Sunday, September 23, 2007


A paragraph near the end of Matt Bai's article about MoveOn in today's New York Times:

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.

Now here's the paragraph that begins the article:

WHEN attacked Gen. David H. Petraeus, resorting to the schoolyard tactic of rhyming his name with something mean, leading Republicans must have felt like a band of desert-wanderers who had just stumbled onto an Olympic-size swimming pool. One by one, top Republicans lashed out at the now infamous advertisement, shifting the attention away from General Petraeus's depressing testimony and branding the administration's opponents as a bunch of radical, pierced-nose pacifist thugs.

See, here's the problem: If MoveOn is like the NRA, why doesn't generating controversy work for MoveOn and the candidates it supports the way it works for the NRA? No one ever says that an NRA attack is a huge unexpected blessing for Democrats.

And why does Bai spend the bulk of his article telling us who the members of MoveOn are? (Short version: They're not young hippie throwbacks, as you may have assumed -- they're actually old hippie throwbacks!) When was the last time you read an article that tried to explain to you who the NRA's members are?

If the elite press gave you a thumbnail sketch of the typical NRA member, it would make the NRA seem less fearful, because the typical NRA member is almost certainly a non-coastal non-elitist, someone powerful people don't fear. But that's not how we talk about the NRA. We talk the NRA as a fearful group of political power players; we talk about the leadership, not the members.

That's not how Bai talks about MoveOn. He dwells on the members -- "baby boomer liberals" with "uncompromising impulses." The accompanying illustration depicts the pathetic loser you're supposed to imagine when you think of MoveOn:

The leadership, when it is described, is engaged in a purely cynical effort to generate money via controversy. If you only knew about MoveOn from Bai's article, you'd barely know that it wants to raise money to influence American politics -- just like the NRA. What Bai says is that MoveOn's "main preoccupation, beyond ending the Iraq war, is to keep growing." Oh yeah -- with that minor exception, MoveOn is all about raising money.

(Actually, MoveOn has a lot of other concerns -- heath care, climate change, suspicious voting machines, and so on.)

MoveOn will be like the NRA when it gets treated by elite Beltway journalists with the respect accorded to the NRA. MoveOn's certainly not getting that kind of respect from Matt Bai.


MoveOn, by the way is doing exactly what I hoped it would do in response to the assertion by the ombudsman of The New York Times that the group wasn't entitled to its price break -- it's paying the balance and asking a certain campaign to do the same:

...while we believe that the $142,083 figure is above the market rate paid by most organizations, out of an abundance of caution we have decided to pay that rate for this ad. We will therefore wire the $77,083 difference to the Times tomorrow (Monday, September 24, 2007).

We call on Mayor Giuliani, who received exactly the same ad deal for the same price, to pay the corrected fee also.

This might be a game-changer for one reason: It seems quite possible that Giuliani's campaign won't pony up. And maybe -- maybe -- his failure to do so will be the story. We'll see. It's also entirely possible that the press will suddenly declare the story silly and due for retirement -- at precisely the moment when MoveOn has seized the moral high ground.

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