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March 31, 2009

How Obama took over the peace movement

John Stauber describes how MoveOn morphed from an independent grassroots organization to an integral piece of Barack Obama's message machine.

MoveOn built its list by organizing vigils and ads for peace and by then supporting Obama for president; today it operates as a full-time cheerleader supporting Obama's policy agenda. Some of us saw this unfolding years ago. Others are probably shocked watching their peace candidate escalating a war and sounding so much like the previous administration in his rationale for doing so. [PR Watch]

The irony is not lost on Stauber.


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We only have to look at the history of MoveOn to see that this was not surprising. It started as an organization supporting Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal; the name came from the call for censuring Clinton and moving on. It was never grassroots - a few years ago, I read an article comparing its model, which is essentially a younger, hipper version of top-down decision making, with the more decentralized operation of Daily Kos.

Having read Stauber's article now, I'm really unimpressed. In 2002 and 2003, many liberals opposed the Iraq War, but almost all supported the operations in Afghanistan. In fact, that Iraq was a distraction from the main theater of the war on terror was one of the main arguments against it, almost from day one. The sentiment was best expressed by Howard Dean, who, responding to the charge that his position on Iraq was anti-war, said he was "anti-this war."

Stauber's earlier article on the subject disapproving quotes Matt Stoller saying that people like Stauber just can't imagine a new Democratic Party that liberals actually like. Sadly, Stoller's right. Stauber's not even making an argument for all-around pacifism or against the war in Afghanistan specifically - he just uses creative tricks to make Afghanistan look like Iraq. Essentially, he's doing what Bush did in 2002, in reverse.

Hasn't Obama favored some escalation in Afghanistan for a pretty long time? Alon's account of this matches my recollection.

To me, the point is that MoveOn was once on the outside and now finds itself on the inside.

We all knew that Obama pledged to escalate the war in Afghanistan on the campaign trail. That's something that a lot of left liberals are deeply uncomfortable with, whether they were in favor of the initial strike against the Taliban or not.

MoveOn was under no illusions about Obama's attitude towards the Afghan conflict when it backed him during the general election. That's the point. If MoveOn had stayed at arms' length from Obama, there's no way the group would have been gunning for escalation on its own.

I'm not saying MoveOn made the wrong choice. Maybe it really can do more as an arm of Obama's message machine than it could do as an independent watchdog group. I'm just saying that the choice has some ironic consequences.

MoveOn was only on the outside because Bush was in power. It's always been a liberal Democratic organization despite criticizing individual party members. Backing Obama is smart because he's the guy with the power and is sympathetic to a lot of MoveOn issues. Backing him provides leverage down the line when they want to advance some element of their agenda which isn't on Obama's to-do list.

While Obama's choices in Afghanistan are nothing more than what he said during the campaign, I'm not sure why there isn't more liberal/progressive outrage that his promised "pullout" from Iraq leaves 50,000 troops there, which to my mind is not really a pullout.

I think there is possibility that Obama and Clinton machine combined with completely demoralized and chaotic GOP can run out of control.

I certainly hope not, because Obama administration will be in very politically powerful after next mid term. He can change the constitution if he push hard enough.

No surprise. They gutted themselves during the primary and turned into his lackeys.

I don't know about MoveOn, but people at the Center for American Progress have been writing in favor of "strategic redeployment" (escalation in Afghanistan and withdrawal from Iraq) since 2005.

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