Slateâ€™s John Dickerson writes about Democratic divisions and how much pain the party can take. He touches on a lot of points but this, I think, is the most important:
Because the loyalties [of Barack Obama supporters and Hilary Clinton supporters] map along gender and racial lines, the potential for volatility increases, as supporters interpret an attack on the candidate as an attack on themselves. [â€¦]
Advisers on a seemingly constant round of conference calls raise questions about the rival candidate’s honesty, judgment, and temperament. Even if the candidates don’t take it personally, their supporters do. The question that now attends each new feint and jab is this: What is the pain threshold for the two constituencies? How much bickering and fighting can each withstand before hard feelings lock in and supporters decide that no matter how many calls for unity they may hear, they will stay home on Election Day if their guy or gal losesâ€”or perhaps even support John McCain.
Obama and Clinton are adults and will come out of this ok. But their supporters are showing an increasing oversensitivity and an ever more confrontational attitude. This has not been an inordinately dirty campaign but a lot of people are treating it as if it were. They are reacting at volumes far above the decibel level of the actual slights. Samantha Powers? Geraldine Ferraro? Were these events really worthy of major uproars or were they relatively minor diversions taken to the extreme?
For the last eight years (and even more so for the last four), politically active Democrats have raged at the Bush administration, never missing an opportunity for terms of opprobrium, even going so far as to take their anger out on members of their own party who refused to adequately repudiate Bush and his policies (see: Joe Lieberman). This attack, attack, attack attitude, represented at online communities like Daily Kos, has carried over to the Democratic primary. Many of these politically active Democrats now seem unable to handle conflict without resorting to anger. Every legitimate disagreement on policy is seen as â€œRovian tacticsâ€ every heavy handed ad is seen as a swift boat-style attack.
These angry activists are the Democrats who are most likely to rip apart their party, not the two candidates running and not their campaign operatives. Getting to and through the convention without a blowup will require the two groups of supporters to show more restraint and greater civility in the coming months. I still think the long race is the best public relations campaign the Democrats could have developed. But now they need not to screw it up.