Hill, Yes! O., No!
Friday, June 27, 2008
For several weeks, some of Hillary Clinton's fiercest supporters, most of them women, have been struggling with a defeat that burns and a question with no soothing answer: What next?
Sometimes anger settles in the mind like sediment, waiting to be shaken or stirred.
Diane Mantouvalos is an anger-shaker. The night before Clinton announced the suspension of her campaign, Mantouvalos was at home in Miami checking posts on her blog and sensing a mood that went beyond disillusionment, beyond sadness, beyond "I'm upset and bummed out." As co-creator of Hireheels.com, which describes itself as "a forum of power chics for Hillary," Mantouvalos hangs out on the sassy edge of the blogosphere. Feeling more empowered than embittered, the public relations consultant wondered: "Wouldn't it be great if we could thread all of these disparate factions and form one coalition?" A brassy coalition of rebels.
On June 8, the evening after Clinton conceded the Democratic presidential contest to Barack Obama, Mantouvalos organized a conference call with some 40 bloggers, political activists and other hardened loyalists of the New York senator's, in what became "a jam session of very intense opinion" -- about the party, its leadership, its presumptive nominee, the media. Five hours later, Mantouvalos, age "north of 35," had built a new Web site, JustSayNoDeal.com, which has become a clearinghouse for the renegade forces that are now confounding Democratic Party officials and Obama campaign operatives.
Democratic leaders insist -- and polls indicate -- that the vast majority of Clinton supporters, including women, already have flocked to Obama or eventually will. But the effectiveness of the Internet as an organizing tool for dissent is creating concern and uncertainty about the scope and intensity of those unwilling to fall in line.
While Clinton and Obama are scheduled to campaign together today in the symbolic New Hampshire town of Unity, many in this loose confederation of nonconformists have embraced a mantra that runs counter to the notion of reconciliation: "Party Unity My Ass." They have taken to calling themselves "Pumas" and have adopted as their logo -- on T-shirts and Facebook pages -- the portrait of a snarling cougar. Though not all have the same specific grievances or agree on a course of protest, they are linked by their dissatisfaction with the primary process and its result, and are unpersuaded by the gestures of heroine Hillary.
Several groups are planning marches in Denver, the site of this summer's Democratic National Convention. Others are organizing a Clinton write-in campaign or have switched to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), creating sites to promote his candidacy. Some have more targeted interests, such as establishing an ongoing critique of misogyny in the media, pressing for changes in Democratic National Committee rules on delegate selection, even the ouster of national party chairman Howard Dean. "Howard Dean is running this party like it is a Soviet-style dictatorship," fumed Faith Chatham, a Clinton delegate to the Texas Democratic convention.
In Texas, where the complaints about party leadership have been persistent and noisy, some Clinton stalwarts are trying to mount challenges to the Democratic caucus results. "It ain't over," said Harriet Irby, a longtime Democratic precinct chairwoman in Tarrant County, claiming there were many irregularities and insisting that she will sit out the presidential election if Obama is the nominee, and vote only for down-ballot Democrats this fall.
Some of the dissenters have gotten creative, if silly. Organizers of Dncboycott.com have introduced "Operation Donation Vacation," urging prospective donors to send a check to the DNC for zero dollars. Watching the collective efforts of the Just Say No Deal coalition take root is pure delight for Mantouvalos.
"Oh, we're up to no good," she said, her voice coated with mischief. "We just can't stop ourselves. What can I say?"
The Internet has a viral way of gathering and emboldening the like-minded, who speak to each other online, share information, inflame each other's passions. Hard-fought presidential primary battles have always produced disenchantment, fury and other strong emotions that are difficult to tamp out. Tensions lingered between the troops of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford in 1976, of Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter in 1980, of Jesse Jackson and Walter Mondale in 1984. But there was no online world to stoke the embers back then, no vehicle for instant gratification and empowerment.
"With the Internet, it makes being a jihadi a lot easier and cheaper than it used to be," quipped Jody Powell, a close aide to Carter, whose defeat in 1980 was helped along by a divisive Democratic National Convention. Powell added, however, that the big difference between 1980 and 2008 is that this year Clinton and her leading surrogates are moving quickly to quell hostilities and bring opposing camps together. In 1980, Powell said, "the losing candidate, Senator Kennedy, and his senior people were pretty actively engaged in fueling this stuff."