pursuit of a rational policy goal as an explanation for the PUMAs’ behavior. And Hillary’s gone so far as to tell the PUMAs that much. There’s nothing rational about throwing a hissy-fit starting a civil war that tanks your agenda.
Creatures of McCain?
If rationalism is inadequate to explain the PUMAs’ motivations, explaining them away as fabrications of John McCain (who certainly benefits from them) is at most only a partial answer. While “Yes to Democracy” – kudos to Christina! – ably documents untoward connections between McCain and the PUMAs’ allegedly Democratic roots, ranging from pinpointing the locus of domain launches to campaign contributions, this is inadequate to explain those PUMAs whose Democratic provenance is beyond doubt. (Note: “Yes to Democracy” links are broken. The site is now hosted at this location.)
I would be unsurprised to learn that some recent arrivals on the PUMA blogosphere are McCain plants. According to YTD, that explains TexasDarlin, and her bizarre quests to prove that Obama is a Cylon, or something. It also makes sense of the violent racism evident in some “Hillary Democrats.” As one Hillary turned Obama supporter, commenting on this site, said of her encounter with a PUMA site, “I had never, EVER seen Democrats use that tone and language in all my 61 years of life.” Some of these people aren’t Democrats. Or, at least, they aren’t very good Democrats.
But at most that explains the launch of the PUMA movement, and only some of its members. “Conflucian” riverdaughter has a long Democratic history, and PUMA wouldn’t be half as powerful without legitimate turncoats like her. Clearly YTD is onto something here – there are Republican roots in the PUMA movement – but they don’t explain everything.
Synthesis: a Push in the Right Direction
The trick to defining what made PUMA is not to look for a single causal event, but rather to attempt to find a pattern of enduring manipulation. The sign of Republican manipulation of the PUMA movement lies not in any initiating event, but in the GOP’s continued stoking of the fires of rage. They’ve always been there to give Hillary Democrats that extra push off the cliff of sanity, into McCain’s waiting grasp.
Never underestimate the effect of an angry word on someone who feels like hope is gone. Every time a Hillary Democrat switches to McCain, the Republicans have been there to try to turn the disappointment of former Hillary supporters into something more useful to their ends: anger at Obama. Tommy Cristopher said it best, describing PUMAs as “a group of justly frustrated voters, fed up with a sexist culture and a confusing nominating process, being led by a disparate array of people with other agendas.” In short, the Republicans have been at the right places to channel disappointment into anger and divisiveness, and then over-hype it to the news media, to make it sound like more than it is (approx. 400 angry souls). It’s a fantastic PR coup, and a horrifying exploitation of the sadness of a large voting bloc.
Since one PUMA – riverdaughter/Goldberry – enjoys making Lord of the Rings parallels, I feel justified in doing the same. As a symbol of all PUMAs, riverdaughter might have done better with a different Lord of the Rings name, styling herself after a female Denethor or Theoden, her reason weakened by despair, and then subverted to self-destructive, misdirected hate by her original enemy (*ahem* Sauron/Wormtongue/McCain).
There are legitimate objections to Barack Obama. That he’s not Hillary Clinton is not one of them. One day PUMA bloggers will wake up and realize that they’ve been played, all along. Let’s hope Barack Obama is already president by that point, so that – for their sakes – they won’t have too many regrets.