James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Al Gore’

PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Posted by James McPherson on July 25, 2008

The PUMA is an interesting species. Some critics might view PUMAs in the way many wrongly characterized Hillary Clinton, as bitter harpies. Others might see them as the type of women that misogynists typically prefer: silly, irrelevant, perhaps even cute.

Either characterization is mistaken (PUMA, by the way, generally stands for “Party Unity My Ass,” though one group has claimed “People United Means Action.”). PUMAs obviously are wrong and misguided, in my view, but passionate. And now they’re getting what many of them want most, some media attention.

PUMAs are angry people, mostly women, many of whom now say they’ll support John McCain over Barack Obama. There’s no denying that there are quite a few of them (though how many are GOP fronts can’t be determined) or that many are bitter. A quick scan of some of their blogs comes across such charming comments as, “Whenever I see one of those stupid “O”s on the back of someone else’s care [sic] I just want to RAM THEM!!!” and “Isn’t ‘barack’ that noise people make when they puke?” and “Do obama supporters still get headaches after they had their lobomy? [sic]” and “Even if Hillary should publicly–in person–denounce all 527s who are trying to get her nominated and elected, we can’t give throw [sic] in the towel. Clearly, the Chicago political mafia is strong-arming her to disown us.”

One blog post is titled, “If we’re PUMAs, then Obamaphiles are CHEATahs.” Cute, huh? Of course the difference is that PUMAs proundly claim the title before going on to disparage those who would prefer a different candidate. (This might be an appropriate time to remind readers that I was not an Obama supporter in the primaries, though I can’t imagine not voting for him over McCain in the general election.)

The CHEATah post comes from a blog that in its “About Us” section states: “We will start with the Democratic party and then work to bring together the rest of the country. We will come together at our common goals and go forward together, strengthened and mighty.” Its “credo,” in part: “We will all need to come together before the fall. Let’s craft a message that even wingers will envy. … Some of us have lost our minds lately. We are putting conditions and litmus tests on our candidates. We are getting lost in the trees while failing to see the forest.”

All of that may sound good, but the blog actually devotes much of its attention to PUMA promotion and Obama bashing, and also has a heading titled “PUMA Power” that states: “There will be a lot of calls for ‘Unity!’. But let us acknowledge what this really is. ‘Unity’ is a weapon that the party is going to use against us.” Perhaps it’s time to update one or two of the above categories.

Despite their real or manufactured fury PUMAs probably will have no meaningful effect on the Democratic Convention as far as preventing Obama from claiming the nomination, especially since Clinton likely will speak on his behalf at the convention. Still, in a tight general election (the kind we typically have) they might conceivably make a difference. Sadly and ironically, it would be a difference that goes against most of their own primary interests (at least those who aren’t secretly McCain supporters to begin with–like perhaps Fox’s favorite PUMA spokeswoman and 2000 McCain donor Darragh Murphy).

PUMAs might make a difference in the same way that Ralph Nader did against Al Gore in 2000, Ross Perot did against George H.W. Bush in 1992, Ted Kennedy did against Jimmy Carter in 1980, and Ronald Reagan did against Gerald Ford in 1976–drawing just enough attention and votes to help put the candidate their supporters disliked most in the White House. The difference in each of those cases was that the candidate’s supporters actually had a candidate who obviously still sought the position, while Clinton likely will–as she has repeatedly on previous occasions–exhort her supporters to do what they can to avoid a continuation of the Bush policies. A McCain presidency would have a good chance of turning those 5-4 Supreme Court votes against progressives into 7-2 votes against them.

Thus far, consistency, except in avoid-Obama-at-all-costs rhetoric, has not been a key part of PUMA power. Even Fox News, which would undoubtedly love to see PUMAs help swing the election for McCain and which has aired more about the group than any other network, can’t help but point out the contradictions. For example, see the YouTube videos below. The last one starts out much the same as the first, but adds some interesting context (though it doesn’t explore the disconnect between, “I don’t think it’s just to prove a point; I think it’s a very important point we’re making.”).

