After MoveOn.org ran an ad in Monday's New York Times depicting General David Petraeus as "General Betray Us," Republicans pounded the ad during hearings this week. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, whose campaign MoveOn spent millions on in 2004, called it "over the top" and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on "Good Morning America," "I would have preferred that they won't do such an ad."
MoveOn is, well, moving on to its next plea to end the Iraq War, planning an ad for later this week that will slam Bush but also criticize congressional Democrats for not pushing hard enough to end the war. And the liberal group isn't at all apologetic about its fiery tone in attacking Petraeus.
Eli Pariser, the executive director of Moveon.org, said the goal of the ad was to take on Petraeus's credibility before he spoke and that was achieved, even with the backlash.
"Our whole goal was to open up this conversation about these numbers," he said, referring to the statistics Petraeus offered in his testimony to suggest progress was being made in Iraq, which MoveOn called "at war with the facts" in its ad.
The GOP presidential candidates jumped on the MoveOn ad to attack the Democrats, with Arizona Senator John McCain putting out a statement saying "I remain deeply disappointed by the failure of leading Democrat presidential candidates to personally and publicly denounce the smear tactics used against General Petraeus by MoveOn.org. There is no greater slander to a soldier than an accusation of betrayal to his nation. I do not understand why those seeking to be commander-in-chief have yet to forcefully denounce, in their own words, this McCarthyite attack on our commander. I hope they would reconsider their silence and not let this slander of an exceptional American stand."
Pariser said he doesn't mind attacks from McCain or even the Democrats.
"We're not accountable ultimately to the Democrats," Pariser said. "We're accountable to people who want a swift end to the war and that's the end goal here." Tellingly, the 2008 Democratic campaigns all issued statements that emphasized their desire to end the war, but stayed away from criticizing MoveOn, a group that is increasingly powerful in the party.
The ad was the latest example of the complicated relationship that MoveOn has with the Democrats. Founded back in 1998 for Congress to "move on," from trying to impeach President Clinton, MoveOn has long asserted itself in liberal causes, vocally opposing the Iraq War and spending millions to get Democrats elected in 2004 and 2006. The group has an e-mail of list of several million that helps raise money for Democratic candidates, and as it has become increasingly influential, the Democratic establishment has in many ways accepted MoveOn into the fold. Democratic leaders meet with Pariser and top MoveOn leaders and ask the group to raise money for particular candidates in tough races.
At the same time, MoveOn acts independently, such as in 2006 when it backed Ned Lamont, because the group thought Lamont's opponent, sitting Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman, was too pro-war. Earlier this year, after MoveOn argued that FOX News was biased against Democrats, the party's 2008 candidates dropped out of a debate that would have been aired on FOX. Democrats backed out even though it meant irking another powerful part of the party, the Congressional Black Caucus, which was hosting the debate.