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MoveOn and the Iraq Accountability Act

Do MoveOn Members Really Support the Iraq Supplemental?

By Eli Pariser, Executive Director, Political Action
Friday, March 23rd, 2007 Political Action supports the passage of the Iraq Accountability Act.  Because there are dedicated antiwar activists who oppose this bill, it’s worth explaining how we arrived at this position.

In order to strengthen the hand of progressives who were pushing for a better bill, MoveOn refrained from taking a public or private position until late last week. Then, when the final bill was negotiated, we put the question to our membership: should we support it?  126, 000 MoveOn members participated in the vote.  84.6% supported the bill. 9.2% said they weren't sure and 6.2% opposed it.

Why? The Iraq Accountability Act will, for the first time, set a deadline in law for the withdrawal of American troops. If it passes, it will force President Bush to agree to an end date for the war or to stand in front of the American people—who want a timeline—and declare his support for war without end by vetoing it .  It’s a first step to ending the war. That’s why MoveOn members told us they support the bill. 

Some folks passionately disagree with this position. And perhaps because it’s hard for them to believe that so many progressives would support a bill that provides continued funding for the war, a number have questioned the validity of our member poll on the bill. Here are some concerns we’ve heard, and the reality in each case:

The Claim: People were biased by our email because we noted that most Congressional progressives are supporting the bill and Republicans are opposing it.

The Reality: Leaving aside the question of whether this political context is, in fact, important for MoveOn members to know, it didn’t change the outcome of the poll.

We do ongoing polling of small groups of MoveOn members to ensure we’re accurately representing our membership. Over the last week we experimented with different ways of doing the survey. Whether we provided information on the bill, or just asked people to vote based on what they already know, or to look at external sources, the result was always same—the vast majority of members indicated support for the Iraq Accountability Act. For example, last Friday, we sent this very simple email:

Dear MoveOn member,

The Democratic Leadership will debate their plan for Iraq soon, and we'll be asked what MoveOn members think about it. Can you take just a quick minute to complete the survey at the link below?

Completing the survey takes just a few minutes. MoveOn's mission is to serve members like you—so we really want to know what you think. Please help set MoveOn's course on Iraq.

Thanks for all you do.

–Nita, Tom, Eli, Justin and the Political Action Team
  Friday, March 16th, 2007

On the survey page, people read only this text:

The Representatives Pelosi, Obey and Murtha announced their plan for Iraq recently. Based on what you know about their plan for the Iraq supplemental spending bill, what do you think MoveOn should do? (Looking to learn more? Read the New York Times Story or read the Washington Post Story.)

The results matched larger survey we did on Sunday, where we provided more context. People voted the way they did based on the content of the bill—not the email in which we asked the question.

The Claim: Only a fraction of MoveOn members voted so this position doesn’t represent most MoveOn members.

The reality: We emailed all 3.2 million MoveOn members and gave them the opportunity to vote.  126, 000 people did. This response rate is not unusual for a vote like this.  Our response rate in Connecticut when endorsing Ned Lamont was nearly identical to this vote, for example.  Our biggest "poll" was the MoveOn PAC Primary in 2003, when a couple hundred thousand people participated following a major organizing drive.  

Moreover, this wasn't a survey, it was a vote.  Every MoveOn member was invited to participate.  So the argument that it isn't representative of the MoveOn membership is moot: we made our decision based on the final vote counts, after giving everyone a chance to weigh in.

The Claim: The vote was unfair because we didn’t give people a choice between the Iraq Accountability Act and the ‘Lee Amendment.’

The Reality: The Lee amendment is an idea that’s been discussed by Congressional progressives to speed the withdrawal of American troops. We didn’t include it in this survey for a fairly simple reason:  it hadn't been offered.  Not even in the appropriations committee.  We needed to know how MoveOn members felt about the bill that was actually coming up for a vote.

Some folks have suggested that we should have given MoveOn members a choice – support the Iraq Accountability Act, or support the Lee Amendment. But this doesn’t make sense: they're complementary.  One is an attempt to improve the other. It would have been deceptive and confusing to pose the question as if they were mutually exclusive.

The Lee Amendment would have made the Iraq Accountability Act stronger by moving the final date for withdrawal of US troops from 2008 to the end of this 2007.  It's a no-brainer that most MoveOn members would support that position.   And we strongly supported  progressives in their efforts to strengthen the timeline in the final bill.   

Once the Iraq Accountability Act was negotiated and finalized, the question was, did MoveOn members feel like it was a step in the right direction, even with a 2008 deadline. Their answer was clear: “Yes.”

