What Has MoveOn Moved On To?

Ain't nothing wrong with changing your position, that's for sure - changing facts, changing minds, and all that. Generally though, a change of mind'll go down better when you package it with a little grace, like, say, by not slamming people today for doing what you insisted that they do yesterday - before you changed your mind. Graceful is sure not what you'd call MoveOn's turn on Dennis Kucinich over the health care bill last week - a point that might not even be worth noting in the larger context of the big votes finally coming on the bill - that is, if it did not make for such a fitting conclusion to the chapter of the health care story about just how effectively debate on the issue was limited.

Last year MoveOn - and a lot of other organizations and individuals - mounted a spirited campaign to pressure members of Congress to pledge their votes against any health care bill that did not contain a public option. They got 65 takers, Cleveland, Ohio's Kucinich among them. This year, MoveOn's Cleveland Council announced its intent to protest outside Kucinich's office. Why? Because the Congressman was planning to vote against a health care bill that didn't have a public option.

Ironically, Kucinich had proven to be one of only two to actually vote against last year's House bill, for reasons that went past the lack of the public option. To him, with its mandate of individual purchase of the for-profit health insurance industry's not-always-adequate product, the bill wasn't too much big government, it was too much big business.

In the face of the Democratic Congressional leadership's failure to even allow for a discussion of the single-payer option - and the White House's acquiescence, Kucinich, Anthony Weiner of New York City, and a handful of others did yeoman work in raising the question where they could. A fine moment of grassroots organizing, really - within the halls of Congress. Kucinich won an amendment in committee establishing the right of individual states to create single-payer systems; Weiner got a pledge that the "Medicare for all" bill would at least get a House floor vote. The amendment was stripped; the promise broken.

So maybe you think Kucinich should have voted for the final bill (as he ultimately did); and maybe you think he shouldn't. And maybe you think MoveOn is effective; and maybe you think they're crude. Either way, one thing seems clear: MoveOn can't have been right on this both this year and last. Yet the organization seemingly rolls on without a blink - Listen to what we say today; ignore what we said yesterday. (Other New Netroots Nation leaders also weighed in: Markos Moulitsas founder of the Daily Kos, declared Kucinich's opposition to the bill "Ralph Nader-esque," an epithet presumably about as uncomplimentary in his scene as "socialist" is in Glen Beck's.)

If the Obama campaign brought a more movement-like fervor than any other Democratic presidential candidacy in recent memory, it had something to do with the idea that there might be a certain genuineness there, the hope that even if Obama's actual political program might not veer too far from the Washington norm, maybe there was something to his slogan "We are the change we seek."

An important part of that "we" was most definitely the new Internet-based organizations - with MoveOn at the top of the heap - that offered the hope of unprecedented national influence to grassroots activists, influence unmediated by traditional political bosses.

And now? "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?" Too harsh? Maybe, but then is this really "the change we seek?"

Certainly its recent performance has demonstrated one thing about MoveOn: You can believe that they know what they're talking about. Or you can believe that they mean what they say. But you can't believe both.