MoveOn Is Not New to Supporting War

By David Swanson

While General David “Betray Us” Petraeus must be thrilled with his conversion from traitor to saint in the eyes of the pseudo-left and amazed that such things can be accomplished simply by changing the political party of the president, the group that formerly bashed him with an ad in the New York Times and now supports whatever Obama does is not as new to supporting wars as this simple story suggests.

Sure, MoveOn tripled its membership by opposing the invasion of Iraq and now won’t utter a word against the escalation of war in Afghanistan or the continuation of war in Iraq, but MoveOn’s opposition to war never extended to opposing pro-war Democrats, and did not survive the Democrats’ congressional victories in 2006. The Congress that was elected in 2006 to end the war voted in March 2007 (and repeatedly thereafter) to fund it. Congresswoman Barbara Lee was not permitted to offer for a vote her amendment, which would have funded a withdrawal instead of the war. Groups that supported Lee’s plan over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s included United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, US Labor Against the War, After Downing Street,, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, and disgruntled former members of

True Majority was a late addition to the list. The organization polled its members. Did they favor the Pelosi bill to fund the war but include various toothless restrictions on it, or did they favor the Lee plan to use the power of the purse to end the war by the end of the year? Needless to say, True Majority’s membership favored the Lee plan.

MoveOn polled its membership without including the Lee alternative, offering a choice of only Pelosi’s plan or nothing. Amazingly, Eli Pariser, then director of MoveOn, admitted that the reason MoveOn did this was because they knew that their members would favor the Lee amendment. The following is from a report on

“Pariser defends his e-mail. He says that the group already knew that its members would have supported Barbara Lee’s plan, but whatever MoveOn did, it would never have passed. What MoveOn didn’t know was what its members thought about the Pelosi plan. ‘The choice that we needed to make as an organization was, Do we support this thing or not?’ Pariser says. ‘And so I think the e-mail was a very fair presentation of the choice that was actually in front of the organization.'”

Pariser was simultaneously admitting that he knew his members favored the Lee amendment to quickly end the war by defunding it, and claiming that he did not know whether his members preferred Pelosi’s weak anti-war gestures to nothing at all. This made no sense. Were we supposed to imagine that Pariser honestly believed there was some chance that his membership would read his praise for Pelosi’s bill and then vote for nothing at all instead of supporting it? Of course not. The point of the poll was to allow MoveOn to announce that its membership supported Pelosi rather than Lee. The poll served to give cover to “progressive” Democrats in Congress who gave their support to Pelosi after having intended to vote no on Pelosi’s bill unless it included Lee’s amendment.

Pariser believed he knew better than MoveOn members what was good for them. He didn’t let them make the supposed mistake of backing Lee rather than Pelosi, because Lee’s amendment supposedly could never pass, while Pelosi’s bill could. There are three problems with this, other than the arrogance and dishonesty. One is that, as Bob Fertik pointed out, even if Lee’s amendment did not pass, a vote for it would have helped to build war opposition in Congress, Pelosi’s bill could have still passed too, and other amendments could still have been denied a vote.

The second problem is that we have no proof that Lee’s amendment could not have been passed. A third of the Democrats had already taken similar positions. The leadership could have brought another third on board. And relentless pressure and threats and bribes of the sort that Pelosi in fact aimed at progressives could have brought many of the right-wing Democrats along. And if it had failed, and the Republicans and Republican-lite Democrats had voted down the bill, it would have been clear who stood where, and Pelosi could have announced victory and the end of the war. The Pentagon had more than enough money to safely bring the troops home right away without Congress passing any bill at all.

The third problem is that, even if Pelosi had insisted on passing a bill, it is not at all clear that voting down this particular bill would have been worse than passing it. Pelosi would have been forced to come back with another bill, as she knew she would be anyway when her bill failed in the Senate or was vetoed. But the second bill could have been drafted with more influence from the progressives if they had voted down the first bill. In fact, if the Progressive Caucus ever stood up for what it was supposedly committed to, maybe it wouldn’t have to complain about being ignored and disrespected and the only caucus Obama hasn’t met with.

But, how can we be sure that Pariser viewed his poll of MoveOn members not as a contest between Pelosi and nothing, but as a contest between Pelosi and Lee? Well, because Pariser told the news journal the Politico just that:

“In the poll, gave its members a choice of supporting, opposing or being ‘not sure’ of the plan proposed by the Democratic leadership, according to an e-mail sent to members Sunday by official Eli Pariser. It did not mention a more aggressive withdrawal proposal backed by [Rep. Lynn] Woolsey, [Rep. Maxine] Waters and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). Pariser said had held out as long as possible before backing the leadership proposal. ‘We were basically declining to take a position as long as we could to strengthen the hand of the progressives. We did the poll at the last time we felt we could have an impact on the final vote.’ He said he would support the progressive proposal if it came to a vote. ‘We’ll encourage people to vote for that and for the supplemental,’ he said. ‘We are trying to end the war. That’s the mandate.'”

So, Pariser held off as long as possible to run a rigged poll and announce support for Pelosi’s bill, in order not to actively work against the Lee Amendment. But working to support the Lee Amendment never crossed his mind, and he avoided asking his members about it because he knew they would favor it. But the progressives were not at that point pushing for a pretentious and meaningless vote on Lee followed by backing for Pelosi. They were pushing for a Yes vote on Lee and a No vote on Pelosi unless it included Lee.

If Pariser thought he knew so much about what was possible and what was not, why didn’t he lay that case out to MoveOn’s membership? Why didn’t he offer the choice of backing Lee’s position but make his argument that it would be futile? Did he not trust MoveOn members to make the right decision? That seems strange given the lines that can be found at the bottom of any MoveOn Email:

“Support our member-driven organization: Political Action is entirely funded by our 3.2 million members. We have no corporate contributors, no foundation grants, no money from unions. Our tiny staff ensures that small contributions go a long way. If you’d like to support our work, you can give now at….”

Clearly MoveOn needs to work on distinguishing “member driven” from “member funded.” So do a great many other organizations. I offer MoveOn only as an example. And the work would not be difficult, I think, consisting — as it would — primarily of refusing to be corrupted by the influence of party leadership. Many organizations resist this influence in some cases, but not in others. Some resist it entirely.

More than anything else, we need well-organized and powerful activist organizations, and media outlets, that are truly independent. Wars should not be the play things of partisan politics. Citizens’ independent organizations should not approve of the greatest horrors yet conceived or oppose them, solely dependent upon the party membership of the war makers. This amounts to playing games with people’s lives and the security and well being of all of us.

The war in Afghanistan has not been justified, is no more morally defensible than the war in Iraq, and is guaranteed to result in disaster, if we do not ask the right questions now.

Our government has committed to removing all troops from localities in Iraq by the end of June 2009, and removing them from bases in the country by the end of 2011, but the military is openly planning to violate that first commitment and to rename troops as “non-combat” troops. Sadly, their deaths and injuries, and those they cause, will be all too real. What are your congress member and senators planning to do this summer if troops have not been removed from localities or if the Iraqi people have not been permitted to vote, as promised, on the future of the occupation? You should feel free to raise such questions even if MoveOn will not.

You should also feel free, if you want to support peace, to get involved in any or all of the organizations that put peace ahead of party, organizations that collectively are much larger and more active than MoveOn: United for Peace and Justice, Progressive Democrats of America, US Labor Against the War, After Downing Street,, Peace Action, Code Pink, Democracy Rising, True Majority, Gold Star Families for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, Backbone Campaign, Iraq Veterans Against the War, Voters for Peace, Veterans for Peace, the Green Party, and many more.

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