Hillary PUMAs – Handmaidens of John McCain, or Weaponized Disappointment?

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.


  1. I think it takes a seriously long stretch of the imagination to think that republicans are this cunning. This is the same group of people that we hound relentlessly for their stupid decision making and obviously poor long term planning. I mean, to give them this kind of credit when the reality of their failures over the last 8 years runs so counter to that, I just find it hard to do.

    This reminds me of the 9-11 truther claims in so many ways. On one hand, President Bush has the intelligence, cunning, and deviousness to carry out the single most spectacular ‘false flag’ op in the history of the world, but on the other hand, he is an idiot who doesn’t even know what day it is. Uh huh, sure. How do these juxtapositions get rationalized on the democratic side so easily? I have never understood it.

    I can think of at least 3 examples off of the top of my head where Obama has caused more anger to women SINCE securing the nomination:

    1. calling that female reporter ‘sweetie’ and then ignoring her; and offering a weak apology the next day. All the while, the entire affair being whitewashed by the aggressively pro-Obama media.
    2. reneging on his offer to help Hillary recoup her lost capital and making at best half hearted appearances at one or two fundraisers (one of which where he had to come back on stage because he forgot to mention Hillary….)
    3. Telling women voters in the democratic party to ‘just get over it’ instead of making an actual effort to reach out to them.

    No one in the Republican party had any say or push on those examples, and I’m sure there are others, these are just the ones that came to my mind immediately. Add this to a primary where taunts such as ‘wash my shirt’ at Hillary rallies were laughed at by the media, and many other examples that occurred, and it is not hard for me to see why PUMAs exist.

    I’m not saying that republicans aren’t jumping on the bandwagon after the fact and doing whatever little they can to now manipulate the events. I’m just saying, that I think the root causes are a little closer to home than the evil other party.

    In the end, it is hard to argue against the republican talking point that the democratic party is based on identity politics. The fact is, racial identity beat out feminist identity in this election cycle and that is going to make people who are bound to that very unwilling to accept the outcome.

    I think those reasons have a lot more to do with it than McCain’s ultra secret campaign manipulation.

  2. I agree to a point, but I don’t think that this requires too much Republican cunning. And let’s not look to Bush, let’s look to Rove. Rove & Rove trainees see the Democratic disunity – and those Obama f***-ups – and capitalize by giving them an outlet, and a push over the edge. Not much intervention, but the proper amount of abetting craziness to make it useful. No doubt there’s a lot of (justified) anger on behalf of Hillary voters, but I doubt this PUMA thing would exist without the narrative being crafted by both the media, and the other side.

  3. All they had to do in Florida was run their primary early enough to break Dem. Party rules.

    The escape hatch: For the party to move quickly enough to prevent such silliness in the future.

    But, politics will be politics, and “ratf-cking” in its various guises will always be around.

  4. By the way, since I am older than Barack, I found riverdaughter’s “parental scolding” came across as a rather immature attempt to criticize others for how they came to their own conclusions.

    PS, Hillary was my fourth choice (Kucinich, Edwards (ahem), Obama, then her) – but if she had *really* won the nomination I’d have her bumper sticker on my car now.

  5. Ames, I really think FCd has a good point and you’d be wise to give it more credence. For a long time Dems have found it easier to blame the other side than admit their own shortcomings cause problems. The 2004 election was gift-wrapped for them and Kerry simply blew it. Rather than admit it, they found it easier to blame a late season push for gay marriage (turning on their own) and Rove for politicizing it. The reality is that Kerry just ran a bad campaign, not that Rove is a genius. The same goes for Gore.

    One of the reasons the GOP continues to do well is because when we lose we look inward and roll up our sleeves. Playing the blame game doesn’t win elections.

  6. Aren’t you sort of saying the same thing? Yes most people agree that Kerry and Gore didn’t run the best campaigns and Kerry wasn’t that great a candidate, but it wasn’t just that they ran bad campaigns but Bush had to run a good campaign…and the thing that gave him the edge were the strategies implemented by Rove.

    It’s one thing I was thinking about in one of Ames comments about leaving the third party groups to do the attacks. It’s something Democrats are not quite as good at in my opinion. It’s been changing with the existence of moveon, but it’s been a slow shift in Democratic politics.

    I feel like a lot of the time Democrats have tried to play the high road and that hasn’t gotten us very far, and Democrats haven’t been as good at getting out the talking points, framing the issues on their terms. These are things that I think make a difference in politics. Getting out a message, sticking to it, getting the party in line, finding issues that resonant with voters. They’re basics but ones that Democrats haven’t been able to exploit.

