Chris Suellentrop on the hamster wheel that is MoveOn.
The analogy to the Howard Dean campaign is irresistible: lots of money, lots of buzz, not a lot of votes. Beyond the presidential campaign, only four of the 26 candidates endorsed by MoveOn won their elections this year. Since its creation in 1998, it's hard to come up with a single significant political achievement that can be credited to MoveOn. It did nothing to stop the impeachment of President Clinton, the event that galvanized the group into existence. Nor could it stop the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, the war in Iraq, congressional redistricting in Texas, or the election of President Bush. During the presidential campaign, MoveOn received its heaviest dose of publicity for a failure of sorts, when CBS rejected its proposed Super Bowl ad. Dean was mocked for placing a distant third in Iowa. MoveOn just keeps moving on.
The organization's name derives from its impeachment mantra—"censure and move on"—but it describes the group's ethos, too. Political campaigns are filled with busywork, to keep volunteers engaged with sign-painting and rally-going until the endpoint of Election Day. But MoveOn has confused the means with the ends. The group declares its actions to be a success when it organizes its members to call a congressional office every five minutes, or to circulate an e-mail, instead of when one of its political aims is achieved. MoveOn has turned itself into a perpetual motion machine, one that's great at inspiring its members to engage in the political version of treadmill running but never goes anywhere.
"They say they want to mobilize Democrats, but it doesn't seem like they have any infrastructure to do so," an aide to one of the Democratic presidential candidates told me. "It seems that they run ads to build name recognition, so they can raise money, so they can run more ads." If the goal is to energize the Democratic base, MoveOn isn't even succeeding at that, the aide complained. They're "just exciting a finite universe of hysterical liberals."