In other words, we weren't asking our members to vote on policy, because their policy on Iraq is very clear: most MoveOn members want an end to the war by the end of the year.  We were asking them to make a political decision: does voting "Yes" on the supplemental advance that policy.  Barbara Lee herself said, "I cannot stand in the way of passing a measure that puts a concrete end date on this unnecessary war."

We know that MoveOn members are fully supportive of the content that's been discussed for the Lee amendment. We’ve been clear that we'll engage to support if it is proposed. We’ve asked our members to call Congress and urge them to support the Lee amendment and anything else that would strengthen the bill. We will continue to fight to rein in the President and bring the troops home ASAP.

The Claim: MoveOn members didn’t really understand what they were voting on.

The Reality: Reading the 30,000 comments we received makes one thing very clear: MoveOn members are very well informed, and gave this question a lot of thought. They wish the bill did more to end the war sooner, but they think it’s an important first step and definitely support its passage.

A representative sample of these comments appears below. Take the time to read them. They leave no doubt that MoveOn members were neither duped nor misled, but rather, made a careful decision—and almost all of them decided in favor of the bill, despite their reservations.

Sample MoveOn member comments on the Iraq Accountability Act

Even if the proposal is not perfect, it's important for our legislators to DO SOMETHING. Not doing anything makes us all seem passive. At the very least, it would be a message to President Bush and to the rest of the world that Americans are primed to act against the prolongation of this war. -- Ron B., Newton, MA

We have got to be very careful about dividing and self destructing.  Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  Unity is more important than perfection. -- Sheila C., Alcalde, NM

It's obvious that not everyone is going to get what they want in this plan. Some of us on the left think that it doesn't go far enough, but you've got to start somewhere and we can't let ideological purity stand in the way of moving in the right direction. -- Jeff C., Sausalito, CA
It will be a huge step forward to pass legislation opposed to the war in Iraq. Those who want more still need to back this important step. The Bush administration is counting on the wide spectrum of opinion on the war among Democrats to prevent passage of such legislation. We need to prove that Democrats can unite on core principles. -- Jeanetta M., Newtown, CT

It's a start.  We need to be realistic as well as idealistic.  Politics, they say, is the art of the possible.  We just need to stretch what is possible. -- Donald R., Franklin, MA

I support this bill but want it to go further.  Let's give Bush a run for the money and show it the Dems who really supports the troops. -- Cathy K., Hartland, WI

I think it is crucial that we maintain a unified voice. The only way we can get Congress to stand up to Bush is to adopt an incremental policy. Therefore even if the proposed bill is not all that we want, we need to support it. Remember, the enemy of good is perfect! -- Gabriel G., San Francisco, CA

Ugly situation. It isn't enough, but voting against it is a vote for Bush. Of course Bush will veto it. Advertise loudly all the stuff for the soldiers that he vetoed. Only the stupid are listening to him any more, so your message has a better change of getting through. -- Stephen S., Bellingham, WA

Getting out now would be even better, but we need a large consensus vote from all opponents, not a symbolic minority vote. Bush is going to veto the resolution anyway, but we will have marked an important milestone if this resolution passes. It will be a precedent, and that's highly important. --  Stephan F., Indianapolis, IN

Just keep the pressure on Pelosi and Murtha to keep the pressure on Bush: to end the war sooner rather than later. No more waste of human lives to save his ego. Don't stop, no matter how many times their motion is defeated. Also, they should intensify the polemic; we're all gagging on the weak-tea political rhetoric of the Democratic party. --  Susan C., New York, NY

It doesn't go far enough, but it's a way to let bush know he's opposed in his policies. --  Dorothea D., Berkeley, CA

I voted for the plan, somewhat reluctantly.  I'd like to see a resolution for strengthening diplomatic engagement along with diminishing military efforts. --  Frank B., Walnut Creek, CA

we need to give the Dems some time to come up with a resolution that will pass. Producing a resolution that lacks support is useless. --  Robert R., Scottsdale, AZ

Each journey begins with the first "successful" step. --  Bill B., Amelia Island, FL

It's a start and given the climate in Washington, it is possibly the only way we will see meaningful legislation to stop this insane war.  --  David S., Tampa, FL

I would like to win in Iraq but think it is hopeless and we need to exit the country in a sensible manner while working to help the mess we have made there. --  Donna M., Blowing Rock, NC

I agree it may not go far enough, but it is a first step.  Hopefully, the first step on the road to getting out of Iraq. --  Mavis B., Fremont, CA

This is an important first step.  We cannot expect total, immediate withdrawal, although that is certainly my preference.  Congress needs to take SOME action. --  Marilyn  C., Corning, CA

The war should end ASAP and if this helps to bring that about, then I'm for it. --  Bruce-Michael G., Brooklyn, NY