  7. Just so, Oneiroi. The high road has gotten us no-where. Our ideas win, but that’s not enough for the American voter.

    I’ll agree with PC that the Democrats haven’t handled their elections well – Kerry stunk, Gore did well but was held back by his staff from being the dynamo that the voters wanted, and Obama seems to be in trouble – but a flagging campaign is necessary, but not sufficient, to account for the Democrats’ losses. These campaign troubles gave Republicans the window to convince the public not that they didn’t want Democratic values, but that they didn’t want the individual avatar of those values, through a series of smear campaigns. PC, isn’t the progressive way to indicate fault wherever it lies, in both parties?

  8. Lunch Admin · ·

    “There’s nothing rational about throwing a hissy-fit that tanks your agenda.”

    Ok point taken – but hissy-fit? Really Ames?

    You’ve made yourself a case in point on the PUMA agenda by describing their resentment in a term that means essentially “female anger at something trivial.”

  9. Ugh. What an unfortunate word choice on my part. Thanks for pointing that out to me; I’ll edit it away right now. I always conceived of that word as referring to children, not women. But… oops.

  10. “In the end, it is hard to argue against the republican talking point that the democratic party is based on identity politics.”

    Worse, this make it seem to be based on tokenist identity politics. Take a big piece of my identity: I believe that all spirituality is bogus, but if there were any truth to it, than “God” as depicted by all monotheist religions would be a tyrant to be overthrown and beheaded (worked for Robespierre, worked for Sadam). According to Wikipedia, the term is something like “misotheist”. Whatever. Point is, I can play identity politics two ways:
    1) I can decide my key question is “who will enact policies that benefit me best based on that identity, or most successfully block policies that harm me based on that identity?” and support the candidate best suited there. By that approach, donating to Ron Paul in the Republican Primary to block Huckabee or Brownback would probably have been the identity-politics based move for me to make.
    2) I can decide my key question is “Who is the most like a misotheist” and support the candidate who best matches my identity. By that approach, I should throw myself into support for Pete Stark’s re-election. Never mind his stance on any issue, and that his stance on some (hospital regulation, for instance) harms me/is one I’m opposed to.

    The approach in 1 is identity politics, but it’s identity politics where the identity issue affects the weight given to certain issues and the judgment passed on a candidate’s policy proposals and stances on certain issues. In other words, it’s a method of determining what your self-interest is so as to vote based on rational self-interest. The approach in 2 is also identity politics, but it’s identity politics where the identity issue affects the weight given to a candidate’s personal characteristics and ignores their stance on issues and their policy proposals.

    It does me good to support someone unlike me whose actions will benefit me. It does me no good – in fact it does me ill if for no other reason than opportunity costs- to support someone like me whose actions will not benefit me or will actively harm me. I think more people need to learn and accept that.

  11. I’ve voted Dem all my life. At this point, though, I’m old enough, have enough foreign-policy experience, and have seen enough of social services in action not to be terribly impressed by Obama’s vaunted promise or by most of the people he’s surrounded himself with, Biden being the signal exception. I’m also a single mom and recognize keenly the sexism that exists up and down the scale. My life is burdened by it daily. Why? Because there’s essentially no penalty for men who father children and then dump their responsibilities on women, but fail to pay respect and commensurate money for the work and career-bomb they’ve offloaded.

    I know McCain’s policies are anti-woman. Frankly, I’m not all that impressed by Obama’s pro-woman stuff. I’ve watched him in action in government, steamrolling female colleagues. His IL deadbeat-dad legislation is cosmetic. And I believe he’d trade away women’s rights and legislation protecting women in a heartbeat, if something more important to him or his sense of historical moment came along. At the same time, I think he’ll make me and my daughter poorer. I work like hell to support us, and I do not want to replace self-sufficiency with social services (try ’em for a while and see how wonderful you think they are). So if I’m going to get beat up for being a woman, I’d like at least to keep my money, rather than find myself taxed to pieces to support more dreadful social services. What a hellish culture they have, those social workers and social-services administrators.

    What about Biden? He’s for real, and he’s a sensible fella. VAWA is a meaningful piece of legislation, and he knows ass from elbow when it comes to foreign policy. And he doesn’t need a wife to tell him how to vote on abortion bills. But I bet you anything he’s marginalized in whatever best-and-brightest WH Obama puts together.

    I don’t know that I’ll vote for McCain, but I’m pretty sure I’m not voting Obama.

  12. Tell me how that’s logical though?

    It’s too close to stand on the sidelines with this much at stake. As far as I know, every pro-life group gives him great ratings.

    When in the world does anyone expect to agree 100% with everything a candidate does? There aren’t such things as perfect candidates. And I would understand if Obama was pro-life and you had a big problem with voting for someone like that, but that isn’t the issue. What you’re saying is, “not good enough for me” (And everything you mentioned was emotionally and speculative based which makes it seem even stranger to me)

    And instead of attempting to push for better legislation, talking to congressman, writing letters to the campaign…you want to sit around not vote or vote for the “opposite side”? How is that a good idea for women?

    Steamrolling? Please, don’t try to make a saint out of Hillary and make women seem like powerless victims. That isn’t fair to women or Hillary.

