MoveOn, Betrayal of Trust, and the GOP’s Moral Failure
Ooohh, it looks like MoveOn.org hit a nerve… and is going to keep on hitting it:
MoveOn will expand the buy for its “Giuliani: A Betrayal of Trust” TV ad. The buy will be run nationally on CNN to answer the former mayor’s release of his new ad today. Giuliani’s most recent ad, responding to the organization’s criticism, demonstrates that he can’t answer the basic charge leveled against him: that he betrayed the public’s trust when he went AWOL from the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to take on high-fee speaking engagements.
According to Newsday, Giuliani missed ISG meetings in favor of lucrative speaking opportunities. He was eventually asked to resign from the ISG. MoveOn released an ad yesterday highlighting this and calling on Republican voters to ask Giuliani, “Where were you when it counted?”
The ad, which was already slated to run in Iowa starting today, will now also run nationally on CNN.
It’s no accident that MoveOn’s recent ads have caused the GOP establishment (and hence, the corporate media) to pillory them as the worst people in the history of the universe. As George Lakoff wrote on Sunday:
Betrayal is a moral issue, and with respect to war, mass destruction, maiming, and death, it is a moral issue of the highest order. Betraying trust is a matter of deception that knowingly leads to significant harm.
Back in June, Jane memorably wrote that the GOP brand is built on “The presumption of extreme moral rectitude even in the absence of any kind of moral compass whatsoever.” Anything that draws the latter part of that sentence to the public’s attention is the metaphorical exhaust port in the GOP death star (remember the freakout over Larry Craig?).
Our side often fails to attack this vulnerability because, well, we’re the “reality-based community,” after all — we prefer arguments based on facts and logic, and we’re not comfortable with the arrogance implied in criticizing someone else’s morality. But as Drew Westen and other researchers increasingly are recognizing, not everyone thinks this way. And the sad truth is, the arguments that are the most persuasive to us personally may not be the best method to reach people who don’t think the same way.
I wrote at length last October about the power of the “betrayal of trust” theme, explaining how it simultaneously undermines the GOP brand identity and builds the foundation for a stronger Democratic brand identity:
To counter decades of GOP propaganda, Democrats need to symbolically deliver a “you’re not our strong daddy” message at every opportunity; a repeated “betrayal of trust” storyline achieves this goal. . . .
This, I think, is a message that lifts the Democratic narrative above everyday campaign sniping, and the casual cynicism of uninformed voters. It argues that the moral compass of the Republicans in Washington, DC has gone seriously astray, and we need Democrats to bring a sense of adult supervision and just plain common sense back to our government.
Everyone, regardless of party, understands that there are certain fundamental, moral obligations that a government owes its citizens. From Mark Foley’s page-stalking to Tom DeLay’s corruption to Iraq to Katrina, the Republicans in Washington, DC have forgotten this. But where they’ve failed to uphold those basic trusts, Democrats will. That should be our narrative.
In my previous two posts here, I’ve used an even simpler shorthand phrase to describe the GOP stance regarding Iraq: moral failure. The more that Republican politicians are forced to stand by policies that are recognized by the public as not just failures but moral failures, the more nervously they’ll start looking around for an excuse to jump ship — and, in so doing, help us to end the war.
Which is why Rudy and others of his ilk react to MoveOn.org’s “betrayal of trust” accusations like ghouls recognizing the first shafts of sunlight breaking into their previously impenetrable crypt. Because that’s exactly what they are.