MoveOn’s General Petraeus ad was a terrible move

By Ed Gold

MoveOn.org is a media and political phenomenon that prods nervous Democrats from the left and gives Bushies and other Republicans the shiv whenever possible. I get its e-mails almost every day and they’re mostly good for morale. So I’m particularly chagrined when the organization does something conspicuously inept, as was the case with the Petraeus full-page ad in the Sept. 10 New York Times.

Eli Pariser, MoveOn’s executive director, has to take responsibility for the too-cute attack on the general, who, of course, is a great front for the Bush mess in Iraq.

Pariser or one of his colleagues must have thought how clever it was to mention “Petraeus” and “Betray Us” in the same ad.

It was a thoughtless ego trip that made the Republican lackies in the Senate very happy and embarrassed a majority of the Democrats. And it changed the subject from how to get a substantial number of our troops out of Iraq to how are we going to punish those naughty MoveOn people?

It’s one thing to call Dick Cheney the leader of the Dark Side or W. the worst mistake American voters ever made. But it’s another matter when you call a general on active duty, with a chestful of ribbons, medals and other honorary awards, a betrayer.

Petraeus has one other factor going for him, his personality. No doubt he’s a willing shill for Bush, but he comes across as intelligent, modest and responsive — even if his bottom line requires, as Hillary notes, disbelief.

Other generals have been more vulnerable. Liberals could push harder on Westmoreland in Vietnam because he got angry at challenges, did not seem too bright, had blowhard qualities and couldn’t stop telling us there was “light at the end of the tunnel” when there wasn’t even a flicker.

Likewise, MacArthur could more easily be criticized. He was pompous, scary with his imperial air and frequently thought he, and not Truman, was commander in chief.

Petraeus is more in the Eisenhower mold. He comes across as decent, even if he is trapped in an impossible role. If you’re politically smart — despite all the frustration — you don’t call that man a Benedict Arnold.

The ad stopped serious Senate business, put the Democrats on the defensive, and almost half of them voted with the Republicans on a resolution spanking MoveOn.

Because MoveOn has become such an important element in the anti-Bush movement, it hurts all its friends when it helps Republicans — particularly since the current version of the Republican Party is so detrimental to the nation, both on domestic and foreign policy.

The Republicans have spent the entire congressional session wasting time and frustrating attempts at progressive legislation, as well as efforts to change our course in Iraq.

MoveOn is not alone in blundering on the left. The Petraeus ad is of a piece with repeated full-pagers in the Times and elsewhere calling for Bush’s impeachment, which has no chance of success and would only guarantee Republican unity.

The Republicans are well versed and have become experts in delaying tactics in Congress. They demand every roll call they can get and present truckloads of killer amendments on every piece of legislation to which they object.

The sad fact is that the Democrats, even when united, need nine Republican senators to avoid a filibuster, whether the issue is cutting tax relief to Big Oil or beginning a serious exodus from Iraq.

All the more reason for MoveOn to avoid providing the G.O.P. with ammunition. The Democrats have good reason to believe they can make important gains in next year’s congressional races and are optimistic about returning to the White House. MoveOn should make sure it does everything to help that cause.