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David Sirota

David Sirota

Posted: August 12, 2008 04:00 PM

The Difference Between Movements and Parties

Read More: Iraq, Politics News

There is a big difference between movement ideology and pure partisanship - a difference pretty well spelled out in today's story about Evan Bayh in the New York Times.

Here's what ideology looks like:

"The antiwar people cannot define the Democratic Party," said Al From, a founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, of which Mr. Bayh was chairman for four years. "I think Evan's real strength is you get someone on the ticket who has a record of being strong on national security, and that is a very important quality to have."

From, the head of a neoconservative corporate front group, is happy to attack the antiwar majority in America and push Bayh as a VP choice because - based on Bayh's voting record - Bayh will be a vehicle for From's (nauseating) ideology.

Now, by contrast, here's what partisanship looks like:

Eli Pariser, the executive director of the antiwar group MoveOn.org, said that Mr. Obama had a variety of factors to weigh in making a choice and that he was not ready to say that Mr. Bayh should be ruled out because of his views at the start of the war.

"We are not going to get into which particular person is good or bad," Mr. Pariser said. "We hope that emphasizing Senator Obama's judgment against the war is something they consider in making their pick."

In effectively OK-ing the VP nomination of a politician who has consistently voted against Moveon's organizational mission, the Moveon leadership lets us in on the secret that I reported in my book: namely that Moveon today operates first and foremost as a partisan appendage. Instead of using the VP question - and the presidential election as a whole - as an instrument to build the antiwar movement, Moveon's quote suggests the organization is willing to go along with almost anyone Obama chooses, regardless of how their career has undermined that movement, regardless of whether Bayh's backers are citing his potential nomination as proof that the Democratic Party should reject the movement Moveon purports to champion.

Just to give show you that it is, indeed, possible for an antiwar movement message to be fired through the vice presidential prism, take a look at this quote from the same NY Times story:

"He was not only wrong, he was aggressively wrong," said Tom Andrews, national director of the Win Without War coalition, referring to Mr. Bayh. "In my view, he would contradict if not undermine the Obama message of change, turning a new page on foreign policy and national security."

In other words, it's not either or here, folks. Indeed, there is a way to use elections as tools for movements and for change - rather than using elections as ends unto themselves.

As one aside, I actually think Al From severely hurt Evan Bayh's chances of being nominated, simply because he reminded folks that Bayh's definition of "strength" on national security is to support the Bush national security policy that polls show Americans believe has severely weakened the country. That said, I think Moveon significantly helped Bayh's chances by saying that despite the Indiana senator's horrific voting record, the organization would be fine with his nomination.

P.S. Note to the New York Times' Carl Hulse: Next time you write about "Indianans" as you put it, you might want to note that referring to folks from Indiana that way makes you look like an idiot. Folks from Indiana call themselves "Hoosiers" (full disclosure: I learned this lesson a long time ago when I first met my wife, who is a Hoosier).