There is a huge problem of "risk aversion" in progressive culture, and nothing exemplefies that more clearly than what happened to MoveOn in the wake of their Petraeus/Betray Us ad in the New York Times. Matt Stoller points to one particularly infuriatingly yet typical email from The Truman Project, in which they encourage their progressive veterans to denounce MoveOn:
Those of you who saw the NYTimes today saw that MoveOn took out a full page ad equating Petraeus with "Betray Us" and accusing him of politicizing the military.
In one fell swoop, they have undone massive work by countless progressives trying to bridge the gap with the military and reconnect.
What's this "we," kemosabe? MoveOn is always out there, fighting the good fight, they've done more to move the anti-war dialog in this country than just about any organization I know. They will, as a result, inevitably be a target of the right. I do think it's possible to have differences of opinion in good faith about the ad, but when people start to claim the progress made by "progressives" as their own, and MoveOn is somehow suddenly outside of that, it's just arrogant, spurious nonsense.
I'm sorry, John Kerry, but you don't help the right wing out. Ever. Now they've got Diaper Dave Vitter out there leading the battle cry, trying to reclaim himself by introducing resolutions to denounce MoveOn. Does Kerry really not know how it works at this point? Paul Krugman does, and he lays it out extremely well in a review of Jon Chiat's new book:
Jon talks at some length about the media, and in particular about the Republican ability to get journalists to harp endlessly on supposed character flaws of Democrats, while their own candidates get a free pass. He emphasizes the right-wing echo chamber, but there's more to it than that. It's also - as I can report from my own experience - a result of asymmetrical intimidation. Quite simply, if you point out character flaws in a conservative, there will be an all-out effort, involving major media as well as blogs and talk radio, to discredit and ruin you, personally. This just doesn't happen on the other side.
So journalists feel that it's safe to ridicule Democrats, even if the supposed character-defining episode never happened; they choke up and shy away when it comes to Republicans. That's why even the most grotesque stuff, like Giuliani's claim that he's a rescue worker too, or Romney's remark that his sons are serving the country by helping him become president, doesn't get picked up.
One of the most frustrating things about getting involved in the political process as part of the Blue America PAC is that we have to confront on a daily basis how little our representatives know about how the media works, how thoroughly it has been gamed by conservatives and how easily they get played. They're so anxious to please, to seem "reasonable," that their reflex is to repeat canards about "those crazy blogs" (or MoveOn or anybody else trying to build progressive infrastructure) without any awareness that they are planting a knife squarely in the back of the only message machine that exists to combat a rabid right wing that doesn't just want to see them disempowered, it wants them destroyed. Permanently.
I realize many Democrats are just as frightened of the progressive movement as they are of the Republicans and were probably quite gleeful about getting to take MoveOn down a peg, but this only goes to underscore how woefully out of touch they are with what is going on in this country and how distant the perspective of the voting public is from the wisdom of the beltway brahmins. Markos Moulitsas fielded the question of the MoveOn ad beautifully on Hardball:
To me, you know, way out in California, it's almost amusing to see how in Washington DC, everybody is all up in arms over an ad. You know, we're in the middle of this bloody war, almost 4,000 dead, half a trillion dollars spent, and people are going to talk about how inappropriate an ad is? I think it's patently ridiculous. And most people, outside of this sort of Beltway environment really don't care about an ad. They want to see our men and women coming home, safe and sound to their families.
The MoveOn ad said what Democrats could not and survive politically -- Petraeus is acting as a politician, doing a politician's job of spinning and his actions are not above criticism just because he's got a bunch of ribbons on his chest that George Bush would like to hide behind. And it traveled. To join with the right and start firing arrows into their backs is both destructive from a movement perspective and displays tremendous naiveté about what it's going to take to end this war.
So unless there is some mysterious wisdom in taking one's messaging cues from Diaper Dave, people who want to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem should find another way to engage in this conversation. One that doesn't leave progressive fighters fearful that their own side will turn on them when the GOP attack dogs decide to lunge.
Jane Hamsher blogs at firedoglake.com.