Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in a jam. By tomorrow afternoon, she must corral an elusive 218 votes from her Democratic caucus for an emergency spending bill to continue funding the war in Iraq. As promised, she has loaded the bill with tough conditions restricting President Bush's future deployment of troops and language calling for withdrawal from Iraq by August 2008.
But so far Pelosi has had a difficult time rallying many of her own liberal colleagues. They chafe at her decision to keep funding the war past this year, and they worry about waivers in the bill that could allow Bush to ignore the law's restrictions for reasons like national security. Democratic leaders argue that these compromises are needed to get anything passed in the House.
Enter MoveOn.org, the anti-war Internet phenom with 3.3 million members and considerable sway in Congress. On March 18, MoveOn's Political Action director Eli Pariser sent an email to members asking them to vote on whether MoveOn should support the Pelosi plan. The result was decisive, said Pariser in a follow-up email: "85 percent of MoveOn members want to work to pass Speaker Pelosi's plan for Iraq."
Those results were then distributed on Capitol Hill Tuesday, for use by Pelosi's backers as a cudgel to convince anti-war liberals to fall into line. As the Politico reported Maryland Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger actually waived a printout of the poll results at two other Democrats, Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings and Albert Wynn. "Some people we asked to put out a press release to get you to vote for the bill," Ruppersberger said.
Ruppersberger was joking when he said those words. But they still raise a very real question. Is MoveOn.org doing the bidding of Nancy Pelosi and the House leadership and betraying the hard-left of the anti-war movement?
Some activists clearly think so. In the same Politico story, David Swanson, who sits on the board of Progressive Democrats of America, said he was renouncing his MoveOn membership because of its "dishonest poll."
But was the poll dishonest? As they say in football, let's look at the tape.
Pariser's email, which went out Sunday, begins with a classic MoveOn refrain: "We've got a big decision coming up this week, and we need to make it together, as a community." But then quickly, the all-together vibe veers off course. What follows would make most professional pollsters gag.
"It is going to be a close vote -- the Republicans are against it and some conservative Democrats are uncomfortable with the bill. Most, but not all, of the progressives in Congress are planning on voting for the bill. These progressives, like many of us, don't think the bill goes far enough, but see it as the first concrete step to ending the war. And President Bush is threatening to veto it for the same reason."
Before linking to a couple news stories, Pariser asks, "Should we support or oppose the Democrats' plan?"
In just a few sentences, MoveOn's liberal members have been told that the Pelosi bill--"the Democrats' plan"--is opposed by Republicans, faces a veto threat from President Bush, and makes conservative Democrats uncomfortable. They have been told that progressives are voting for the bill even if they "don't think the bill goes far enough" because it is "the first concrete step to ending the war." There is no mention of the specific concerns of anti-war liberals who oppose the bill, people like Ohio's Dennis Kucinich, Georgia's John Lewis and California's Barbara Lee.
To paraphrase a certain cable news network: You Decide. Is this a fair and balanced summary of the debate, or are MoveOn's leaders stacking the deck?