It’s difficult to tell how much influence the PUMAs will have, especially since many of those now complaining will swallow hard, hold their noses and vote for Obama in the general election, perhaps without telling their fellow PUMAs. The influence of blogs on elections also is unknown, though I don’t believe the vast majority of blogs are very representative of much of anything since most tend to have a limited following of serious but somewhat cowardly anonymous supporters who talk mostly to each other–a sort of ooh-look-at-me-aren’t-I-clever form of text messaging with less emotional commitment and no added wireless fees.

PUMAs do have cause to be unhappy, though not nearly as much cause as many of them claim. The Democratic primary system was a mess, but it was a mess that Clinton helped create. Interestingly, some of her supposed staunchest supporters now hope to make a bigger one.

Note: The organization name is corrected above–thanks to the respondents who noted that I had it wrong.

Follow-up: Somewhat ironically for a group that complains about being heard, PUMA sites seem to be among those most likely to delete the responses of those who disagree with them.

Posted in History, Journalism, Politics, Video, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments »

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

Posted by James McPherson on June 20, 2008

Having offered my suggestions for John McCain a couple of days ago, I’ll now do the same for Barack Obama. It seems appropriate especially because of recent articles listing possibilities that include John Edwards, Al Gore, Sam Nunn, John Murtha and Ted Strickland. The Huffington Post and others have handicapped other top prospects, including western governors Janet Napolitano, Brian Schweitzer and Bill Richardson.

I doubt that Edwards or Gore are serious possibilities. Edwards has already failed in an attempt to be VP, and generated no more enthusiasm in this year’s presidential bid. Gore has been there, done that, and is more influential outside of office than he would be as Obama’s second banana.

Hillary Clinton is the obvious favorite of many who seek the so-called “Dream Ticket,” and it’s good that (as announced this morning) she is going to campaign with Obama, but she brings too much baggage for the “change candidate” that Obama claims to be. Besides, I think she’d be a better choice as secretary of state or perhaps attorney general, moving to the Supreme Court as soon as there is an opening (probably about two days after Obama takes the oath of office, if he’s elected). Of course conservatives couldn’t be told that she’d end up on the court before the election, or that would become their major talking point for the coming months.

Napolitano and her Kansas counterpart Kathleen Sebelius offer other strong female leadership possibilities, and both have succeeded in dealing with Republican majorities. Unfortunately neither helps counter Obama’s biggest perceived weakness–a lack of knowledge or experience in foreign policy.

Nunn and Murtha are better options in this regard because of their military experience, but Nunn has been out of the game for so long that few people outside of Georgia likely remember who he is, and Murtha is viewed by too many as a crank and/or a flake. If Obama were to go that route, a better choice would be Virginia Senator Jim Webb or retired General Wesley Clark, who is well known because of his own presidential bid four years ago. He also might help swing disgruntled Clinton supporters because he was a leading figure in her campaign.

The popular and conservative Southerner Webb would be a good choice (though it might cost the Dems a hard-won Senate seat in the long run) and Richardson may have the widest range of applicable experience of anyone available. Unfortunately, Richardson is unable to do one thing that my top choice can do: attack the Bush administration (and its continuation under McCain) in a credible, logical manner while not turning off listeners.

My preferred candidate, Joe Biden, happens to be stronger on both foreign policy and bipartisanship than McCain, and would reduce the exotic feel of the Obama campaign (something a woman or Richardson would be less able to do). Biden loves cameras, and performs well in front of them. Occasionally verbose, he has become increasingly adept at breaking policy into sound bites. More importantly, for a vice presidential nominee (and perhaps especially with Obama’s efforts to maintain niceness), Biden has no qualms about going on the attack when necessary.

If Obama chose Biden as VP, Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and Republican Chuck Hegel as Secretary of Defense, the administration would likely be both functional and well repected. Of course the Senate would suffer greatly.

Whomever Obama chooses, he should name his running mate by mid-July. That would give the team plenty of time to make the rounds of talk shows and to hone their message throughout the dog days of summer, peaking just in time for the Democratic National Convention Aug. 25-28

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »