Topic: Government & Politics

Move-On.org and the Ethics of Silly Arguments
(5/23/2005)

Having to write this particular ethics commentary is upsetting, because I had vowed…vowed!... not to let the people at Move-on.org goad me into criticizing them. For an ethicist, this is hard road, for the very name of the organization is based on an unethical premise. During the last half of the Clinton years, when the country was debating such legitimate issues as whether it is an impeachable offense for a sitting president to lie under oath in a court proceeding and a grand jury or whether there is some special exception that makes lies involving workplace sexual harassment and adultery unimportant because "everybody does it," a group of young anti-moralists declared that the controversy had gone on too long (that is, the stonewalling, legal diversions and public dissembling of President Clinton's crisis team has gone on just long enough) and the nation needed to "move on." You know…holding elected officials to legal and ethical standards just takes too much time.

But it's an uncommonly juvenile and silly group of political tyros who make up Move-On, and I was able to resist. I was able to resist during its crude and shallow forays into the 2004 election, its alliances with Michael Moore, its liking for comparing the President of the United States to Hitler. Still, while an eight year-old burping is at worst rude and at best cute, if somebody gives him a 2,000 mile wide megaphone to broadcast his burp around the world, it qualifies as an assault. Billionaire pot advocate George Soros has provided Move-On with its megaphone, and the group has an obligation to be responsible for what it broadcasts. But it's still belching away, and giggling over the cleverness of it all.

The latest Move-On sonic-burp is a flyer and a television commercial based on the brilliant discovery that "Frist" sounds a little bit like "Sith"…well, kind of. So Move-On has produced an attack on Frist that parodies the latest George Lucas special effects orgy, called "The Revenge of the Frist," and comparing Republicans to the evil Empire of the Star Wars movie.

<Yawn!>

What fun. The problem is that quite apart from its satirical elements, both the commercial and the flyer are riddled with misrepresentations and lies. And because the main thrust of both is criticism of the GOP effort to restrict the use of Senate filibusters to keep judicial nominees from getting a confirmation vote, this is especially irresponsible and wrong. The American public, you see, ignorant of our history and our institutions as they sadly are, don't comprehend this controversy at all. Move-On and its giant megaphone only can confuse them further. At this point, it makes no difference whether Move-On's brain-dead representation of the issues are intentional deceptions (possible) or just the level at which its members and staff comprehend the issues themselves (very likely, sad to say.) They have the megaphone now. Being stupid and naïve is no longer an excuse.

Let me say, for the record, that the Scoreboard has no dog in the filibuster hunt. It isn't an ethical issue; it's a political and tactical one. But if the bullets at Antietam were flying so thick you could stick up a finger and have it shot off in a second, the baloney in this debate has been flying so thick you could stick up two slices of bread and have a hogey.

We'll use quotes from Move-On.org's work to get past the sandwich:

  • From the commercial: .. one Senator, seduced by a dark vision of absolute power, seeks to destroy this fabled order, replacing fair judges with far right clones.

    Well, of course, its not one senator, it's a bunch of them. Frist happens to be their leader. Saying that the addition (or subtraction) of a handful of conservative judges is going to "destroy" anything is just as ridiculous as the conservative Republicans' intemperate attacks on the judiciary when Terry Shiavo finally closed her eyes. The judges being held up by Democrat filibusters are not all "far right," and they are not clones, literally or figuratively. No two of them could be counted on to agree even 75% of the time.

  • From the commercial: To do this, he's ready to use  a nightmare weapon known as the Nuclear Option.

    "Nightmare weapon?" It's a Senate rule change, for heaven's sake. It is neither unconstitutional or even unprecedented to change the number of votes required for cloture. You can object to the tactic or support it, but how does allowing the full Senate the chance to vote on a presidential appointment (as the Constitution specifically directs it to do) qualify as a "nightmare"?

  • From the flyer: "…Frist and radical Republicans are preparing to seize total control over our independent courts"

    Now how are they going to do that? Even appointing all the conservative judges in the world can't give Republicans "control" over the courts, because judges are inherently uncontrollable. They take orders from nobody, and will spit in the eye of anyone who tries. This really is science fiction.

  • From the flyer: Senator Frist is threatening to use the ultimate weapon… breaking Senate rules to eliminate the right to filibuster-giving absolute power over judicial nominations to one party for the first time, ever.

    Mama mia!
    Voting to lower the votes necessary for cloture won't "break" Senate rules; it will make Senate rules. The rules were and are made by the Senate; they weren't passed down on tablets on a mountain top. There is no "right to filibuster," it's a tactic, just like changing the rules on cloture, Move-On leaves the impression that filibustering is in the Bill of Rights somewhere. And what "absolute power?" As the Republicans are fond of pointing out, nobody had thought to use the filibuster to stall judicial nominations until recently. Parties yielded to the desires of the president in power most of the time, and the rest of the time, voted their consciences. The "absolute power" that Move-On treats like the Dark Side of the Force is called "the majority." It's how democracies decide things. The horror!

  • From the flyer: Don't let them seize absolute power!

    Never mind. I'm starting to get punchy.

Look: there are real issues here. How much leeway should a president have in appointing judges, especially if they are qualified? How much power should a minority have to thwart a duly elected majority, and what issues rise to a level of importance where this is reasonable? Is a likely opinion on one issue, such as abortion, a fair reason to reject a judge, or not allow him to be voted upon? The public needs to weigh in on these and other matters, but they need to do it because they are informed and lucid about what's involved, not convinced that this is some epic battle between good and evil.

When you have the power to make your arguments heard far and wide, like Move-On.org does now, you have an obligation to do it well, honestly, and responsibly. Junior High level rhetoric supported by science fiction civics doesn't meet this standard. Move-On needs to Grow-Up, and until they do, efforts like their Frist commercial will be parody, not of the current Star Wars installment, but the last one, with the title:

"The Attack of the Clowns"

 

   
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