The Washington Examiner
September 13, 2006
By Alan Dowd
“Ned Lamont’s victory,” gushes Eli Pariser of MoveOn, “is great news for Democrats.” According to Pariser, the Democratic Party should emulate Lamont’s “principled progressivism” and jettison what The New York Times labels a “warped version of bipartisanship”—the sort of bipartisan cooperation characterized by Sen. Joe Lieberman’s stance on Iraq and other fronts in the wider war on terror.
Whether or not the Democratic Party will follow Lamont’s example to victory remains to be seen. What is abundantly clear, however, is how far MoveOn has strayed from its first principles.
In its own words, MoveOn was created by people who “shared deep frustration with the partisan warfare in Washington, D.C., and the ridiculous waste of our nation’s focus at the time of the impeachment mess.” In fact, the group would get its name from the outgrowth of that frustration: a petition to “censure President Clinton and move on to pressing issues facing the nation.”
MoveOn soon spawned a political action committee to help “elect moderates.” But almost a decade later, are MoveOn’s founders and followers still frustrated by “partisan warfare” and supporting “moderates” for elective office? You be the judge.
One wonders if Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, who launched MoveOn in 1998, find it ironic or depressing or both that eight years after failing to convince Congress that President Bill Clinton should have been censured, their web-driven grassroots group is backing Sen. Russ Feingold’s doomed bid to censure President George W. Bush for creating a terrorism surveillance program. Even Senate Democrats have distanced themselves from Feingold. And for good reason: They can read polls. More than six in ten Americans support the NSA’s collecting and monitoring of domestic phone calls between suspected terrorists.
But MoveOn’s discomfort with waging the war on terror at home and abroad is nothing new. Even before it backed the censure measure or latched on to Cindy Sheehan, MoveOn was flirting with the far fringes of the anti-war movement, as Peter Beinart of the center-left New Republic has observed. Pointing to a MoveOn petition spewed out while Manhattan was still smoldering, Beinart concluded that the organization had succumbed to moral relativism: The petition, he wrote, “demands that the United States ‘support justice, not escalating violence,’ calls for ‘ending the cycle of violence,’ and says that ‘[i]f we retaliate by bombing Kabul and kill people oppressed by the Taliban dictatorship ... we become like the terrorists we oppose.’ By any reasonable standard, that is opposition to war in Afghanistan.”
MoveOn raised millions trying to unseat Bush in 2004, and took partisanship to new depths by infamously posting ads that compared Bush to Hitler. “What were war crimes in 1945 is foreign policy in 2003,” hissed one ad. How’s that for moderate?
In short, if there was ever a time when the MoveOn faithful had “deep frustration with…partisan warfare,” it certainly is in the past. But don’t take my word for it: Citing MoveOn’s support for “Democratic political candidates with tens of millions of dollars in advertising as well as countless hours of telephone and door-to-door fieldwork,” Wired called the organization “a Democratic juggernaut.” In an interview with CNN, a Democratic strategist called MoveOn “a magic injection of courage and backbone for the Democratic Party.”
Today, the MoveOn website openly calls for a Democratic takeover of Congress. “We’re aiming to take the fight to Republicans by raising the first $1,000,000 for our election plan,” MoveOn’s website cheers.
MoveOn, of course, has every right to support the Democratic Party and its candidates, to get down in the political trenches and sling mud, and to pump millions into the political process. But it all sounds so, well, partisan.
That’s not necessarily a problem, at least not for most of us. After all, our country was forged by partisans with deep disagreements about the nature of the government they birthed. Just read the Federalist Papers and Anti-Federalist responses to get a sense of their differences.
But this does present a problem, it would seem, for MoveOn: If it’s locking arms with a political party and waging political battles, isn’t it engaging in the very “partisan warfare” its founders so derided?