Progressives (like the far right) have a well earned reputation for shooting themselves in the foot for not being willing to settle for half a loaf and so end up with nothing. I believe that this is one of those times. Take the half loaf  which will change the nature of the dialogue in this country about Iraq. Then come back for the other half. --  Brian B., South New Berlin, NY

GO FOR IT --  Roy C., Manorville, NY

President Bush simply wants to leave shutting down the war to the next president. --  Donald B., San Pedro, CA

One step at a time - most of America is ready to end this misguided miscalculated and malevolent aggression.  I just returned from an Iraq anniversary peace march.  Not a single car or truck that passed us ridiculed us, and MOST honked and gave a thumbs up.  This is middle America, not the posh liberal suburbs.  Congress needs to act on this; their people still have faith in them despite the hijacking of America by the Bush ideologues. --  Susan M., Houghton, MI

I don't really want to support the plan because it doesn't go far enough toward getting the US out now.  But let's see if we can't get a veto out of the a******! --  Robert S., Harbor Springs, MI

Let's do something, soon.  Our people are dying to come home. --  Sharon G., Los Angeles, CA

This is the time for this action--let's support our troops by saving them.  --  Jeanne and Robert M., Santa Fe, NM

Any movement towards leaving Iraq is progress. It's past time for action... --  Jack, Kerhonkson, NY

I'd just like to add that I'm tired of hearing Bush's "veto threats". As you report, he'll probably veto legislation that signals it's time to end the war. These "threats" should not stop the Congress from sending him such legislation.  --  Paul T., Acton, MA

I agree with Senator Biden's comments that Iraq is now a civil war and our presence makes it worse.  We need to work with Iran and other nations and leave.  The war was a disasterous mistake.  Our ongoing presence is not helping and is not about fighting a war on terror. --  Robert G., Portland, OR

I agree this does not go far enough, but is some step and stand made forward, even if the President vetoes it.  I say we should have immediate troop withdrawal. --  Robert S., Durham, NC

I favor no funding for combat.  But because I think this is the baby step that needs to be taken, I support it.  My goal is for funding to go to soldier benefits, healthcare, etc --  Gwen W., Lafayette, CA

This war can be stopped, even if it takes small, halting steps to end it. --  John S., Blacksburg, VA

No, it doesn't go far enough, but it is a start. --  Ralph E., Woodside, CA

The bill does not go far enough, but I trust the speaker knows what she is doing and that albeit it is not what we want, it is what has the best chance of passage at this point. --  Scott L., North Richland Hills, TX

Even if the president vetoes the plan, at least it will be on record that there was a plan and congress did try to fight back on behalf of the right thing.  At least our children will know that we weren't all stupid.  If this doesn't work, willing congressmen should use the power of the purse, which is their right.  How many more young American troops must loose their lives for a lie. As time goes on, the LIE is uncovered more and more.  This is the reason for the firing of US attorneys.  The people we are dealing with are traitors and have NO scruples. --  Frank W., Bowie, MD

In the short run, Democrats need to make a strong uniform showing.  In time, proposals may become more demanding.  But for now, something should pass that makes a statement and reflects some strength of purpose re: the ultimate withdrawal from Iraq. --  Rebecca P., New York, NY

It's not a great bill, but it's a start. --  Harriet E., Brea, CA

The diversity of opinions within the Democratic Party is what makes it a true "Party of the People." Though I, and others, might not think the proposal goes far enough, I think that in the interests of party unity and building credibility to go farther, I think MoveOn should support the plan. --  Clark H., Altadena, CA

I am a reluctant supporter very disappointed that this seems to be the best we can do at this time.  But I feel that Rep. Murtha is doing the best he can under trying circumstances. --  Nancy D., Alexandria, VA

It is a first step. I'd like to see a stronger bill. But any movement to curb this administration is good. --  Christine H., Tillamook, OR

Go for it. Do what we can to contact the Blue Dog Democrats and tell them we mean business. --  Tom C., West Linn, OR

Even though it may not go far enough, any step toward ending this war is a step in the right direction.  Let's take this step and continue forward, opening the way for  diplomacy and other non-military solutions.  This war has obviously been counter-productive for everyone involved, except maybe for Halliburton, Big Oil, and other corporate interests who reap profits from American military operations.  --  Phyllis F., Louisville, KY

Plan is not perfect but it's time for the proverbial "step in the right direction." --  Joan K., Port Washington, NY

