Democrats Throw Their Base Under the Bus; Cave to Wing-Nuts on MoveOn Resolution

On the eve of the Petraeus hearings, I wrote that if the Democrats didn't call out the general on his partisan, politically motivated spin of the events unfolding in Iraq, they would prove their irrelevance on the issue of the ongoing occupation once and for all.

In the end, it was much worse than that. Today, Senate Democrats took the time to join their Republican colleagues in condemning an ad produced by MoveOn.org that -- accurately -- pointed out Petraeus' previous spin about progress in Iraq and warned that the general would "Betray Us." The resolution passed by a vote of 72-25. Among the presidential contenders in the senate, Hillary Clinton and Chris Dodd voted against the resolution and Barack Obama and Joe Biden abstained.

Earlier, a companion resolution offered by California Democrat Barbara Boxer that would have condemned the "Swift-boating" of John Kerry and Max Cleland by GOP operatives was defeated.

In the real world, this is all beyond idiotic. That the Senate would take valuable time to debate something as trivial as an advertisement in the New York Times is an indication of just how unserious the discourse about the war has become in Washington. In that sense, one more "sense of the Senate" resolution is basically meaningless.

But it's far more serious than that. The fact that 25 Democratic Senators voted for the resolution is an indication of how deeply disconnected they are from the values that most Americans share. After all, polls taken after General Petraeus' testimony revealed that his show had barely changed public opinion on Iraq. Before he testified, a majority expected him to paint a rosier picture than reality -- to lie before Congress about the effectiveness of the surge, just as the MoveOn ad accused him of doing.

Tactically, rolling over on this one was profoundly stupid. In condemning MoveOn, Senate democrats effectively condemned themselves -- Democrats and MoveOn will be tied together by Republicans at every opportunity. MoveOn rolled out a new ad attacking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the McConnell campaign responded by saying, "MoveOn.org is an extremist organization that advocated pacifism in response to 9/11, ran ads on its website equating George W. Bush to Hitler, and most recently called our commander on the ground in Iraq, General David Petraeus, a traitor in a newspaper advertisement ... That ad and this group's actions were condemned today in a bipartisan 72-25 vote in the U.S. Senate."

Democrats just helped the Right marginalize the largest progressive grassroots organization in America. What's more, they just gave the Beltway press corps permission to do the same -- anything that Democrats and Republicans agree on is true, after all, right?

With such a boneheaded move, Senate Democrats showed again that there is no limit to their Pavlovian responses to military issues. They stand petrified that they'll be called dirty, America-hating hippies who "oppose the troops" by Republicans, that they'll invite a conservative back-lash if they show spine on ending the open-ended occupation of Iraq or that they'll appear "soft on terror" or anti-military. It is the same unique paranoia about military issues that will likely keep a U.S. occupation force in Iraq until the Iraqis force our hand. The legislative process will remain hopeless as long as there is a group of Democrats who embrace every narrative that the hawks in Congress put out there.

Never mind that popular opinion is with the anti-war movement on the issue -- Democrats are so steeped in the Beltway worldview that they are now incapable of playing in the same league with the big dog Republicans. They should have pushed back hard against what was a painfully transparent GOP gambit to conflate criticism of Petraeus with criticism of the entire military. They should have said in no uncertain terms that the attacks on MoveOn were an obvious attempt to distract from the issue at hand. They should have said emphatically that the Right-wing has polished this shtick over the years and that they were waiting for any opportunity to manufacture some outrage out of whole cloth.

That they didn't doesn't just reflect on their political tone-deafness; something more frightening is going on. By capitulating to the GOP's spinmeisters, they became complicit in putting the military on a pedestal, tacitly endorsing the idea that you can go after politicians who lie, but not generals, even generals who are rumored to have political aspirations.

I won't mince words: glorifying the military -- placing it above reproach, suggesting that it is inappropriate to question its officers on the same terms as we question civilian leaders -- is a giant step towards fascism. In condemning the anti-MoveOn resolution, Barbara Boxer said: ""This is the United States of America. We don't condemn single ads or organizations. We condemn every attack on the glory of our military." I don't hold members of the military responsible for the decision to invade Iraq, but when we forget that they're serving in an illegal, immoral and unpopular war, and talk about how we have to condemn any attack on the military's "glory," we're getting into serious Kim Jong Il territory.


******


Editor's note: MoveOn.org is not backing down. The group sent this out today:
The U.S. Senate just told you to sit down and be quiet when they passed a Republican amendment condemning MoveOn.
Every day, our brave men and women are dying in a bloody civil war this Senate has done nothing to stop. Yesterday, they couldn't even pass a bill to give soldiers adequate leave with their families before redeploying. But they're spending time cracking down on a newspaper ad?
So, we're making clear where America stands. We're releasing a statement from MoveOn members--and anyone else who feels the same way--saying, "We will not be quiet, we will fight back. We will keep speaking out until Congress forces an exit plan for this awful war."
MoveOn is looking for signatures on a poll and financial support to run an ad criticizing the GOP for blocking the Webb Amendment this week. You can go here to support them with either or both.

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