In a December 9, 2004 e-mail to supporters, MoveOn.org leaders Eli Pariser and Justin Ruben wrote, "In the last year, grassroots contributors like us gave more than $300 million to the Kerry campaign and the DNC, and proved that the Party doesn’t need corporate cash to be competitive. Now it’s our Party: we bought it, we own it, and we’re going to take it back."
The September 10 full-page MoveOn.org ad in the New York Times — and the Dems’ reaction to it — apparently proved the point.
Appearing on the first day of Gen. David Petraeus’ congressional testimony, the MoveOn ad featured a half-page picture of Petraeus above the headline, "General Petraeus or Betray Us?" It said, "General Petraeus is a military man consistently at war with the facts…Today, before Congress and before the American people, General Petraeus is likely to become General Betray Us."
Americans’ reaction to the ad – at least Americans who aren’t Democrats seeking national office — has been hugely negative. The outpouring of anger at MoveOn has the MoveOners scared. Late last week, Pariser sent out another e-mail asking supporters if they were ‘on the same page’ with the MoveOn leaders, and the MoveOn website posted this whiny "explanation" which says, in part: "MoveOn is a member-driven organization. There will always be moments where consensus is impossible, but if MoveOn members don’t feel good in general about what we’re all doing together, MoveOn simply can’t function. That’s why we take the concerns of every member very seriously." More seriously than they take the facts.
If Republicans can capitalize on America’s reaction, the MoveOners will have made a mistake that costs the Democrats the White House.
The day after the ad appeared, Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), listening to Petraeus’ testimony, told Gen. Petraeus that his report requires, "…a willing suspension of disbelief." In plain language, Clinton told Petraeus he is a liar.
In that moment, Clinton displayed not only her allegiance to MoveOn.org and the hyperliberal left, but also her utter contempt for the military.
The military functions on two basic principles: discipline and honor. Soldiers don’t follow their commanders only because of their rank. To be a military leader, from sergeant to general, means that you have to earn the trust of those you command. If they don’t believe you — if they cannot take you at your word regardless of whether they like what you’re saying — you cannot lead. Clinton’s over-the-top accusation — were it true — would have proven Petraeus unfit for command. But because the accusation was false, it proved that of Clinton.
Hillary Clinton is as spontaneous as a space shuttle launch. Nothing she does or says is unrehearsed or unplanned. She and her team calculated that the accusation tossed at Petraeus would do two things. First, it would distance her from her votes for the Iraq war resolution in 2002 and her vote to confirm Petraeus last January in the Senate 81-0 vote. Second, it would be an "I’m really with you" wink aimed at the MoveOn gang.
Later, both Clinton and her primary competitor Barack Obama were given an opportunity to criticize the MoveOn Times ad, and both demurred. If Republicans are smart, they will make the MoveOn ad a millstone around their necks all the way through the 2008 campaign.
The best ads in presidential politics change the outcome. In 1964, the anti-Goldwater ad featuring a pretty little girl with a flower with a nuclear mushroom cloud in the background created a fear of Goldwater that Lyndon Johnson used to great advantage. The 1988 “Willie Horton” ads — about a convicted murderer released early a program supported by Democratic candidate Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, and who used his furlough to commit another violent rape – hurt Dukakis badly, painting him as soft on crime.
But the worst ads take a shot that ricochets and hurts the candidate they are meant to help. Dukakis — photographed sitting in a tank wearing a tanker’s helmet, looking for all the world like Alfred E. Neuman’s twin brother — finished him off. The MoveOn ad should be one of the ads that ricochets and kills the Dems’ chance in 2008.
Republicans are struggling. They need to find a way to deal with the war without marching in lockstep with President Bush’s unpopular approach. The President’s speech last Friday night didn’t help. Mr. Bush is clinging to his goal in Iraq, to make that country able to govern, defend and sustain itself while becoming an ally in the larger war. But that approach reverses the order of what we should do: you can’t stabilize Iraq (even if it can become a democracy, which is highly doubtful) before you win the wider war against the states that sponsor Islamofascist terrorism. The only reason Democrats are making headway on the war is that Americans know that the President’s policy is aimed at establishing Iraqi democracy first and winning the war second.
To win in 2008, Republicans have to do two things very quickly. First, they need to redefine the war we are fighting. It’s not disloyal to President Bush for candidates to redefine the war as the facts dictate, and to correctly define victory, which the President has never done. Any of the candidates can set the pace for the rest by stating, firmly and clearly, that the war cannot be won unless and until the nations that sponsor terrorism — Iran, Syria and others — are compelled to cease that practice by whatever means necessary. Iraqi democracy, even stability, is a collateral concern and nothing more.
Second, they need to make the MoveOn.org purchase of the Democratic Party a Faustian bargain the Dems live to regret. For Hillary and Obama to refuse to denounce the "Betray Us" ad should be a fatal error for their campaigns.
Most Americans aren’t on the same page as MoveOn, but both of the top Democratic presidential contenders are. Rudy Giuliani was the first Republican to attack Clinton for her accusation of Petraeus and failure to condemn the MoveOn ad. Clinton’s response was amazingly weak, accusing Giuliani of negative campaigning.
Clinton’s weak response revealed a touchiness on the war issue that Giuliani and the others should capitalize on every day. Whenever Clinton or Obama talk about the war, every time a Republican candidate takes out an ad for himself or against the Democrats, they should picture Hillary or Obama side-by-side with the MoveOn.org logo.
Michael Dukakis was stuck with Willie Horton. Hillary and Obama should be stuck with the "Betray Us" ad.