News & Politics

Is It Too Early to Know?

MoveOn's online presidential primary is a terrific idea – but perhaps we need a MoveOn-sponsored debate before we're ready to vote?
Much of the progressive community is abuzz with the news of the PAC’s online Democratic presidential primary scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. The idea that hundreds of thousands of people are boning up on the positions of candidates and engaged in discussing presidential politics at this early stage is a positive development toward electing a new president in November of 2004.

AlterNet urges our readers to go to and register, even if you are not currently a Move on member ... the primary is open to all.

Nevertheless, for many of us, it might be too early to know who we want for our candidate. And ... it might not be in the best interest of MoveOn to attach itself to one candidate too early. Why? For one, we haven’t seen enough of the candidates under fire, and they may be changing their positions at this early stage; two, if we as MoveOn members go for one candidate too soon, our influence over the others may evaporate.

Veteran speechwriter Jeff Gillenkirk, who has worked for Mario Cuomo and Barbara Boxer, says, "My fear is that this will be divisive and possibly wasteful at this early date, so soon in the process before issues have had a chance to settle and candidates to get their feet ... Situations, people, stances change -- and will change over the next 5 to 6 months. Let everyone fire their best shots, then let's choose. Labor did the same thing in 1984, and we got Walter Mondale."

Personally, I'm hoping that no candidate reaches the 50 percent mark in the MoveOn primary, now or anytime soon, so I’m voting "I don’t know."

As a big fan of MoveOn, I think it should have two goals over the next year: holding the Democratic candidates accountable on issues that will motivate the wide range of progressive voters and MoveOn members; and defeating Bush in 2004.

Furthermore, MoveOn should hold a national debate with the Democratic candidates. With more than 1.5 million members and growing fast, MoveOn has the clout to pull off a major debate to give us all a better sense of the candidates. For once there would be independent progressive journalists involved, and MoveOn members could ask questions.

Also, such a debate would be a wonderful opportunity to test out some new models of independent media distribution -- the debate could appear on progressive satellite channels like World Link and FreeSpeech TV; it could be telecast live into hundreds of campuses; it could be taped and placed on cable at an inexpensive time slot while everyone with TIVO-like recorders or VCRs could tape it; it could be distributed on DVD to many thousands more; it could be streamed over the Internet ... and of course C-SPAN or even a major network will likely decide the debate would be a must-cover event and MoveOn and the progressive issues it supports will get vast national coverage.

We’re all excited about MoveOn’s growth and impact on national politics. Let’s keep building and strengthening it, and not squander our influence too early. As former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich writes, "Don’t get so emotionally invested in any particular candidate that you lose the psychological capacity to be enthusiastic about whoever emerges as the candidate nine months from now.

Remember, the overriding goal is to unseat W. When you hear a Democratic candidate criticize or demean a primary opponent, don’t just sit there; make a phone call and send an email to that candidate expressing outrage. Don’t sink too much of your time, energy and money into primary fights. Remember the real fight begins next Spring. It will take everything you have."

Don Hazen is executive editor of AlterNet.