Versus Its Members

By David Swanson

“A liberal is the kind of guy who walks out of a room when the argument turns into a fight.” – Saul Alinsky

The Congress that was elected to end the war just voted to fund the war. 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 and opposed 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 of MoveOn has 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 is 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 makes no sense. Are 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. Yet Pariser admits that he did not offer MoveOn’s membership a choice of Lee’s plan because he knew they would vote for it.

Actually, he doesn’t say that he knows Lee’s plan would have won out over Pelosi’s. But he certainly does not know that it wouldn’t have, and making that baseless and to my mind very unlikely claim was the only possible point of having done the poll. The rationale that Pariser offers is absurd. The poll could only have had one result. It 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.

Now, Pariser believes he knows better than MoveOn members what is good for them. He didn’t let them make the supposed mistake of backing Lee rather than Pelosi, because Lee supposedly could never pass, while Pelosi could. There are three problems with this, other than the extreme arrogance and dishonesty. One is that, as Bob Fertik has 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 have taken similar positions. The leadership could have brought another third on board. And relentless pressure and threats and bribes of the sort 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 has more than enough money to safely bring our troops home right away without Congress passing any bill at all.

The third problem is that it is not at all clear that voting down Pelosi’s bill would have been worse than passing it. She would have been forced to come back with another bill, as she will be if this one doesn’t make it past the Senate, or Bush vetoes or signing statements it (well, she’ll probably ignore a signing statement, but not a veto). But starting on bill #2 could have come more quickly and with more influence from the progressives if they had voted down the war funding bill.

Building a serious Out of Iraq caucus is key to getting us to another position that I suspect the majority of MoveOn members favor: the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. Of course, MoveOn has not polled its members on impeachment, but it won’t do so apparently until impeachment proceedings are well underway and a successful vote for impeachment can be safely predicted. (Though at that point, what will be the point?)

But, how can we be sure that Pariser viewed his poll of MoveOn members on Pelosi’s bill 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 Woolsey, 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 a 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.”

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