On the Road to Scranton

Outside of Penn Station in Manhattan, a man and a woman hold up "Hillary Clinton for President" placards as people gather around them to check off their names and board a bus that will take them to Scranton, PA for the day.

No, this story isn't about the Democratic primaries. It is a brisk Saturday morning in October and the bus bound for Scranton is for a group of Democratic Hillary Clinton supporters who have pledged to campaign for Republican presidential nominee John McCain.

What may surprise some -- especially those in the press who have attempted to blame the racism of uneducated small-town whites as the reason for Barack Obama's failure to win over some Clinton supporters -- is that the people on this bus are from one of the most liberal and racially diverse cities in America. A quarter of the nearly three dozen people on the bus are Asian, Hispanic, and African-American. The atmosphere is warm and electric, like a bittersweet reunion between close friends who had been separated after Clinton's loss.

One look at Christopher Leake joking with other young Clinton supporters at the back of the bus, and it is clear he is a Clinton supporter who has been overlooked by the media. The 26-year-old graduate of Columbia University is an economist for a think tank in Manhattan. He also happens to be African-American. Leake proudly shows off his "Democrat for McCain" button pinned onto his "Bitches Get Stuff Done: Hillary for President" t-shirt.

Leake's reasons for supporting McCain mainly stem from the treatment he and his candidate received during the primaries. "The media was biased and negative towards Hillary Clinton since the beginning of the primary when they could have used the time to vet Obama," he said. "The media was like an extension of the Obama campaign. What Obama and the DNC did to Clinton was similar to what George W. Bush and Dick Cheney did to John McCain in 2000, but probably worse, because Obama had the assistance of the media to race-bait and smear the Clintons."

Leake referred to Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina as an Obama surrogate who participated in playing the race card in order to help Obama win South Carolina, and to Obama's national co-chair, Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. for coercing African-American superdelegates into switching their support from Clinton to Obama. During the primaries, Clyburn was vocal in describing Hillary Clinton's campaign as "scurrilous" and "disingenuous" for wanting to count the popular vote in Michigan and Florida.

"It was hard being an African-American supporting Clinton," Leake continued. "I was called a self-hating race traitor." But supporting McCain isn't just about sour grapes over the primary for Leake. "It is difficult for many people I know to accept my support for McCain. I am still a Democrat who will vote for down-ticket Democrats on the ballot. But I am also a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican like McCain can definitely appeal to me. Obama is an opportunist who does not have strong policies or a concrete agenda."

Leake has a theory as to why the Democratic Party rigged the election to favor Obama by not including two states Clinton won. "The Democratic Party is a disaster. I think it was so after 8 years of Bush that it was eager to purge the party of Reagan Democrats and create a new coalition of youth voters." He believes that Clinton got in the way of their goal. "Hillary would have likely won the states Bill Clinton won with the help of moderate and conservative Democrats. Obama, on the other hand, has formed a new alliance of people -- the young and minorities -- many of whom usually do not vote in large numbers. These 'Obamacrats' are the same group Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, and Donna Brazille have attempted to cultivate for years."

During most of the bus ride, the sentiment was echoed that a vote against Obama would send a message to the DNC that the party needs to be reformed. Most hoped to see Pelosi, Dean, and Brazile replaced in the aftermath of an Obama defeat. Anna Barone of Mount Vernon, NY accused Brazile of being "a sorry excuse for a neutral commentator on CNN" to the sounds of approval and laughter.

Barone, 34, travelled to 6 states for Clinton during the primary. The sexism, threats, and physical violence she says she experienced from Obama supporters is part of the reason why she feels strongly opposed to an Obama presidency. "I have been called a racist bitch and I have seen unimaginable things during the primaries and caucuses that have not been covered by the media."

Barone once witnessed an Obama supporter call an African-American working on the Hillary Clinton campaign an "Aunt Jemima." In Philadelphia, a poll worker physically pushed Barone and told her "that's enough of this crap" when she attempted to put up Hillary Clinton posters in a polling place filled with Obama paraphernalia. "This is America. You have the right to vote for anyone you want without being heckled."

Barone also witnessed voter intimidation by Obama supporters at caucuses; something she believes to have been a huge factor in Obama's victory in a majority of caucuses and in the the delegate count over Clinton. "Hillary supporters were threatened in bathrooms of caucuses [and coerced into voting] for Obama," Barone said angrily. "And they call us racists."

Barone thinks Obama has divided the country by allowing his supporters and the media to label Clinton supporters as racists, something she says she still sees almost every day in the media and from Obama and his running mate Joe Biden.

At a San Francisco fundraiser on October 18th, Biden stated that "undecided people are having a difficult time just culturally making the change, making the move for the first African American president in the history of the United States of America." Barone doesn't believe the uncertainty has to do with the skin color of the Democratic nominee as much as with the Obama campaign's criticism and hostility towards Clinton supporters -- instead of putting in the effort to work for their votes.

