In the 1948 movie adapted from Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse's Pulitzer
Prize-winning play "State of the Union," a political consultant played by
Adolfe Menjou set a character played by Katherine Hepburn straight about American
When asked what was the difference was between the Democrats and his own
Republicans, Menjou succinctly summed up the situation: "They're in, and we're
A lot about American politics has changed since then, but that little bit of
wisdom remains intact.
There's no better indication of this than the furor over MoveOn.org, a highly
publicized Web site/activist group dedicated to opposing the war in Iraq and
vilifying the current occupant of the White House.
No scandal that can be remotely tied to George W. Bush and no bit of news
that can be construed as proof that the war on terror is being lost or
shouldn't be fought at all are omitted from the site.
But the name of the site reminds us that one's attitude toward the need to
keep the fires of rabid partisan debate well-stoked depends on who's in office.
MoveOn was, after all, founded in 1998. Its purpose was to encourage Americans
to avoid thinking too much about the scandals associated with Bush's
predecessor. MoveOn was eager for us to forget about Bill Clinton's flaws and to
"move on" to other topics.
But if they are hypocrites, so, too, are Republicans, who talk about the bad
taste of the anti-Bush crowd, but were willing to believe anything about
Clinton, no matter how outlandish.
IT ISN'T BEANBAG
One thing Clinton and Bush have in common is an ability to drive their
opponents out of their minds. As many liberals have admitted, hate is not too strong
a word to describe their antipathy to Bush and it shows. The same was true
for the way conservatives felt about Clinton.
Democracy isn't beanbag. Lambasting incumbents is what people in free
countries are entitled to do. Tough criticisms, hard questions and heavy doses of
satire and sarcasm are entirely appropriate in politics.
But as was the case during the height of the right's Clintonmania, the
willingness of some partisans to make unbelievably outrageous accusations about Bush
The latest instance involves the posting on the MoveOn site of ads that
compared the president to Adolph Hitler.
The two offensive pieces were entries in a contest the group was holding to
determine which Bush-bashing diatribe was the best. After they came in for
heavy criticism from such groups as the Anti-Defamation League, the group was at
pains to point out that they hadn't actually endorsed the ads and quickly
In the 1960s, the pop culture of the day dumbed down the term "fascist" from
a term that had a specific meaning rooted in historical fact to one that
could describe just about anything objectionable. Now, for some on the far left,
anyone to the right of say, Joe Lieberman, is considered fair game for
comparisons to the Nazis. Rather than being considered beyond the pale, Hitler
analogies are nowadays considered clever ripostes, especially among those who cannot
control their distaste for Bush.
So don't be deceived by the disclaimers from MoveOn's defenders. In the
group's world, the "Bush is a Nazi" routine isn't aberrant, it is mainstream
thinking. It was not long ago that a major funder of the site, billionaire George
Soros, told The Washington Post that Bush reminded him of the Nazis. And he
is not alone.
Part and parcel of this sort of nonsense is the constant drumbeat in MoveOn
circles about the neoconservative conspiracy to take over the country and the
world. As the term neocon has become synonymous with Jew, it's hard not to get
a sinking feeling of stepping into a morass of prejudice as you navigate the
Net with help from MoveOn links.
Indeed, all one has to do is to go to the group's Middle East resource links
page (www.moveon.org/peace/middleeast.html) to discover just how deep the well
of hate for Jews and Israel is. There, among a few sites associated with the
mainstream Israeli peace movement, you can find links to a host of virulently
anti-Zionist sites where violence against Israelis and calls for the
destruction of Israel are commonplace.
Last summer, the National Jewish Democratic Council asked MoveOn to remove
material posted on the site, calling it "biased, factually inaccurate and [that
it] gives comfort to those who would say progressives are not pro-Israel."
It's still there.
WHO'S COURTING THE NUTS?
To be fair, the far-right has employed this sort of rhetorical overkill that
is now featured on MoveOn itself in the past with accusations of communism.
And there are those on the lunatic right who still think the whole country is
being run by what they call a "Zionist occupation government." But the
difference here is that the people who know what the acronym ZOG means aren't, thank
heaven, being courted by Bush.
Unfortunately, some of those who think Bush had advance knowledge of the
Sept. 11 attacks, or that the war to liberate Iraq is merely a neocon plot for
world hegemony or buy into neo-Marxist fantasies about the oil industry, are
being heard from more and more lately.
MoveOn is increasingly influential. Not only did the Democratic candidates
seek to win the Internet primary that the group ran last summer, but MoveOn
itself has helped raise a great deal of money for candidates in the 2002
The cheapening of political discourse did not begin with MoveOn or the
right-wingers who were prepared to believe that Bill Clinton was a Communist mole, a
drug-dealer or a murderer. Dirty politics in this country can be traced back
to the scandalmongers that slung mud at George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Yet as much as it would be comforting to dismiss this sort of nastiness as a
necessary evil in a free country, the rise of the Internet culture makes this
practice a little more frightening. We live in a time where any idiot can post
lies on the Web and have them spread across the world in seconds. Internet
urban legends can fester in the public consciousness and prove impermeable to
those who answer them with truth.
That's why it isn't enough to shrug our shoulders and say "everyone does
it" when we are confronted with the ugliness that partisan extremists can
inflict on our political discourse. No matter how much we may dislike some leaders,
partisanship must have its limits. It is long past the time for responsible
citizens be they Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal to put the
crazies in their place.