Both sets of supporters in the Presidential primary, at least online, have stalked off into armed camps, and are lobbing grenades over the wall at each other. This is not true of the public at large; as I've said before
, rank-and-file Democrats really like our candidates. I never got around to writing about my experience in the Nevada caucus at the Wynn casino in Las Vegas; there are some excellent contemporaneous reports here
. My takeaway from that event, other than the fact that it was the only time you could see everyone who works at a hotel in uniform in the same place since the MGM Hotel fire, and that the kids from the nightclub were mulling around in the back of the caucus room because it's in their DNA to be too cool for everything (I think they set up their own VIP caucus with bottle service in the back), and that I saw a pimp vote, was that there was an absolute outpouring of affection and excitement for both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama (I think the final tally in the room, mirroring the final tally in the country, was something like 189-187). They were joyful, energized, and willing to cheer their man (or woman) on. Watching the two groups singing chants and waving signs, I was far from wondering if this was at all the right way to run a democracy (OK, I was a little bit); I was inspired.
But what has occurred in the last week or so has been detrimental, and given that we're going to have a protracted primary fight, while I don't think it'll really hurt the party, it will severely damage the progressive movement and the cohesiveness of the blogosphere. I mean, we know about irrational Hillary hatred
. We see it all over the media, and as Bill Maher said a couple weeks ago, "If you hate this woman, that's your problem. She's done nothing to deserve it." But now we're heading into irrational Obama hatred territory. This Firedoglake piece
about the Tony Rezko connection reads like something out of a Ron Paul mailer circa 1992. They even had to give as close as I've seen to a retraction
with an additional post. And there are literally dozens of other examples. Websites on both sides have turned into oppo research shops and self-congratulation circle jerks. Half the internet (Hillary's side) jumped all over Obama for ducking proposed debates
when the same article said he would agree to at least one, and now he's agreed to a couple
There are legitimate points to be made about both Clinton and Obama and I'm not suggesting that both are somehow infallible and beyond comment. Obama's constant, somewhat dishonest rhetoric opposing health care mandates
disturbs me. Clinton taking the call for debates to the extreme of agreeing to one on Fox News
makes no sense when Democrats have gotten this far, and enchanted the country, without legitimizing a propaganda outlet. Last week's New York Times story
about Obama eventually caving to Senate Republicans to take the teeth out of a bill that would have harmed a campaign contributor, seems like it might be significant, though the Obama campaign put out a fact-check
on it. But the point is that these are singular events. Democrats are having such a hard time choosing a candidate because these two are virtually indistinguishable on policy. Neither are the scoundrels or the rogues that the darker regions of the blogosphere are spending so much time making them out to be. It's really made reading blogs a depressing experience, and driven me away from some good writers.
The tactics are eerily reminiscent of our friends on the right, and how they use character assassination to discredit our candidates. I don't understand the circular firing squad here. The candidates are generally as decent as a couple of cautious, centrist politicians can be. They were pushed to the left by John Edwards, and garnered massive followings that can be mobilized to hold them accountable. Either way it'll be up to us in the end to facilitate that mobilization. Do we really want half the 'sphere to react to some capitulation by the next President with a bunch of I-told-you-so's? To say nothing of the possible nightmare scenario of a brokered convention and superdelegates picking the nominee.
I don't know if there's a way to stop this; the snowball is rapidly moving downhill. But there ought to be something. The primary itself is not negative; online it's a sewer, however. And the movement isn't old and robust enough to already be cracking at the seams.
Labels: 2008, Barack Obama, bloggers, Hillary Clinton, negative campaigning, progressive movement