Mendacious Moral Outrage

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Following the advice of Sun Tzu, I try to understand my adversaries. This effort leads me to join some email lists and read some magazines that aren’t in my native comfort zone. One of the mailing lists is a west coast regional division of MoveOn.org.

As you may have read or heard elsewhere, MoveOn.org has gotten behind — in a big way — Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter’s bid to unseat fellow Democrat Blanche Lincoln in her campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Halter is attacking Lincoln from the Left, and that agrees well with MoveOn.org’s statist agenda.

By most accounts, Halter is a popular fellow in his home state and a reasonable candidate for higher office. He sees Lincoln’s waffling on the issue of healthcare reform as a tactical vulnerability. And he may well be right; Arkansas’ voters have shown before a hearty appetite for the milk of the Nanny State’s teat.

For its part, MoveOn.org is frustrated with politicians it has supported but now finds insufficiently statist. (The main offender here, though the group won’t admit it, is the president. MoveOn.org prefers to focus its annoyance on smaller fry.)

Most of this has been reported; you don’t have to sift through MoveOn.org’s emails to know it. But that sifting does offer some insights. The one that seems most useful to me is the moralizing tone that its financial appeals take. Here’s a bit from the first solicitation on behalf of Halter:

“For the past year, a small handful of conservative Democrats in Congress has obstructed progress at every turn — but starting today, we’ve got a huge opportunity to stop one of the worst of them. That’s because just this morning Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter announced that he’s challenging Senator Blanche Lincoln in the Democratic primary there. . . . Sen. Lincoln stood with insurance companies to kill the public option, with coal companies to roll back the Clean Air Act, and with big banks to kill legislation that would have helped families stay in their homes. . . . Just how bad is Blanche Lincoln? She promised to filibuster any health care bill that included a public option after taking more than $866,000 from insurance and HMO interests. She’s the #1 recipient of campaign contributions from Big Oil in the last year, and now she’s sponsoring a bill to roll back the Clean Air Act. And she accepted more than $1.3 million over her career from Wall Street banks and financial interests, and then voted to kill legislation that would’ve allowed struggling homeowners to renegotiate their mortgages and stay in their homes. . . . Here’s how MoveOn member Jennifer P. from Little Rock put it: “Lincoln never met a special interest she didn’t like. It’s hard to express just how awful she has been as a senator. I don’t know of anyone who will vote for her if she shows up on the November ballot.””

Of course, the piece is selective to the point of mendacity about Lincoln’s voting record. That’s to be expected from this kind of marketing effort. What’s surprising (to me) is that moralizing rhetoric: “bad,” “kill,” “awful,” etc. This, from an organization born from the premise that politics should avoid moral indignation. (For the neophytes among us, the “move on” of MoveOn.org came from the argument that Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities and other immoral behaviors were trivial and that the country’s attentions should move on to more substantive matters.)

The solipsism of the email’s “regular person” endorsement illustrates MoveOn.org’s navel-gazing appeal. No one she knows will vote for Lincoln. Given the cautious form of her ID, perhaps this means the Little Rock chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous will vote Republican come November. Who cares?

At one point, some years ago, MoveOn.org looked like a potent political force. Its latest work seems less so.

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