Sam Uretsky

Party Unity My Internet

The Internet may have changed everything, but it’s hard to believe that the Democrats are paying attention. These are the people who demonstrated how the ’Net could be used as a fund raising tool and a method of distributing campaign information, but they’re still looking at things from the viewpoint of generals prepared to fight the last war. This time may be different, and it could wreck the party.

The way the Democratic nominating process was mismanaged, neither Obama nor Clinton could have won the nomination in a manner that would be perceived as fair to the other’s supporters. Since not all states reported their popular vote, it’s not even clear which candidate had the most votes. According to RealClearPolitics, Obama had the most officially tallied votes, while Clinton had the most total votes based on estimates including states that did not report the popular vote. Michigan and Florida became a game of chicken between state and national leadership, with both sides losing. Obama won the nomination, but while the vote on the convention floor may be unanimous, it was anything but at the polls. In spite of a decision that will stand alongside Tilden-Hayes and Bush-Gore, the party leadership is calling for unity. Unity may not be achievable.

Historically, those who supported the losing candidate in party primaries would go home and sulk for a while, then vote the party lines. With the democratization of the Internet, wound licking has given way to setting up a web site or at least a MySpace page, and if the PUMA movement gains traction, the Democrats may have a serious problem. PUMA, which officially stands for People United Means Action and unofficially for Party Unity My A**, is a disorganized group of Clinton supporters who have two things in common — a rejection of Sen. Obama and a web site. The grievances are varied. Some sites appear to be concerned with Sen. Obama’s qualifications, his positions on health care financing or free trade, others with evidence of sexism in the media, while still others show evidence of racism. There are intelligent discussions of the senator’s positions on the 2nd and 4th amendments as well as some shameful personal attacks. There are no defined leaders and no defined demands, but there are a large number of links.

In effect, this phenomenon may act as a support group. Sociology may explain the phenomenon. Humans are social animals, and we want to be part of a pack. When voters on the losing side had sulked for a while, then grew lonely, and wanted to be accepted back to the party. They literally had no place else to go. Given the broader capabilities of the Internet, it’s easier to link to others with similar feelings; there’s less loneliness, less need for reconciliation.

Similarly, a reading of the letters written to the blogs shows a pattern of response by Obama supporters which rivals Vice-President Cheney’s “we won, it’s our due.” Few of the letters from Sen. Obama’s proponents make any attempt at civility. This behavior by Obama advocates is only likely to solidify resentment against Sen. Obama and the Democratic leadership.

The odds are that the PUMA coalition will go away, that it’s supporters will hold their noses and, with the benefit of the secret ballot, will vote for Sen. Obama—but it’s far from certain. This is, to all appearances, and despite claims from some Obama supporters that it’s a Republican front, a genuine grassroots movement and while some of the bloggers have been interviewed on television, they’re not leaders—think of herding cats and you’ll get the idea. Because the only thing that would placate the entire group is Sen. Clinton’s nomination for president, there’s nothing to negotiate. Since there’s nothing to talk about and nobody to talk to, the party and the Obama campaign haven’t been doing any talking, which simply reinforces the resentment of the Illinois senator’s opponents that at being ignored.

Gail Collins, the New York Times’ brilliant columnist, described the Obama-Clinton harmony love-in in Unity, N.H. “The crowd here stood for hours under the hot sun, so useful for melding purposes. A few Hillary die-hards skulked around the edges. ‘You have to give them space,’ the Obama campaign’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, consoled a supporter who had been grievously offended by the ununified behavior of the holdouts.”

The party leaders are obviously betting that historical principles apply, and the PUMA members will either fade or repent, or perhaps just vote for the Democrats out of lifelong habit. Given the record of the Bush administration, this should be the year of the Democrat—but the Internet may have changed everything.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y.

From The Progressive Populist, August 15, 2008

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