Kerry moves on the high road

By Michelle Goldberg
Published August 18, 2004 9:23PM (EDT)

Yesterday, MoveOn began running an ad that simultaneously attacks George Bush's failure to serve in Vietnam and his failure to call off attacks on John Kerry's war record. The hard-hitting spot begins, "George Bush used his father to get into the National Guard, and  when the chips were down, went missing. Now, he's allowing false advertising that attacks John Kerry  a man who asked to go to Vietnam and who served with dignity and heroism." It ends with a clip of John McCain saying, "I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad."

So far, though, the only person who's issued and such denunciations is Kerry -- and he was speaking about MoveOn. On Tuesday McCain told the Associated Press that MoveOn's ads represent "the same line of scurrilous attack" as the Swift Boat ads and that Kerry should condemn them. The Kerry campaign obliged, releasing a statement saying, "I agree with Senator McCain that the ad is inappropriate. This should be a campaign of issues, not insults."

MoveOn seems happy to see Kerry take the high road. Asked if he felt rebuked, Eli Pariser, head of MoveOn Pac, told War Room, "No. He has a role to play as presidential candidate and we have a role to play as an independent group interested in countering the smear campaign by the Bush surrogates."

One might think that MoveOn members would be discouraged seeing Kerry dismiss their efforts on his behalf. After all, despite McCain's urging, Bush hasn't repudiated the Swift Boat ads. But MoveOn's cadres don't want to be coddled -- they want to win. "We're sending out a message to our members today that mentions the way these roles work," says Pariser. "Our members are interested first and foremost in getting Bush to reject these kind of smear tactics." If it helps for Kerry to reject MoveOn, the group is happy to play its part.

Michelle Goldberg

Michelle Goldberg is a frequent contributor to Salon and the author of "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism" (WW Norton).

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