View Full Version : MoveOn.org

03-02-2005, 11:03 PM
The Online Insurgency

MoveOn has become a force to be reckoned with
Rolling Stone

They signed up 500,000 supporters with an Internet petition -- but Bill Clinton still got impeached. They organized 6,000 candlelight vigils worldwide -- but the U.S. still invaded Iraq. They raised $60 million from 500,000 donors to air countless ads and get out the vote in the battle-ground states -- but George Bush still whupped John Kerry. <font color="red">A gambler with a string of bets this bad might call it a night. </font color> But MoveOn.org just keeps doubling down.

Now that Howard Dean has been named chair of the Democratic National Committee -- an ascension that MoveOn helped to engineer -- the Internet activist group is placing another high-stakes wager. It's betting that its 3 million grass-roots revolutionaries can seize the reins of the party and establish the group as a lasting political force. <font color="red">"It's our Party," MoveOn's twenty-four-year-old executive director, Eli Pariser, declared in an e-mail. "We bought it, we own it and we're going to take it back." </font color> The group's new goal is sweeping in its ambition: To make 2006 a watershed year for liberal Democrats in Congress, in the same way that Newt Gingrich led a Republican revolution in 1994.

MoveOn has already revolutionized Democratic politics, energizing the party faithful in ways Karl Rove would envy. It laid the groundwork for Dean's online insurgency in the primaries, taught Kerry to use the Internet as a campaign ATM that spews out millions in small contributions and transformed 70,000 online members into get-out-the-vote volunteers. MoveOn "is culturally important for the party because they're teaching us how to innovate," says Simon Rosenberg, president of the centrist New Democrat Network. "Politics is a risk-averse business -- and they're not risk averse."

But many party insiders worry that an Internet insurgency working hand in hand with a former Vermont governor will only succeed in pushing the party so far to the left that it can't compete in the red states. "It's electoral suicide," says Dan Gerstein, a former strategist for Joe Lieberman's presidential campaign. MoveOn committed a series of costly blunders last fall: It failed to remove two entries that compared Bush to Hitler from its online ad contest, and its expensive television spots barely registered in the campaign. One conservative commentator, alluding to MoveOn's breathless promotion of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, branded the group the "MooreOn" wing of the party. All of which leaves political veterans wondering: As MoveOn becomes a vital part of the Democratic establishment, will its take-no-prisoners attitude marginalize the party and strengthen the Republican stranglehold on power?

"My view of MoveOn is that they're like muscular adolescents," says Rosenberg. "Their body has grown too quickly -- they're going to make mistakes."

Moveon is guided by a tiny, tightknit group of leaders. There are only ten of them, still deeply committed to the Internet start-up ethos of working out of their homes and apartments in better-dead-than-red bastions such as Berkeley, California, Manhattan and Washington, D.C. For a political organization that likes to rail against "the consulting class of professional election losers," MoveOn seems remarkably unconcerned about its own win-loss record. Talk to the group's leadership and you won't hear much about the agony of defeat. Wes Boyd -- the software entrepreneur who used his fortune from creating the Flying Toaster screen saver to co-found MoveOn -- blithely acknowledges the need to produce some electoral wins "in the classical sense." But he sees the rise of MoveOn's progressive populism as a moral victory in and of itself.

The group's latest strategy consists of a one-two punch. First, MoveOn is ditching the traditional Democratic model of using paid canvassers, whom the group derides for blowing into town every four years "like the occasional tornado." Instead, it plans to emulate Karl Rove -- building a permanent field campaign, staffed by MoveOn volunteers reaching out to their neighbors. The group is relaunching its innovative program of on-the-ground canvassing -- starting with the Social Security battle -- and will keep the effort in motion until the next issue surfaces.

Second, MoveOn is taking the lead in denouncing Bush's agenda. On Social Security, it has already raised $500,000 to air ads in four congressional districts whose representatives are leaning toward privatization. Tom Matzzie, MoveOn's twenty-nine-year-old Washington director, says the ads are aimed at the president, whom he bluntly calls a "son of a bitch."

That's the part that worries moderate Democrats. For now, party insiders are playing nice with MoveOn, which could contribute millions to their campaigns. They recognize, after all, that an active left is as crucial if the Democrats are to regain power as the Christian right has been to the GOP. When asked about MoveOn, two prominent Democratic strategists feed me the exact same talking point: "We've got to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time" -- meaning, as one of them explains, "If you're going to be successful, as Bush has proven, you have to energize your base, and you've got to appeal to swing voters."