"I don't trust Obama," said Barone. "He voted for Bush's Energy Policy Act in 2005 and now he's voted for FISA, which he previously opposed. No one knows what Obama is about and what he has done. At least Clinton has fought for universal health care and women and children's rights. It took 24 debates for Obama to even have a position on the issues. I'd rather vote for someone I know than someone I don't know."

Barone has stopped watching CNN and MSNBC because she says she couldn't take their one-sided commentary for Obama anymore. "They never reported anything negative on Obama but they trashed Clinton," said Barone. "Obama never stood up for Hillary and the DNC never defended her from the media attacks. Her own party let her down."

The attacks and calls for Clinton to drop out of the race by media pundits became so hysterical that Keith Olbermann of MSNBC got away with saying that some superdelegate should take Clinton into a room and "only he comes out", a message many Clinton supporters considered to be a misogynistic death threat. However, the complaints from Clinton supporters about media bias have apparently fallen on deaf ears: "This is the year journalism died," Barone said with a bit of sadness and disgust.

Sitting near the front of the bus to Pennsylvania is Catherine Tellesford from Flatbush, Brooklyn. The 53-year-old voted for Clinton in the primary and still has a "Hillary Clinton for President" poster displayed on her windowsill that she refuses to take down until November 5th. Her vote for McCain is a protest vote.

"I was bothered by how the media and Obama treated Clinton during the primary. I felt like they stole the election from her." Tellesford still calls herself a Democrat and will vote for down-ticket Democratic candidates, but not for Obama. "I believe that Obama is narcissistic. He doesn't believe or stand for anything besides vague terms like 'hope' and 'change.'"

Tellesford is troubled by how women who support Obama have, in her view, ignored the sexism and misogyny that her generation has fought against. "The young women today who support Obama despite the sexism his campaign displayed during the primaries know nothing about fighting their own battles," said Tellesford, who remembers the days when she could not wear pants to job interviews. "I fought for Roe v. Wade but I don't think McCain will overturn it. I think it is being used as a weapon by the Obama campaign to pressure disaffected Democrats into voting for him."

Wayne Singleton, the founder of the widely publicized group People United Means Action (PUMA) -- the people of color umbrella -- helped organize the trip to Scranton. He stopped watching MSNBC "when Chris Matthews' leg got a tingling sensation from Obama and thought his speech on race should be required reading for school children. At that point I said, 'He's gone. He's lost it.'"

Placing Principle Before Party: Professor Heidi Li Feldman

For other Democrats, the only option other than voting straight party is to stay home on Election Day. This view is exemplified by Heidi Li Feldman, a professor of law and philosophy at Georgetown University, who is a Clinton supporter and who has chosen to abstain from voting for either Obama or McCain. She blogs daily at her website Heidi Li's Potpourri and is the founder of both The Denver Group and Democrats for Principle before Party. In a telephone interview, Feldman discussed the media's role in alienating Clinton supporters and her reasons as a Democrat for not supporting Obama.

"I think it is very difficult for journalists who work under tight deadlines to write in a nuanced way about the range of objections there are to Senator Obama," said Feldman. "There is a tendency to oversimplify and say it is bitter Clinton supporters or ignorant white people who won't support Obama. These are easy taglines. There are a lot of Democrats who will not support Obama because of the combination of the tactics he used and the media's coverage of Clinton."

"Many people ask me how I cannot support Obama now that Clinton supports him. There is an error in that way of thinking," continued Feldman. "I didn't support Clinton because I thought I should do whatever she wanted me to do. She is a public servant and I am a citizen...her decision doesn't automatically imply that I should vote for him. The command/control model of politics is what I object to. I objected to it in the Republican Party and in politics in general."

"When Karl Rove and George W. Bush teamed up to engage in voter intimidation in elections, so-called liberal Democrats objected to voter disenfranchisement. But when it came to a candidate they favored, suddenly they no longer objected to these tactics," said Feldman.

"I think history shows that people who achieve office through corrupt ways often rule in a corrupt manner." Feldman used Richard Nixon as a prime example. "Nixon's conscience imposed no limitations. Likewise, George W. Bush cheated his way into office and lied about his reasons for invading and staying in Iraq. This is not disconnected from the fact that he was willing to do anything to get into the office in the first place which included stealing Florida. If you are willing to suppress voters in Florida and Michigan, then why should I think when you get into the office, you won't feel that you are above law and conscience? Obama's campaign showed a complete willingness to abandon process to achieve whatever he wanted."

