Uproar to benefit MoveOn.org

The uproar over MoveOn.org’s now-infamous New York Times ad attacking Gen. David Petraeus as he prepared to testify before Congress last week will continue for some time, to the detriment of Democrats and The New York Times and to the benefit of MoveOn and the Republicans.

This is only in part because there is virtually no chance that any leading Democrat will denounce the ad, as many Republicans and a few moderate Democrats are demanding. This is true for two very good reasons.

The first, of course, is that there is every reason to believe Democratic congressional leaders who work closely with MoveOn urged the group to do what they didn’t feel they could do themselves: attack Petraeus personally as a liar and shill for a president they despise in order to undermine the credibility of his report to Congress.

The beauty of third-party attacks on one’s political opponents is that while the attacking organization takes a lot of heat, the politicians with whom they are aligned and are trying to help usually escape major blame and damage. Republicans reacted quickly to the ploy, however, by demanding that Democrats not only disassociate themselves from the attacks on Petraeus, but condemn MoveOn for launching them.

This has not and will not happen, but the counter-attack has put Democrats in a box from which they will have some difficulty escaping and allowed Republicans to portray the general as both a hero and victim at the same time.

The second reason Democrats aren’t willing to condemn MoveOn is, as I suggested last week, that the organization’s fevered ideological rantings are more representative of the Democratic Party’s current political base than most Democrats will admit. These people, as off-the-wall as they may be, are the core Democrats today rely upon for volunteers and, more importantly, money. Democrats aren’t about to cross them, not only because they agree with them but because they’re a little fearful of what might happen if they do.

The New York Times played the enabler in this whole sorry episode by offering MoveOn a nearly $100,000 discount on the cost of the ad. The information that this discount would be available to MoveOn was reportedly relayed to the organization not through the paper’s sales organization, but by a reporter.

As chairman of the American Conservative Union, I filed an official complaint with the Federal Election Commission on Friday because this discount amounted to an illegal corporate contribution to a political organization. Such contributions are prohibited under federal law, and both the Times and MoveOn knew they were engaging in a violation of the law when the transaction went down.

It is true that newspapers like the Times make discounted rates available to advertisers at the last minute to sell space on what they call their “remnant pages,” which are sort of like the empty seats airlines discount on flights just before take-off, but in the past the Times has refused to make what they call “special advocacy stand-by rates” available to conservative advocacy groups seeking such discounts, meaning they are not market discounts that would be permissible.

By discounting their rates just for MoveOn, therefore, the Times has not only once again revealed its management’s ideological bias, but managed to conspire with the far left to break the very laws it editorially supports.

Meanwhile, MoveOn supporters are sending the group buckets of money even as Republicans make political hay out of the episode at the expense of the Democrats MoveOn sought to help. One of MoveOn’s people ecstatically told an American Spectator reporter within days of the ad’s appearance that the organization had raised more than twice what the ad cost, and described the whole thing as “a great fundraising opportunity for us.”

Years ago I got a call from the late Terry Dolan, the head of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, or NCPAC. In the 1970s and ’80s NCPAC was sort of an early conservative version of MoveOn.

I was a participant in a regular poker game at the time that brought together Republicans, Democrats and journalists who managed or covered presidential campaigns.

Terry heard that George McGovern, who was quite a poker player, planned to join us for one of our games. He said, “I have to do a NCPAC fundraising letter and it would be really helpful if you could get McGovern to attack me.” I replied that perhaps we could get the two of them to attack each other so they could both raise more money. As it turned out, McGovern couldn’t make it, but the folks at MoveOn would have understood the advice.

Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com