The administration argues that winding down the war now will mean that all the sacrifices made to date will have been made in vain. There is some truth to that, but there's very little evidence that we know how to improve the situation in Iraq. Throwing money and brave soldiers at the problem hasn't made the problem go away up to now. Is that sacrifice sufficient justification to keep throwing more money and brave soldiers at the problem? I don't think so. --  Daniel D., Southfield, MI

Congress should take every concrete step, for which it can muster the votes, to oppose the war.  --  Maureen M., Sacramento, CA

I'd really like to see a stronger policy with earlier withdrawal, but we've got to get something going and get it on the record, veto or not.  --  Joyce N., Gig Harbor, WA

I think that whatever goes up will 1) not pass or 2) be vetoed by the president. The important thing is to keep the pressure on so that if the "surge" doesn't "work" the next time a bill goes up in the House and/or Senate, there may be a shift (Joe Biden's point). --  Gerhard J., Teaneck, NJ

Both my husband and were VERY conflicted on this vote.  We opted in favor of what is possible as opposed to the ideal.  In addition - we would like to see our country take more responsibility for the sectarian violence in Iraq than it currently does as is represented in the benchmarks in this legislation.  We destabilized that country - not the Iraqis. --  Stephanie H., Austin, TX

I wish the return of all American troops serving in Iraq could be sooner, but also realize what a total withdrawal could do to the Iraqi people.  U.S. soldoiers, their families and the Iraqi people have suffered enough. Hopefully with the passing of this measure the healing for all can begin for all. --  Virginia T., Portland, OR

I am the mother of two active military sons. I would support this bill, although its not really bringing the troops home now, but its not "cut and run" either. Sooner or later we have to get out of Iraq and I say, the sooner the better. --  Nancy O., San Anselmo, CA

This action doesn't go far enough and should be only considered as a first step.... We need to end this was as soon as possible by whatever means necessary. --  Bert T., Sarasota, FL

The administration has said they want time to see if the surge can work. Though I'm sure we all consider that a settled question this plan is a compromise in that direction. It says here's your time but we have a contingency plan in place in case it doesn’t work. That is the responsible course of action. The only reason to have a problem with it is perhaps a general hostility towards oversight or checks and balances of any kind. --  Don M., Winston-Salem, NC

Not the best plan, but I am willing to take what I can get. --  Donald B., Hayward, CA

We must be diligent, deliberate, and dedicated to getting out of Iraq.  --  Joan M., Northridge, CA

The plan is not a good one, but it is a start. The best support we can give our troops is to get them out of Iraq NOW. This is a poor second choice, but is better than the alternative offered by this pathetic Congress (including both parties). --  Paul S., Thousand Oaks, CA

It's a hard call, but seems to me a majority of Americans want to see light at the end of the tunnel.  --  Walter P., Atlanta, GA

I would rather Congress voted FOR SOMETHING, rather than do nothing. --  Ted K., Stroudsburg, PA

Whether it is with giant steps or with baby steps, we must begin the end of this misguided war.  --  Mark P., Portland, OR

I hate to say it, but I think we have to compromise on this.  At least we get some forward progress. --  Jim L., Hillsboro, OR

Whatever steps can be taken to bring this rogue administration under control should be taken. --  Darrell F., Roseville, CA

Hard decisions, but I think we do have to start somewhere.  We need a cohesive front and clarity -- hard to get with the two sides (Repub. and Dems) fighting each other. --  Anna W., Warren, VT

This propose will be a start. Bush vetoes it, make it tougher. We have to stand for something or don't stand at all. If you wanted a job for life, without political implications, caretakers are in great demand. Push the damn  thing. And so should the Senate. Let the Republicans feel the heat.  --  Patricio F., Cohoes, NY

We need to get going and this is a first step.  If we continue to loose the votes there will be less momentum for ending the war. --  William R., Madison, WI

Better than nothing. The point needs to be made at some point that cutting off funding is supporting the troops in the most basic way---by getting them out of there. --  Brendan W., Salem, MA

At this point, ANYTHING that takes steps toward extracting us from this senseless war is a step in the right direction. This plan might be able to get a broad enough base of support to be enacted, whereas a more aggressive plan would be difficult, if not impossible, to push through. I'd rather know that we'll be getting out. albeit a bit later than would be preferable, than be stuck with the current "plan". --  Carol C., San Jose, CA

If the bill is only the first step, fine, then support it.  I would like to go further in the future. --  Lois G., Marshfield, WI

The plan looks like a good start but I think the deadline to withdraw from Iraq by September 2008 is too far away. It needs to happen sooner. --  Janel, Topeka, KS

I would like the troops to be withdrawn in the next week if possible but a definite end is better than indefinite occupation of the Middle East, which I believe is part of the Bush administration's real agenda. --  Ruth P., Saint Petersburg, FL