MoveOn.org is betraying the progressive cause

The Thinker by Rodin

Back in July 2004, I took MoveOn.org to task for what I thought was a serious lapse in judgment: pressing the Federal Trade Commission to go after Fox News for promoting itself as “fair and balanced”.

I agreed with MoveOn that Fox News was neither fair nor balanced. What disturbed me was the group’s attempt to use the power of the government against Fox News. Frankly, its attempt gave me the willies and was very Big Brother-ish. Had they succeeded what ghoulish precedent would this have set? Would some future FTC go after the New York Times for, in its judgment, not serving all the news that it thought was fit to print? Would the government assume it was now permitted to decide whether any media outlet was covered by freedom of the press? I thought MoveOn “got” liberal values. We liberals welcome a diversity of opinions and perspectives, even when they do not agree with us. The last thing we want is the government mucking up our freedom to hear different points of view.

Somehow, Eli Pariser, the current executive director for MoveOn, read my little blog entry and left this pithy little comment:

Liberals like to think that ABC, NBC, etc. are in fact ‘fair and balanced’ while citing Fox as the source of distortions. Emphasis on one bit of information while ignoring other salient bits is the hallmark of the liberal media and something you are obviously unable to admit. Pundit my ass!

More recently, MoveOn published its now infamous “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” ad in the New York Times. The good news is that the ad succeeding in garnering a lot of attention. The bad news is that the ad was very counterproductive. It was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. No less than the Senate of the United States, when it could have been doing things like ending the war in Iraq, instead overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning the advertisement. Rather than helping to facilitate an end to the war, it caused Republicans to circle the wagons. It also gave moderate Democrats a reason to be very wary of embracing change.

It did not have to be this way. The ad could have been just as effective without being inflammatory. For example, it would have shown President Bush next to General Petraeus and asked, “President Bush: Why are you making this patriot a scapegoat for your failed policy?” The ad was factually correct. Unfortunately, it pinned the tail on the wrong donkey. MoveOn does not appear to have anyone in charge with sufficient political shrewdness to know when they it has stepped over the bounds of good taste and decency. In doing so, it undercuts both our desire to end the war and gives pause to moderates who might be leaning toward progressive causes.

Has anyone on the MoveOn staff actually served in the military? I have not, but I have spent nine years in the Pentagon working with soldiers from airmen to four star generals. One thing I know without a doubt: while the military is overall a conservative group of folks, they faithfully and slavishly follow orders. As much as MoveOn would like to paint him as such, General Petraeus is not a politician. He is a military officer. He was directed by his chain of command to implement a policy. His job is to salute and do the very best he can to make the policy work. One can quarrel with his methods, but not his patriotism. Policymakers should be taking the rap for a failed policy. Generals can and should be held accountable for failing to properly execute their mission. They should not be tarred for the policy itself. Failure for the policy belongs squarely on President Bush, not General Petraeus.

At the time, I said:

This campaign with the FTC is just mean spirited harassment and worthy of Bill O’Reilly at his worst. MoveOn.org in this case should just shut up. In fact, it should do more than that. It should admit this campaign was a mistake and a serious lapse in its judgment. And then it should, well, move on.

MoveOn did not take me up on my suggestion. This latest ad three years later shows they have learned nothing in the intervening years.

Since I wrote that first blog entry, I have given an additional $350 to MoveOn and its political action committee on the hope that cooler heads were prevailing. No more. If MoveOn is still not savvy enough to know when certain lines should not be transgressed they deserve neither my money nor my support.

Instead, I will give my money to organizations that, in my judgment, have the maturity of vision to know how to promote solid progressive candidates and causes and know how to persuade people rather than inflame or antagonize them. If I have any spare cash left over, I will be giving it to organizations like Progressive Majority and Emily’s List rather than MoveOn. Perhaps some day saner heads will prevail at MoveOn and I can give money to them again. Right now, that day appears to be far off.

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