Many Democratic strategists were privately furious at the group for launching an attack on a member of the military rather than Bush, arguing that it gave Republicans a point on which to attack the Democrats and to rally around the administration's war policy.
Adam already wrote about the horrendously stupid Senate resolution "condemning" MoveOn for the ad, a resolution that many Democrats voted for. Why is this a problem? Well, the three of us had a short email exchange about this morning. Nat-Wu asked if anybody was going to write about the article, so I thought I'd simply repost the thoughts I shared in email with them regarding the excerpt above (warning, indelicate language is used):
You know what? I worried about that at first too, and I was pretty pissy about that ad. Guess what I realized? That no average American GIVES A RATS ASS ABOUT AN AD. Polls say the same damn thing they said BEFORE Patraeus got up there before Congress, and the Republicans are just digging themselves a deeper an deeper hole by ignoring the fact that Americans were not swayed by Patraeus and attacking MoveOn. So what do these genius Democratic "strategists" do? They advise Democratic politicians to turn on MoveOn, making sure that they story STAYS IN THE NEWS and is a distraction from putting fire on the Republicans, and they hand the Republicans a victory by turning on their own group. So to that I say, congrats "strategists" for once again not understanding the mind of the average voter.
As you can see, I'm not too happy about this. Neither are Adam and Nat-Wu, for exactly the reasons above. I don't doubt for a moment that some Democratic politicians are sincerely upset about the ad because they think it crosses a line. I thought so too. But Democrats, incapable or unwilling to display the strategic discipline that Republicans exercise, rushed to condemn an ad put out by an organization that represents their most fervent supporters, ensuring as I said both that the story wouldn't die and also that some Republicans would be chuckling in private over how easily they can get the Democrats to turn on their own base. As Adam already said, Republicans didn't fall all over themselves to condemn the Swift Boat ads, which were considerably more egregious. Why? Because they knew the ads helped more than they hurt.
It's quite clear the public sentiment on the war remains unchanged, and Republicans are wrong to think that whining about an ad is going to distract voters from the war; if anything, it makes them look more out of touch and clueless. This is plainly evident and yet what to Democratic politicians do? They condemn the ads, rushing to stave off Republican attacks that aren't sticking anyway while pissing off their supporters in the process and looking like political cowards to their supporters and to more independent voters. They were not forced to do this. They chose to do it, because they are playing a game instead of standing on principle. Many Democrats, most especially Beltway strategists and analysts, have yet to figure out that Democrats stand to gain more by taking a hard stand that may be slightly unpopular, as opposed to waffling and flip-flopping to avoid an unpopular stand, only to come off looking like cowards.
This is why we worry.
UPDATE: Here's Kevin Drum, channeling Matthew Yglesias and offering his own thoughts. First Yglesias:
I completely agree with the dread DC Establishment that calling General Petraeus "General Betrayus" was dumb. That said, I'm staggered by the amount of emphasis that people inside this town are placing on this. One virtue of having moved to the Beltway is that I can tell you, the reader, a thing or two about the mood here and that while you might think the reverse is true, the truth of the matter is that the left-of-center establishment is being restrained in terms of expressing its absolutely fury at MoveOn over this. People seem to really think that this was not merely a misstep, but a huge blunder of world-historical proportions.
Matt thinks this view is nuts, but I guess I'd point out something else. (Aside from the fact that I'm glad I don't live in the Beltway and can therefore ignore stuff like this if I want.) If there's anything interesting to be drawn from the reaction to MoveOn's ad, it's the Republican reaction. I mean, they've practically been slathering over this ad for two straight weeks now. Am I the only one who thinks this shows a desire to change the subject so palpable as to be almost desperate? You can practically feel the flop sweat rolling down their cheeks. These guys want to talk about anything other than the underlying reality of what's going on in Iraq. Anything. It would be kind of creepy if it weren't, you know, actually important.
So, Matt confirms that the Beltway insiders have no clue what the average American think of this ad (that being, not much.) And Kevin points out how desperate Republicans are to change the subject from the war to this stupid ad. Which makes the Democratic capitulation on this issue all that more stupid, short-sighted and ridiculous.