MoveOn.org Attacks Over Healthcare Reform Bode Ill for Obama

Attacks from the left are not a good sign for the Obama coalition.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

If it weren't for MoveOn.org, Barack Obama might still be just another United States Senator.

Originally founded by a couple of California millionaires who wanted the country to get past Bill Clinton's sexual peccadilloes, it became the rally place for American liberalism, as important to the left-of-center coalition as the Christian Coalition once was to the center-right.

Over time, MoveOn.org evolved into the cornerstone of a reinvigorated movement that exploited the Bush administration's weaknesses and was an important source of money, volunteers and political activity for those who made Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House and gave Harry Reid a filibuster-proof majority in the U.S. Senate. The Democrats in power today owe them a lot—and, as history teaches us, the piper must be paid.

In an E-mail sent on July 7, MoveOn.org asked its members to lobby the White House on the issue of healthcare reform.

Citing an interview given to the Wall Street Journal, MoveOn.org has aimed a pro-public option barrage at White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who, the group says, has been floating a trigger option that "would undermine the public option, and put off real reform for years."

"The 'trigger' is a trap to kill health care reform. It would delay the public health insurance option for years, even though we're facing a health care crisis now. Without a strong public health insurance option to compete with private insurance companies, health care costs will continue to skyrocket and millions will remain uninsured. And a decision to delay is really a decision to deny: even if the trigger conditions are met years from now, big insurance companies will start the fight all over again to stop the public option from going into effect," MoveOn.org explains.

Asking its members to "Call the White House switchboard and tell then you're disappointed in Chief of Staff Emanuel's comments," is not usually the kind of thing a faithful coalition partner does in the midst of a heated debate. Of course it all could be just for show, generating activity on the left to match the opposition on the right and to help pin the White House down in its negotiations with Congress. On the other hand, it is more likely a legitimate expression of unhappiness that, once again, the Obama administration has not delivered on what is political allies thought they were promised during the 2008 campaign.

For the White House, this is particularly unhelpful. According to the latest polls, the president's approval rating is either just north or just south of 50 percent. A fight with its own left flank is the last thing the White House needs. For, as George W. Bush learned when so many of his allies broke with him over the nomination of Harriet Miers to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, once those fissures are opened they are almost impossible to close.

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  • Corrected on 09/01/09: An earlier version of this blog post misstated the date MoveOn.org sent its E-mail. The E-mail was from July 7.