What is the effect of the MOVEON.ORG advertisement in THE NEW YORK TIMES that questioned General David H. Petraeus, who now leads our troops in Iraq? The advertisement questioned his integrity and suggested that Petraeus lied during his testimony before Congress. Polls taken after General Petraeus and Brian Crocker, current U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, testified suggested that MOVEON.ORG overreached. It did so because it was not differing in a policy sense, but because it was just plain angry. When a group operates out of anger it almost always goes too far beyond what the general public deems acceptable.
I know this from personal experience. When President Ronald W. Reagan chose George H. W. Bush as his running mate I was angry. A bad storm had prevented me from meeting with Reagan that morning. My colleagues told Reagan that if he chose Howard H. Baker, Jr. they would walk out. They said no such thing of Bush. I arrived just as they were departing the meeting. When I asked them if they had threatened a walkout for Bush they admitted that they had just told Reagan that they preferred someone else.
I was so angry that I endorsed Reagan in 1980 but not Bush. My anger continued on election night where, despite a tremendous victory by Reagan and Bush, I attacked Bush. People were thrilled to have elected Reagan, but upset with me for attacking Bush. They didn't want some second-rate activist to spoil the victory. It was Senator Paul D. Laxalt (R-NV) who calmed me down. I knew that Senator Laxalt had been promised the Vice Presidency. When Bush was selected, Laxalt left the Republican Convention and was not seen for about ten days. Laxalt was a fine man and a close friend of Reagan. I figured if he could get over his disappointment, so must I. But the fact was, my anger had caused me to overreach.
General Petraeus mentioned at the beginning of his testimony that he had written his report and had not cleared it with anyone at the Pentagon or White House. Democrats, especially those running for President, basically called this good and decent man a liar. They, too, overreached. They did so because they realized that once again President George W. Bush had them cornered. They want to end the war. General Petraeus was asking for the surge to continue until early 2008.
This is a good lesson in politics. When a group or a person is angry and overreaches it unites the opposition. MOVEON.ORG may have bullied the Democratic Party into submission but it has united the Republicans and the country behind Petraeus.
The American people understand that this good man would not send young men and women to get injured or killed if he honestly did not believe that the United States had a chance to win. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) has insisted that the war is lost. Many Democrats now have a stake in an American defeat.