Monday, September 24, 2007

(hopefully) final thoughts on the MoveOn flap

Matt Bai's column in yesterday's NY Times was thought-provoking, and highlighted for me some of the reasons why I've tended lately to transfer emails from MoveOn, unread, directly into the trash.
    An attack on MoveOn from the Bush White House is, of course, the mother of all message objects. Six months after Mr. Bush's re-election, when opposition to the Iraq war suddenly seemed to be breaking out like a rash around the country, Karl Rove publicly accused MoveOn and its liberal sympathizers of offering "therapy and understanding for our attackers," and membership soared. That probably explains why MoveOn was eager to run the provocative Petraeus ad in the first place.

    In a sense, MoveOn is shrewdly gaming liberal politics in the way the National Rifle Association has long gamed conservative politics; the more controversy, the more members it attracts, and the more power it has to leverage on their behalf.

    Whether or not this ultimately translates into an advantage for the Democratic Party is a different question. There's surely a benefit to the Democrats in having a group out there re-engaging millions of alienated liberals.

    But sometimes what's good for growing the list isn't necessarily good for the party. After all, the Petraeus ad and the resulting attacks on MoveOn almost completely eclipsed the general's testimony and his bleak assessment of the Iraq situation. MoveOn itself was better off for having fought the battle, but it stifled the conversation Democrats wanted to have about the war.
I believe that's true. What should have led to a serious discussion of Iraq led instead to hours of republican grandstanding, democratic foot-shuffling, and a shifting of the focal point to MoveOn itself. I loathe triangulation as a governing policy, but I also loathe MoveOn's sense of self-importance.

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