Civil War: Split Decision Divides Democrats

Contested nomination brings enthusiasm, anger as Obama-Clinton battle rages on.

ByJoel Siegel

March 21, 2008— -- It didn't take long for bloggers to render their verdict when 11,000 pages of Hillary Clinton's White House schedules were made public this week.

"The veneer has been torn off, and the brazen dishonesty is finally on display," a blogger named David Sirota wrote. "Why doesn't she just get the hell off the stage? Enough is enough!" a poster chimed in.

Added another: "These people and their $50 million in personal sleaze wealth, along with their using any segment of the electorate for power, must be thrown out of the party."

Was this a Republican Web site? A discussion group for conservatives?

It was one of the most influential blogs on the political left, Daily Kos, and the posters were liberals enraged at Hillary Clinton and her husband, the former president.

Some Democratic leaders have warned that the epic battle between Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., risks damaging the party the longer it drags on.

The split between Clinton and Obama supporters is in full fury and on full display online.

The chasm is growing wider by the day, raising alarms among Democrats that it will become more and more difficult to patch things up and unify around the eventual nominee.

"I think it is a real danger," said former Democratic strategist Bob Shrum, now a lecturer at New York University. "It is very bad for the party and bad for the country to take what was a very uplifting election where, frankly, Democrats liked both candidates, and have it turn into this."

Shrum added: "It some ways this is made worse by the fact that there really is no principle of ideology here. In 1980, when Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter, there were huge policy differences on health care, what to do about Afghanistan, and inflation. Those were really big arguments. This is not what we have here.… Instead of being about ideology, it is all very personal."

In this civil war, Clinton supporters trash the "Obamabots" and Obama supporters bash the "Clintonistas."

Last week, a Clinton supporter was so upset by the venom toward Clinton on Daily Kos that she called for Clinton backers to boycott the site.

Founder Markos Moulitsas was not moved.

"It is Clinton, with no chance of victory, who is fomenting civil war in order to overturn the will of the Democratic electorate," he wrote. "As such, as far as I am concerned, she doesn't deserve fairness on this site."

Of course, Clinton supporters give as good as they get.

On the more Clinton-friendly site,, posters yesterday said Obama's association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright made his candidacy untenable.

"Obama is ruined for the general election. The entire country is laughing at those who voted for an unvetted, unqualified candidate whose background is just now being explored," one said.

Another poster quickly added, "The only ones that are supporting Obama on this are the ones that say anything to further their guy. End justifies the means. They don't care if they lie, twist, call rude names, just as to further their guy."

Evidence is emerging of just how damaging the split might be to the Democrats.

Exit polling during the Ohio primary found that 51 percent of Obama voters would be disappointed if Clinton was the nominee. And 57 percent of Clinton supporters said they would be disappointed if Obama was the nominee.

The carryover to the general election? A survey by the Pew Research Center found that one in four Clinton voters said they would back Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., over Obama, while one in 10 Obama voters said they would vote for McCain if Clinton were the Democratic nominee.

Joe Andrew, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton supporter, said the popularity and anonyminity of the Web is amplifying the debate and making the gulf between Obama and Clinton supporters wider.

"The communication is much more personal and direct. People are saying things to each other they might never say at a union hall or a community meeting," he said. "It's like the wolves are let loose in people's souls."

Mark Green, the president of the liberal radio network Air America, where the trash talking plays out every day on its broadcasts, said he was confident the party will unify this fall.

"There is no doubt that the ardent militants on both sides, the people who drink the Kool-Aid, think that if their candidate does not win, it will be the apocalypse," said Green, New York City's former public advocate, an elected position. "But Clinton and Obama are professionals. The one who loses will hold up the victor's hand when this is through. … Bush and McCain will unite the Democrats far more than Obama and Clinton will divide them."

Andrew, for one, is not so sure.

"The problem is, we have not been through this before. This has the feeling of being different, because this race has gone on so long, and both candidates are so strong and so well financed," he said.

"We are at a dangerous point in the campaign," he said. "On the national level, I don't think party leaders feel it has reached the point where they have to step in, but they have begun talking about how they might step in. But it might be idle chatter, because I am not sure anything could be done."

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