(05/24/2007) After several months of empty posturing against the war in Iraq, politicians in Washington have made what Democratic congressman James P. Moran  called a “concession to reality ” by agreeing to give President Bush virtually everything he wanted in funding and unrestricted license to continue waging the increasingly detested war that has made Bush the most unpopular president since Richard Nixon .
This is the outcome that we warned against two months ago when we wrote “Why Won’t MoveOn Move Forward? ” In it, we criticized MoveOn  for backpedaling on its previously claimed objective of ending the war in
Understanding how legislative processes work, we expected then that even those few nods to anti-war sentiment would be eliminated in due course. Bush had already said he would veto the Pelosi bill and pledged to hold out for funding without restrictions of any kind. Moreover, there was little doubt that the Democratic leadership would eventually cave to his demands. Notwithstanding their stage-managed photo ops and rhetorical flourishes for peace, prominent Democrats signaled early that they would give Bush the funding he wanted. Barack Obama  even went so far as to state publicly that once Bush vetoed the original bill, Congress would approve the money because “nobody wants to play chicken with our troops on the ground .” (Two weeks later, MoveOn announced that it had polled its members, and Obama was their “top choice to lead the country out of
Not everyone saw this coming, of course. Back in March, Salon.com called MoveOn’s Eli Pariser  “shrewdly pragmatic ” for backing Pelosi’s original supplemental war funding bill. It quoted Pariser predicting that after Bush was “forced to veto” Pelosi’s bill, “That forces the Republicans to choose between an increasingly isolated president and the majority of the Congress and the majority of the American people.”
Similar “shrewd pragmatism” came from blogger and Democratic campaign consultant Matt Stoller  at MyDD.com, praising MoveOn’s “dedication to practical results ” and calling the Pelosi bill “a major step forward … Moveon was true to its members in helping this happen.” Stoller criticized us by name for our naivetÃ© in thinking otherwise:
John Stauber, who is an ardent critic of Moveon, comes from a different generation of liberal activism. …
Stauber isn’t used to a non-Southern Democratic Party. It’s nothing he’s ever known, and it’s frankly nothing that any of us have ever known. None of us know how to wield power in this new political world, where the public is liberal, the military industrial state is cannibalizing itself, and the political system is (slowly) reorienting itself around this shocking new paradigm. Stauber is also not used to the idea that activist liberals actually like the Democratic Party. He believes that Moveon members would not support Democratic leaders if presented with a different set of choices, without acknowledging that Moveon members have traditionally supported Democratic leaders when the questions are tactical in nature.
A “tactic,” as the dictionary explains, is “an expedient for achieving a goal .” If the goal is to end the war in
Amazingly, the conclusion that Stoller draws from these facts is the following non sequitur:
So do not tell me that Pelosi, Reid , and Moveon are doing a bad job. They are not. They are persuading a country and a politics that is used to lazy bullshit that kills a lot of people to think twice about it, and resist.
Here’s the point that Stoller seems to have missed: There is a difference between what the public wants and what politicians do. Just because the high and mighty politicians don’t get it yet, don’t assume that the average American doesn’t. It is not “the public” that needs to be persuaded. The politicians, their marketing campaigns, and the bloggers who join them may be “unable to distinguish between truth and falsehood,” but the public at large fully understands that we need to get out of
Since 2003 we’ve co-authored two books on
The bottom line, however, is that MoveOn until now has always been a big “D” Democratic Party organization. It began as an online campaign to oppose the impeachment of President Clinton, and its tactical alliances with Democratic politicians have made it part of the party’s current power base, which melds together millionaire funders such as George Soros  and the Democracy Alliance , liberal unions like SEIU, and the ballyhooed Netroots  bloggers like Matt Stoller, Jerome Armstrong  and Markos Moulitsas  ZÃºniga of the Daily Kos . At a personal level, we presume the members of this coalition genuinely want the war to end, but their true and primary priority is winning Democratic Party control of both houses of Congress and the White House. Now that the war in
Some Democrats (not the top politicians, of course) are saying this openly. Here, for example, is how one blogger at the Daily Kos sees things:
I know, that means more American casualties , more Iraqi casualties, more treasure and lives wasted.
But I think you’ve got to keep in mind the big picture here. … [B]y the end of September, people will be beginning to pay real attention to the next election…
I think this does give the Democratic party a tremendous opportunity to crush the Republicans for perhaps a couple of decades to come.
In this analysis, “more treasure and lives wasted” are the “little picture,” while winning elections is “the big picture.” Democrats like Russ Feingold  who oppose the
If you visit the MoveOn website  today as we write, the top item on the page is a request for people to sign a petition against price gouging by oil companies. They’re focused on the “big picture” of using the current spike in gasoline prices as an opportunity to build their email list, while the little picture of ending the war has fallen from the top of the page. Yesterday MoveOn began a campaign calling on Democrats  to vote no on the
MoveOn is expert at marketing, PR and advertising. Their emails to members convey a friendly, informal style and a sense that “they” are just like “us.” But there are important differences between the organization and many of the people who sign their petitions and give them money. MoveOn has not been primarily a movement against the war. It has been a movement of Democrats to get the party back into power.
We do not doubt that MoveOn’s leadership sincerely believes they are pursuing the most practical and effective course to improve
There is an organized anti-war movement in
In the 1950s and the 1960s, the civil rights movement was most definitely not an adjunct of the Democratic or Republican Parties. Far from it, it was a grassroots movement that eventually forced both parties to respond to its agenda. Likewise, the movement against the Vietnam War was not aligned with either the Democratic or Republican parties, both of which claimed to have plans for peace while actually pursuing policies that expanded the war.
That’s the sort of movement we need again, if we wish to see peace in our lifetime.
This commentary is a joint statement by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, the co-authors of books including Weapons of Mass Deception  and The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies and the Mess in