  13. I meant to edit that more. Sorry for some of my tone. Wanted to sound more neutral. Also I don’t know if you do those type of things for women’s issues on the side.

    And wanted to say if you don’t like social services, that’s understandable too. But not so understandable if you will be getting tax breaks and offered more services, which you are not obligated to take.

  14. Hi Amy, thanks for a well-thought out approach to the issue. Let’s see if I can meet your concerns.

    The fear of Obama’s inexperience is a valid one; someone who doesn’t think things through enough can pretty well mess up the government (see Bush). But on that point, I think the issue is less Obama’s experience than his ability to surround himself with experienced, intelligent people, and his willingness to listen to conflicting viewpoints. Bush – by combining idiocy with singleminded devotion to an ideology, facts be damned – was a perfect storm of inexperience and lack of intelligence, but fortunately one that Obama is not likely to repeat. By tapping Biden – an experienced legislator, and one that’s had no problem criticizing Obama in the past – he’s showed that he’s not only willing to listen to those that doubted him, but willing to put them at his right hand. Granted, we’ve had “experience behind the throne” for the past eight years, and it worked out poorly; but Obama’s VP choice is a non-evil fellow, and a devoted and moderate public servant. This – along with his obvious intellect – makes Obama’s experience deficit, to me, not a real problem. When I see Obama tap Biden, I see Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals.” Plus, Biden’s an strong-minded fellow; I don’t see him being marginalized.

    Side note – VAWA was, indeed, a great piece of work, and it’s a damn shame that Republican judges torpedoed it. Make no mistake: picking McCain means stacking the Supreme Court, means an affirmative end to women’s rights. I understand your concern that Obama would trade away women’s rights issues, but I flat-out don’t see a Democrat, and a fairly liberal one, making that trade. What, after all, would be more important? In any event, voting for McCain or not voting for Obama would be choosing a known evil over a 30% chance of evil.

    As for his tax policy, I don’t think he’d make you poorer. McCain is spinning Obama’s tax policy as one that levies the burden harder on the middle class, but that’s a flat-out lie: unless you’re making over $112k, Obama is better for your pocketbook. The Republican’s greatest trick was to dupe the middle class into voting for them, through a combination of lies & wedge social issues. You’re immune on the latter, since you’re a pro-women’s rights Democrat like myself; if you avoid the McCain lies, you’ll be immune on the former, too.

    I do hope you vote for Obama; he needs every vote he can get, and the alternative is quite bleak for what you’ve described as your interests.

  15. This is an excellent post, Ames. Personally, I can distinguish between (a) Clinton supporters who have doubts about Obama and (b) PUMAS in particular. We need to respect that the first group may have legitimate concerns about Obama (even if I don’t necessarily agree with them), and to engage with the skeptics instead of screaming at them. Your response to Amy is exactly how we need to respond to Obama skeptics. Unfortunately, that kind of mature perspective is usually lacking from commenters at liberal/progressive blogs.

    On the other hand, PUMAS are a different story. I can’t treat them as anything but a destructive force.

  16. there was a post on the WAPO blog the other day that sums up how many women I know feel about Obama:

    “He is that younger, good looking, totally inexperienced guy at the office that everyone loves, and he just got promoted over you”.

    And then that young man tells you:

    Now deal with it, sweetie.

    We will, because we have, and we have to again, but it is not easy.

  17. […] many women, Barack Obama was “that younger, good looking, totally inexperienced guy at the office that […]

  18. EmmeryJonesJr HIA · ·

    Date:Tues Sept 2,2008

    Our point to scarifice this election is to inform the Demoncratic Party, that we won’t be pushed around under any circumstances…of the fact that our Hillary lost or was pushed out.
    And so, here’s to you..”McCain/Paulin 08″


    Emmery Jones Jr
    Graduate:William Rainey Harper College

  19. Emmery, I appreciate that sentiment, but it’s kind of warped. You’re not going to be pushed around by the Democrats… so you’re going to let the Republicans push you around for eight years? It doesn’t make sense. Might reform from within be a better plan?

  20. Emmery Jones Jr Medical Record's Admin.CCS-P · ·

    Date: Sat Sept 20,2008

    Re: ” Call me crazy if you want” ..we won’t back down.”

    “To whom ever concened”

    I supporting PUMA’S postion up until Novembers Presidential election. So let the chip’s fall where they may.


    Emmery, Jones Jr
    Medical Record’s Admin.CCS-P
    Meldevonne.Com Kb9ZXE

  21. I’m a Republican and I just want to thank all of you who see Obama for what he is. As much as I want our party to win I would have to concede the fact that a loss to Hillary would have been welcomed compared to the alternative. Keep the faith…Hilary will have hers in 4!!!

  22. p8prclip, I think you misunderstood the post… why are you not an Obama fan?

  23. […] many women, Barack Obama was “that younger, good looking, totally inexperienced guy at the office that […]

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