I have no doubt that most of the venom that Krugman sees comes from Obama supporters. He has, after all, been on an anti-Obama tear for several months now. But he is an economist, and economists should know enough about basic social science techniques to be able to ask: am I working from a genuinely random sample? In the case of, say, Krugman’s email, the answer would have to be: no.
…but then Melissa wrote…
Someone has also emailed me private accounts of older female Hillary supporters who reported being intimidated, shouted down, and outright bullied by younger male Obama supporters while caucusing. (Shades of the virtual world, in which female Hillary supporters have been effectively run out of dKos.) There were also reports of male McCain supporters who showed up claiming the specific purpose of intimidating female Hillary supporters.
(And why not? When everyone’s free to take shots at Hillary without serious consequence, it doesn’t exactly send the message that anyone will care if her supporters are treated as fair game for sexist bullying, too.)
Put this in the context of the series of posts Kate and I have written recently, along with the associated comments threads and women bloggers who have linked approvingly to those posts, all of which speak to the very real, if near-totally ignored, phenomenon of women who are hesitant for various reasons to openly support Hillary, and the reality of caucuses requiring public support that the privacy of a voting booth does not—and only someone deeply engaged in willful ignorance could deny that sexism is playing some role in Obama’s caucus wins.
…which seems to me to be relevant to the question. At first I had Hilzoy’s reaction to Krugman’s column, which was that he was making an unwarranted generalization based on his own experience. I’ve also been wandering the comment threads at TalkLeft lately, which have their own share of venomous, unfair attacks on Obama. But after thinking and talking about it, I’m not so sure.
To start off with, this conversation concerns only intra-left attacks; Clinton clearly receives more venom from the right (and from the Chris Matthews-esque center) than Obama has ever received. Even on the left, though, I think that Krugman is partially correct; the problem is that I would categorize many of the venomous attacks on Clinton as “fair”, which makes me forget that they are, in fact, quite venomous. To be a bit more clear on that, I don’t fully agree with attacks on Clinton that are based on her pro-Iraq War vote, and I certainly don’t draw the conclusion that the vote is sufficient reason to vote against Clinton, but I do think that it’s a “fair” line of attack. As such, I tend to discount their venom. There really isn’t anything comparable on the other side, if only because Obama’s record is too short to inspire anger on the scale of Clinton’s war vote (or even elements of her husband’s presidency).
But of course “fair” and “unfair” are in the eye of the beholder, and in any case in an angry comment thread they tend to blend together pretty quickly, such that supporters (especially women) of Clinton seem to get subjected to much nastier attacks than supporters of Obama. As anyone who has paid attention to this blog must know, several recent comment threads have degenerated into nasty, venomous attacks (often launched by myself) against Clinton supporters and “apologists”. Again, I think that these attacks (the bulk of which have revolved around the delegate seating question) are “fair”, but it’s undeniable that more venom has been poured forth against Clinton than against Obama, or that a substantial portion of this venom has little to do with policy differences between the candidates.
But of course this only goes so far, and it doesn’t go as far as Krugman is suggesting. Rather, like Hilzoy argues, I think we’re far, far short of a civil war. I know that I’ll be happy to vote for Clinton in the general election (in fact, I preferred her to Edwards) if it comes to that, and I think that for a variety of reasons that most potential Democratic voters feel the same way. Of course, things could change over the next four months; it could get much nastier than it is right now, especially if the convention leaves one side or the other believing that they’ve been unfairly treated. But I’d say that it’s quite premature to suggest that the debate is going to be dangerous in an electoral sense.