But some insiders worry that putting left-wing idealists in charge of speaking to the center seems about as likely to work as chewing gum with your feet. "There's a built-in tension between the views of people who are part of MoveOn and contribute to it, and the people they're trying to reach," says Ed Kilgore of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

MoveOn insists it knows the difference between messages shrill enough to stoke the fires of activists in San Francisco and ones levelheaded enough to win the hearts and minds of working-class folk in Scranton. The group says it tested the ads it aired during last year's campaign. "If you're going to spend millions and millions of dollars, you want to make sure this is speaking to the right people," says Joan Blades, who co-founded MoveOn with her husband, Boyd.

But there's little evidence that the huge investment yielded a political profit. If speaking to the center was MoveOn's goal, "they failed miserably," says Greg Strimple, a media consultant who advised the Senate campaigns of three GOP moderates. "None of their ads had an impact on the center electorate that needed to be swung." If the group's leadership saw anything broken with its advertising during the campaign, though, it shows no signs of fixing it. In a rush to get its new Social Security ad on the air, MoveOn didn't even test it.

The ad, which depicts senior citizens performing manual labor, was not only paid for by MoveOn members but was also created by them. This kind of closed feedback loop is indicative of a larger problem: the group's almost hermetic left-wing insularity. "We don't get around much," acknowledges Boyd. "We tend to all stay in front of our keyboards and do the work."

For MoveOn, "the work" consists of looking for spikes in e-mail traffic and monitoring online forums to divine the issues that drive its members. Boyd and Blades have bitten hard on the "wisdom of crowds" concept. They believe that strategies posted and rated by fellow activists provide the basis for picking campaigns that members will pay to support. "We've discovered a way to engage people so that they want to open their wallets," says Boyd. "If we can come up with a great campaign, we know it will get funded."

Boyd is a whip-smart man with a deep passion for populist democracy. But speaking to him about MoveOn's constituency is like speaking to someone who spends all day in an Internet chat room and assumes the rest of the world is as psyched as he and his online compatriots are about, say, the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He seems to conflate MoveOn with the rest of America. "We see ourselves as a broad American public," he says. "We assume that things that resonate with our base resonate with America."

In fact, there appears to be an almost willful ignorance about who actually composes MoveOn. "We're pretty light on the demographics," Boyd says without apology. "It's funny, when we talk to people in Washington, that's the first question we're asked." He adds with note of self-satisfaction: "We've been largely nonresponsive."

But Boyd's refusal to pin down who MoveOn is -- and who it isn't -- also makes it easy for Republicans to project an undesirable face on the organization. "The GOP is painting us as socialist radicals," Blades tells me with seeming disbelief over Thai chicken salad at the Berkeley Art Museum. "And if you'd been reading any of their publications, you'd think that we were a bunch of wildass lunatics." Does MoveOn have a branding problem? "I think it might," she says.

<font color="red">So who is MoveOn? Consider this: Howard Dean finished first in the MoveOn primary. Number Two wasn't John Kerry or John Edwards -- it was Dennis Kucinich. Listing the issues that resonate most with their membership, Boyd and Blades cite the environment, the Iraq War, campaign-finance reform, media reform, voting reform and corporate reform. Somewhere after freedom, opportunity and responsibility comes "the overlay of security concerns that everybody shares." Terrorism as a specific concern is notably absent. As are jobs. As is health care. As is education.
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There's nothing inherently good or bad in any of this. <font color="red">It's just that MoveOn's values aren't middle-American values. They're the values of an educated, steadily employed middle and upper-middle class with time to dedicate to politics -- and disposable income to leverage when they're agitated. That's fine, as long as the group sticks to mobilizing fellow travelers on the left. But the risks are greater when it presumes to speak for the entire party. </font color> "The decibel level that MoveOn can bring is very high," says Bill Carrick, a longtime Democratic strategist.

Like so many other Internet start-ups, MoveOn has raised -- and burned through -- tens of millions of dollars, innovating without producing many concrete results. Any reasonable analysis shows its stock may be dangerously overvalued. <font color="red">Those banking on MoveOn had better hope it is more Google than Pets.com. Because should the group flame out, the Democrats could be in for a fall of Nasdaq proportions.
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Dear Democrats,

Please keep MoveOn.org working for you!

The GOP /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif /ccboard/images/graemlins/grin.gif

03-03-2005, 02:37 PM
Think of them as freedom fighters in the war on (economic) terrorism.... rallying the masses against the axis of evil...Bush, Cheney, Lay....and a host of "unindicted co-conspirators"
When the last decent paying job has been outsourced, and you're wearing one of them blue vests, with "How may I help you?" on it....and in your off time, between the two full time jobs, and the part time job, you'll need to pay the ever increasing cost of living...you'll be playing pool with a "Budweiser" cue (endorsed by the Miz)....and wondering why, why, why didn't I bother to read some before I voted for the Bush Nazi regime?????????????????????????????????

03-03-2005, 03:54 PM
SF, an unbiased site...."the truth is out there......."