Moveon's Explanation on Lee Amendment Raises Crucial Questions About Its "Progressive" Leadership
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In our Moveon poll, 96% of you said "Moveon should truthfully explain why it undermined the Barbara Lee Amendment for a fully-funded withdrawal from Iraq."
Farhad Manjoo of Salon.com got a shocking answer from Moveon's Eli Pariser - even though they knew Moveon's members would support it, they refused to promote it!
What precipitated the recent scuffle between MoveOn and its former allies was an e-mail that Pariser sent to MoveOn's members on Sunday, March 18, asking them to help guide the group's position on the war debate in Congress. As Salon's Michael Scherer has noted, the e-mail read like a push poll; Pariser described Pelosi's plan and Bush's opposition to it, and made only cursory mention of progressives' concerns. He did not describe plans floated by members of the House's Out of Iraq Caucus that would have funded a quick withdrawal from Iraq. "Should we support or oppose the Democrats' plan?" Pariser asked in the e-mail. Slightly more than a hundred thousand MoveOn members voted in the poll. The vast majority -- 84.6 percent -- sided with "the Democrats."
"It reads like a Soviet ballot," says John Stauber, the founder of the Center for Media & Democracy, whose harsh indictment of MoveOn's survey has been a hot item on lefty blogs this week. If Pariser had more thoroughly educated members about all of the positions in the debate, many would have voted against the Pelosi plan, Stauber says. More important, MoveOn could have helped the chances of an amendment by Reps. Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters and Lynn Woolsey, leaders of the Out of Iraq Caucus, that called for withdrawal of all troops by the end of 2007. "They could have put out an alert to 3.2 million people across the country and said, 'If you do anything tomorrow, get up and call your representatives and tell them to support the Lee Amendment,'" insists CodePink's Gael Murphy. "They've got millions of dollars. If they put their money toward stopping this war, we'd have a lot more leadership in the Democratic Congress toward stopping this war." But MoveOn didn't stump for the Lee plan, and it died in committee.
Pariser defends his e-mail. He says that the group already knew that its members would have supported Barbara Lee's plan, but whatever MoveOn did, it would never have passed. What MoveOn didn't know was what its members thought about the Pelosi plan. "The choice that we needed to make as an organization was, Do we support this thing [the Pelosi plan] or not?" Pariser says. "And so I think the e-mail was a very fair presentation of the choice that was actually in front of the organization."
It's perfectly true that Barbara Lee's amendment for a "fully-funded withdrawal" was unlikely to get 218 votes this week.
But how can that possibly be a valid reason for taking that option "off the table" for its 3.2 million members?
If Moveon had let its members support Lee's amendment - as Democrats.com and all the other truly anti-war groups did - there would have been overwhelming grassroots pressure on the Democratic leadership (Pelosi, Hoyer, Emanuel et al) to allow a floor vote on the Lee Amendment.
Even if the Lee Amendment had failed, it would have sent a crucial message - that 50 or 80 or 120 Members of Congress (including a couple of Republicans) want to end the war in 2007 - not 2008 (Pelosi) or 2009 (Clinton) or 2999 (Bush and the Republican Party).
And the votes for the Lee Amendment would also have sent the message that Congress should use its full "power of the purse" to enforce its deadline - rather than rely on Bush to falsely certify fungible "benchmarks" as the Pelosi bill does.
Getting Congress to vote on firm withdrawal dates and mechanisms is crucial even if those votes fail. Each vote sets down a "marker" for each Member of Congress and allows their constituents (remember those??) to lobby them to change their position to support a quicker withdrawal. And if that lobbying fails, it allows their constituents to find a candidate to run against them - including in a primary if the war supporter is a Democrat.
Now there are many cynics in the blogosphere who believe Members of Congress cannot be persuaded by their constituents. The simple answer to them is bulls**t. House members come up for election every two years. The 2006 election proved that the majority of Americans wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible. With each passing day, the out-of-Iraq majority grows, which makes it harder with each passing day for incumbents to let Bush prolong his war.
So if we don't have 218 votes today, that doesn't mean we won't have 218 votes in a month - or two months - or three - if we keep building public pressure to get out of Iraq now. That's exactly what grassroots movements are for!
But Moveon deliberately abandoned the anti-war movement and thereby helped Pelosi quietly kill the Lee Amendment in the dark of night in the Rules Committee. That will make it much harder to pressure Congress - both Republicans and Democrats - to vote to bring our troops home.
Was Moveon simply unaware of the importance of the Lee Amendment vote in the anti-war lobbying strategy? Or did Moveon deliberately choose to undermine our strategy in order to protect pro-war Democrats from the wrath of their anti-war constituents?
I have no idea - but Moveon needs to answer this question honestly if progressive are going to continue to have confidence in Moveon's leadership.
Update 1: I just received an email from Moveon's Nita Chaudhary praising my Congressman with the title "Rep. Crowley does the right thing on Iraq"
We're one step closer in the fight to end the war. Today the Iraq Accountability Act passed Congress. For the first time, Congress passed a real deadline to end the war--by fall of 2008. Your representative, Congressman Joseph Crowley voted right and helped make that happen.
This was a very hard vote for members of Congress. But Rep. Crowley supported Speaker Pelosi in her strategy to wind down this war. Can you write him a quick note to say 'thanks' for bringing us one step closer and to keep up the fight until all our troops are home?
Would New Democrat Vice Chair Joe Crowley (a close ally of right-leaning Steny Hoyer) have voted for the Lee Amendment? I doubt it, even though his poor and working-class Bronx/Queens constituents are overwhelmingly anti-war. If he had voted against the Lee Amendment, local anti-war activists could have increased our pressure on him. Instead, Moveon wants us to say "thanks" for a "very hard vote" that wasn't the least bit hard for a Democrat in an anti-war district - which describes nearly all 233 Democrats.
Given the speed with which this email arrived in my in-box, it's hard to imagine Moveon didn't begin this battle with a plan to win the good graces of right-leaning Democrats like Crowley - rather than strengthen the Out Of Iraq Caucus led by Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, and Lynn Woolsey.