This stupid PUMA narrative will not die, even though it’s a classic example of a smoke-and-mirrors media-created narrative. (Cue self-proclaimed PUMAs in the comments.) Look, PUMAs—I suspect many of you have ties to the McCain campaign, and there’s a handful of you who are true believers, but let’s be serious. The number of real PUMAs out there is statistically insignificant. As Dana Goldstein notes, finding the feminist leadership that lays any kind of claim to PUMA-dom is a weak exercise in puffing up some people to be what they’re not and focusing on people down the food chain instead of looking at the more important leadership.
Still, I think that Obama shouldn’t take the need to shore up feminist support lightly. As I argue in today’s RH Reality Check column, it’s McCain, not Obama, who has a real conflict between base supporters and the mushy middle on the subject of reproductive rights. Anti-choicers have a lot of volume, but pro-choicers have the numbers. Obama has a golden opportunity to take a strong stand for women’s rights without losing votes. I know the conventional wisdom is that you have to stomp on some feminist toes to reach the mushy middle, but I think the conventional wisdom is being generated by a male-dominated media that is easily entranced by narratives that puff up men at the expense of women. I don’t think the voters necessarily are driving that, at least not on the issue of reproductive rights, which the vast majority of Americans enjoy.
Unfortunately, I could see Obama doing something tone deaf to feminist concerns that gives the media an excuse to continue the phony baloney PUMA narrative. If he picks a VP candidate with a record that has even a speck of anti-choice sympathies, then that’s going to be exploited from here until the end of the election. Obama’s already been burned by various other attempts to hang the “secret anti-choice sympathies” sign around his neck, and he doesn’t need to add fuel to that fire.