TPM Cafe is hosting a discussion this week of my MoveOn article. There’ll be feedback and criticism from some of the sources I quote in the article, and I’ll be chiming in myself. I just put up the introductory post, which I’m pasting in below:
I’m grateful to TPM for hosting this discussion, and it seems the timing is fortuitous. As is so often the case, MoveOn is in the news this week, first for co-sponsoring, along with Color of Change and the rapper Nas, a protest of Fox News’ coverage. And later, for Bill O’Reilly’s deranged comment that, “It is not a stretch to say MoveOn is the new Klan.”
As I note in my cover-story in the Nation, this kind of crazy, over-heated rhetoric is par for the course. Heck, John McCain even said MoveOn “ought to be thrown out of this country.” But understanding MoveOn as some kind of radical vangaurd — as both the right-wing and MSM generally do — gets the organization exactly wrong. MoveOn’s success (and its limitations) lie in its ability to organize vast swaths of people who aren’t radical or even that inclined towards ostentatious acts of protest. Their constituency is, by and large, what Richard Nixon once referred to, in a different context, as “the non shouters”
For a group that dominates the headlines as consistently as MoveOn does, it’s remarkable to me just how poorly it is understood. In taking a look at the organization as it approaches its tenth anniversary, I was trying to get a handle on just what MoveOn was, how it worked and what it’s future prospects were. But MoveOn also serves as a good representative for a lot of the other components of the progressive movement, which, after eight years opposition, is now trying to figure out its role should Democrats come to control the federal government.
There are three questions about MoveOn’s future I think are particularly relevant:
1) What does the next MoveOn look like? The model of internet activism they pioneered has been widely adopted, plowing the ground the Obama campaign has so fruitfully harvested. But there appears to be diminishing returns, as its rate of growth has slowed considerably, and politicians learn to ignore mass petitions. In response they’ve started experimenting with new platforms (Facebook), and putting more emphasis on face-to-face organizing. Will this trend continue and will it be more effective?
2) How does MoveOn function in relationship to a possible Obama administration? They endorsed him in the primary and gave some pushback over his FISA heresy, but its unclear just how much fear they strike in the hearts of Democratic politicians. MoveOn’s critics (some of whom are joining in discussion) charge that MoveOn has grown too cozy with the Democratic party and been insufficiently confrontational, particularly on the issue of funding the war. Of course, it’s unclear how much a more confrontational stance would have accomplished but negotiating the tricky terrain of pressuring your ostensible political allies is something all of us on the center left are wrestling with.
3) Just how effective is MoveOn, and how effective can it be without a deeper network of social capital, and a more democratic model? That is, while MoveOn is undeniably (to my view) a net positive for the left and for the country, does its model of activism-made-easy cut off its potential for something bigger?
I don’t really have the answers to these questions, and I think the MoveOn folks, who tend to be pretty humble and thoughtful, don’t necessarily think they have all the answers either. But the stakes are pretty high right now, with a war that grinds on, and the possibility of some seriously significant progressive legislative reform on the horizon.
The progressive movement, in other words, is approaching a cross roads, and this seemed as good time as any to take a look a where we’ve been and what’s next.