While bloggers on the right have been noisily taking up sides in Republican presidential contest, the left blogosphere has suffered a bad case of mugwumpery. With some notable exceptions, liberal bloggers have remained agnostic, waiting to line up behind the Democratic nominee, widely assumed to be the inevitable Sen. Hillary Clinton.
And then came the Jan. 26 South Carolina primary to blow a lot of the mugwumps off their fences — if not always into the camp of Sen. Barack Obama, then at least away from the Clintons.
Obama’s call to end the country’s “bitter partisanship” runs against the grain of the liberal netroots, whose fondest wish is for Democrats to start repaying Republican partisanship in kind. In theory, the netroots leans to the view of Sidney Blumenthal, veteran Clinton consiglieri, quoted in George Packer’s thoughtful New Yorker analysis: “It’s not a question of transcending partisanship,” he said. “It’s a question of fulfilling it.” But as David Adesnik writes at Oxblog, the close-up view of the Clinton’s actual practice of the politics of racial division in South Carolina has left many bloggers in a “liberal identity crisis.”
“Lately,” historian Ari Kelman writes in two posts at The Edge of the American West, “the Clintons have really begun to wear on me. First, it was Hillary playing games with Martin Luther King’s memory. Next, it was Bill dragging himself through the muck and then popping back up with an expression of righteous outrage on his face when anyone would dare to question his methods.”
Kelman has lots of company in disgust, some of it from surprising sources.
“It’s not fair – indeed, it’s demeaning – for a former President to say things that are patently untrue (such as Obama’s anti-war position is a ‘fairy tale’) or to insinuate that Obama is injecting race into the race when the former President is himself doing it,” writes Robert Reich, who was Bill Clinton’s first Secretary of Labor.
“The Clintons are running their own version of the Republican Southern Strategy that worked so well to elect conservatives from Nixon through to the current Bush,” writes Reed Hundt at TPM Café. “The former President's repeated injections of racial references are unacceptable in modern politics, or even modern society. If he were a commentator on the Golf Channel, he would be asked to resign.” Hundt was Clinton’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
And it goes on and on. “So Rovian,” charges Justin Gardner at Donklephant. “The Clintons' strategy has become increasingly trashy, even ugly,” writes Glenn Greenwald at Salon. “Enough's enough,” concludes Obama skeptic Kevin Drum at Political Animal. “I don't like dog whistle racial appeals when Republicans do it, and I don't like it when Bill Clinton does it.At this point, it's looking a lot more likely that I'm going to vote for Obama.”
But it’s not just the Clintons’ tactics (or the Clintstones, as Fake Steve Jobs calls them) roiling the liberal netroots. Obama’s come-from-behind rout in South Carolina, by a two-to-one margin that pollsters missed even more badly than Clinton’s New Hampshire victory, is also turning heads.
“Part of Obama's spiel is that he's so awesome that he'll get lots and lots of people to come out to vote for him,” writes Duncan Black at Eschaton, but as many bloggers observe, Obama delivered in South Carolina.
Turnout in the Democratic primary was up more than 40 percent from 2004, political scientist Philip Klinker calculates at Polysigh, hugely exceeding GOP turnout the prior week in what’s a Republican state. Youth turnout tripled, and went heavily in Obama’s favor. Obama voters don’t fully understand that the conservative movement is to blame for America’s problems, Chris Bower complains at Open Left, but he grudgingly concedes that they — “a large, dedicated group of activist supporters who have taken a vision of a diverse, forward looking America as central to our national fortunes” — are “still a pretty positive outcome nonetheless.”
Leave it to a conservative to put bluntly what the liberal netroots can only sidle up to. “Barack Obama is the Democrats' Reagan,” declares Rod Dreher at BeliefNet. “If I were a Republican, I'd be very, very afraid. Oh wait, I am a Republican. Dang. Lord have mercy, I wish that man were a conservative. Because there's no doubt in my mind about what he can accomplish for liberalism if he's elected.”