Feldman hopes to dispel the myth that Clinton supporters who do not vote for Obama are either bitter or have a vendetta against Obama. "Standing up to the principles of fair play is different from having a vendetta. Obama created an environment to tamper with the process and he did it repeatedly and in acquiescence with the DNC. Now he says he believes in caucus reform even though he trained his campaign staff to use coercion and intimidation to control the caucuses. Every time you take a step like that you are saying, 'I don't care about winning fairly. I just care about winning.' The question is one of principle. Are you willing to support someone who engages in outright dishonest to disturbingly coercive tactics?"

As a female in the male dominated world of academia, Feldman experienced what it was like to be one of the few professors to support Clinton. "Academia is still dominated by men so it was gendered. The few Clinton supporters on our faculty were women," said Feldman who admitted to having never seen so much opposition to dissent among her fellow academics. "When women remain devoted to a candidate men are not devoted to we are called bitter and disloyal, in an environment where you'd expect people to be more open-minded and nuanced. In this election, there was no disagreement allowed amongst Democrats in academia. It was just bizarre."

"I want to be part of a party that accepts internal dissent and overcomes it not by telling people to shut up, but by following open and fair procedures. If not, I might as well become a Republican."

Meeting the Small-Town Voters in Pennsylvania

At the Democrats for McCain office in Scranton, I spoke to several of the local volunteers who switched their support from Clinton to McCain. Many were still upset that Obama and the media had stereotyped them as racists. Katie*, 51, of White Haven, PA broke down in tears when asked about the accusations of racism leveled at people like herself and the Clintons.

"Obama was never a post-racial candidate. He has made race a huge issue," Katie said, wiping away tears as she described what she perceived to be a hit job on the Clintons and their supporters. "All I saw everyday in the media were attacks on the Clintons. I am a Clinton Democrat. In 1996, Bill Clinton passed a college tax credit. Without that $10,000 tax credit I don't know what I would have done to send my daughter to college. Bill took care of my family, and when the Clintons were attacked it hit me hard."

Katie describes herself as a liberal. She read the New York Times for 40 years, but stopped after the Times allowed what Katie calls "astroturfing" on their Caucus Blog. Katie argues that "Astroturfing is when paid Obama bloggers go to websites to lie, post Obama talking points, and scare people," She says that Obama supporters posted comments on the Caucus Blog, but that the Times wouldn't publish her rebuttals or they would do so long after the thread was dead. She has asked not to have her real name used in this article because she alleges that her name and email, which can be found on pro-Hillary Clinton websites and forums, have been used by Obama supporters to send emails to a U.S. Senator, and also to send her nasty emails. "I was stupid to use my real name and email, not realizing that people in this election would go so far as to do these things," Katie said.

Katie refuses to go back to the Democratic Party until Howard Dean and Nancy Pelosi leave. "I never imagined I'd be voting for McCain a year ago. But after everything I've seen this year from the Democratic Party and Barack Obama..." Katie paused and shook her head in disbelief. "It just shocked me that the Democrats were capable of the attacks, the misogyny, the disenfranchisement I saw in the primary. Even John Edwards and Obama joined in on the sexism. These were aspects of the Democratic Party I never knew existed. This election opened my eyes to the DNC corruption. Real Democrats don't act that way."

Judy O'Connor, 58, of Carbondale, PA, has socialized with the Clintons and the Rodhams who spent summers in Scranton and has a great liking for them. "I'm still a Democrat. I'm just sick of the media and Obama surrogates calling the good people of Pennsylvania racists. As you can see there are volunteers of all races in this office. Never once did we think of race while campaigning."

"I'm not voting for Obama because I don't believe he has the experience or accomplishments and because his campaign used race-baiting and sexism to smear the Clintons," said O'Connor whose voice grew louder at the mention of the Pennsylvania primary. "Obama has not been back here since St. Patrick's Day. Do you know why? Because a day after he asked us for our votes, he flew to San Francisco to a private fundraiser with his rich buddies and called us bitter small town people who cling to our guns and religion. How dare he? We are hardworking, caring people. He calls us racists but he thinks he can insult our intelligence by saying that he never heard Jeremiah Wright's racist rhetoric? Please."

At the end of the day as tired volunteers boarded the bus back to New York City, Singleton assured them that their efforts would pay off on Election Day. "We need to reach out to more people and tell them that we're Democrats for McCain. It's a powerful statement because it tells those undecided voters that even if they are Democrats, they don't have to vote for a candidate they find unacceptable. We're here because we've decided to place country and principle before party."

Ever since the economic crisis, Obama has won over more undecided Clinton supporters, placing him slightly ahead of McCain in recent polls. But even if Obama wins, he will have a lot of work to do to prove that he cares about the progressive issues and economic agenda of those working class voters and Clinton supporters whom some in the Obama campaign and the upper-end press corps continue to spurn -- and yes, even accuse of being racist.

*Real name has been changed to protect identity.

This post originally appeared on Christal Phillips' Blog.