PUMA is the acronym for the political action committee that's now officially called "People United Means Action" but remains best known by its original moniker, "Party Unity, My Ass." Though members and sympathizers, who are now referred to simply as PUMAs, represent both genders and a range of ages and races, the face of the movement tends to be white, female and largely, if not exclusively, middle-aged or older.
Not so these PUMAs and one young-ish man named Barack Obama, who they claim benefited unfairly from a mishandled nomination process and whose campaign they feel mistreated Clinton and her supporters. In protest, PUMAs have taken a number of steps. Many were behind the successful initiative to get Clinton's name on the ballot at the convention; many are now organizing a write-in campaign for the general election; and -- drumroll please -- some have even announced that they'll vote for John McCain instead of Obama in November. (And that was before McCain shocked and awed the nation by naming Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate.)
That's right, cable TV viewers, talk-radio listeners and blog readers of America: Just when you thought Clinton's most ardent supporters had finally worked their way through the stages of grief and were ready to get behind the nominee, along comes evidence that they're not just angry feminists moping because they won't see a female president in their lifetimes, they're self-sabotaging lunatics!
I mean, did you see them? There they were, foaming at the mouth and cropping up in more of the coverage than many actual convention speakers. There was, of course, the shouting match between MSNBC's Chris Matthews and a street protester named Cristi Adkins, who insisted that Obama had been a "registered Muslim" as a child. (At 2 minutes and 20 seconds, this felt like one of the longest clips of unedited video to appear on television in recent memory.)
There also was a segment on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" in which six PUMAs (three men and three women) made fools of themselves in an interview with the eviscerating correspondent John Oliver.
And then there was Elizabeth Joyce, a co-founder of the PUMA-affiliated groups Just Say No Deal and Hireheels.com, who used a cringe-inducing appearance on "Larry King Live" to suggest that poor treatment of Clinton supporters by the media and the Obama campaign forced her to withhold her support from Obama as a matter of "principle." Despite having spent months on the campaign trail with Clinton, she said she'd only seen Obama speak once. "I don't vote on the first date," she quipped felinely.
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Clearly, these PUMAs need to be hit with tranquilizer darts and dragged out to remote wilderness areas where cable TV hosts can't find them. Even Clinton herself, though she didn't, alas, come out and say "stop it right now," effectively told her supporters in her convention speech to shut up and get with the program. ("Were you in this campaign just for me?" she asked.)
So why do these creatures continue to seem so menacing?
Maybe because, like their counterparts in the wild, they're far more likely to be spotted in a news story than in the course of everyday life. As more than one correspondent in Denver pointed out, the amount of media attention on extremist Clinton-supporters seemed oddly disproportionate to the actual numbers on the ground.
Here's another nature fun fact: In the case of pumas and PUMAs alike, it's easy to get the impression that large numbers are roaming an area when, in reality, it's the same small handful of animals making multiple appearances. If Joyce looked vaguely familiar to Larry King viewers, maybe it's because she also appeared in that group interview on "The Daily Show." As for Adkins of the Matthews clip, she may have been presented as a random picketer, but in fact she'd already made several guest appearances on the Fox News Channel on behalf of the organization she co-founded, Clintons4McCain.
We in Southern California are frequently told that on the off chance we encounter a puma, we shouldn't run away but instead should make ourselves look bigger than we are and try to scare it away by throwing rocks. But even though that particular strategy is an old favorite of the news media, this time they decided to throw out some carrion as bait, point to the blood and shout that killers were on the loose.
Sure, it was frightening -- until you realized that you were only at the zoo.