By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
That it has been able to do so is due to its status as a so-called 527 organization, a label that comes from a section of the tax code. By law, individual donations to a political candidate cannot exceed $4,000, but there is no set limit on donations to 527 groups, which are supposed to be independent of any political party. Officially, therefore, MoveOn is neither endorsing John Kerry nor urging the removal of George W. Bush; it is bringing “issues” to the voters’ attention. In fact, it is exploiting a loophole in the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill. In this year’s second quarter, Democratic 527 groups raised a staggering $27 million. (Having first tried and failed to shut down those groups, the Republicans then had to play catch-up; their biggest group, Club for Growth, has raised $5 million.) Since last October, MoveOn’s voter fund, which goes toward financing campaign ads in battleground states, has raised $10 million.
One of MoveOn’s most brilliant strokes was “Bush in 30 Seconds,” a competition in which people could create their own political ads and then submit them to be voted on by the membership. One of the ads that was submitted — the now-infamous “Hitler” ad, comparing Bush to the Nazi dictator — brought them a lot of bad publicity. The Republicans, who loathe MoveOn, then tried to score political points by excerpting the Hitler image for a Republican campaign commercial about Democratic extremism. Titled “Kerry’s Coalition of the Wild-Eyed,” the ad also quoted from Fahrenheit 9/11and the fierier speeches of Al Gore and Howard Dean. Ironically, the Republicans were criticized for using the Hitler image just as MoveOn was, with the result that their ad backfired. If there’s a lesson here, it’s that both parties should steer clear of using Nazi analogies, though, to be fair, only the Democrats have made a habit of comparing the Bush government to the Nazis. (If the Republicans were to return the favor, they would probably call MoveOn, and other groups like it, “liberal fascists.”)
The winner of “Bush in 30 Seconds” was “Child’s Pay,” a stunningly effective ad that dramatized the future cost of the Bush administration’s deficits by showing children doing menial jobs such as washing dishes, mopping floors and picking up trash. The message — “Guess who’s going to pay off President Bush’s $1 trillion deficit?” — was brought powerfully home by director Charlie Fisher. In a clever touch, folksy acoustic-guitar music was featured on the soundtrack, as if what we were watching were just another advertisement for whole-wheat bread.
Another popular ad (No. 3 out of 150) alludes to the Patriot Act. A young Middle Eastern man, or perhaps Pakistani, in Western clothes but with a heavy accent, stands beside a river and addresses the camera. The camera work is edgy and unsettling. “In my country,” he says, “a group of religious extremists are reshaping the government to promote their own agenda and morality.” He goes on to list two restrictions on freedom (the government can track your phone calls and imprison people suspected of terrorism without charges) and then says, “Why should you care about what is happening in mycountry?” The answer, of course, is that his country is the good old U.S. of A. And to prove it, the Manhattan skyline emerges behind him, with Le Corbusier’s United Nations building prominently featured.
Have liberals rediscovered their political passion or are they just having a torrid affair with political propaganda? Most people, even those who are fairly partisan, are ambivalent about conventional political ads. They concede that they are a necessity in modern campaigns. But they also regard them as a distasteful exercise in crude sloganeering and borderline lying. They don’t particularly want to watch the ads, and they certainly don’t want to makethem. But this year that doesn’t seem to be true. For MoveOn, celebrity artists are lining up to make commercials. In the coming months, we will be seeing MoveOn ads produced by the highbrow, award-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Fog of War) and directed by Rob Reiner, Richard Linklater, Margaret Cho and Allison Anders. Alicia Silverstone will appear in a spot directed by Woody Harrelson, and the likes of Al Franken, Aaron Sorkin, Ed Asner, Kevin Bacon, Danny Glover and Scarlett Johansson will be writing scripts or supplying voice-overs. Along with partisan documentary films such as Fahrenheit 9/11and Robert Greenwald’s new Outfoxed, both of which MoveOn has stumped for, it’s all part of a giant, perhaps unprecedented effort by the country’s intellectual and artistic communities to unseat the conspicuously unintellectual, inartistic man in the Oval Office. And MoveOn, as much as anyone, is leading the charge.
Blades’ phone rings, and she answers it: Her sister-in-law is in town. A dog barks in the kitchen, and the couple’s 6-year-old daughter runs into the room in a T-shirt and pajama bottoms and then runs back out. “You could put on some pants,” Blades calls out after her. Through the dining-room window I see Wes Boyd in the garden outside and catch his eye. A few moments later, he comes into the room and shakes my hand. I’ve already been warned that he’s busy today, and, sure enough, he says he’ll only have about 20 minutes to speak to me, as he’s expecting an important conference call.