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November 25, 2008

THE RIGHT'S MOVEON NEARLY 'KAPUT'.... Talk about your on-again, off-again operations. Freedom's Watch, the far-right political group, has, at various times, been the Next Big Thing in conservative politics, and a vacuous paper tiger that can't figure what to do with itself. In fact, it's bounced back and forth between these points more than once.

When Freedom's Watch burst upon the political scene in August 2007, it was part of a coordinated effort to rally support for staying the course in Iraq. The group unveiled four slick TV ads, including one featuring a veteran who lost a leg in Iraq who argued that we have to stay in Iraq because "they attacked us." There were reports earlier this year that Freedom's Watch was prepared to amass a quarter-billion dollar budget for the 2008 campaigns, and politicos everywhere thought the outfit was on its way to becoming a powerhouse.

Then, the right-wing group was beset by internal problems, a lack of direction, a serious staff shake-up, and the departure of high-profile staffers, including the group's inaugural president, former Bush aide Bradley Blakeman. Complicating matters, the financial crisis reportedly took a considerable toll on casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, the financier bankrolling the group's operations.

And now, it appears that Freedom's Watch is just about finished.

Freedom's Watch, the conservative group backed by Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Sheldon Adelson, is pretty much kaput, sources with knowledge of the organization said.

The group's dozens of staffers have been paid through the end of the year. After that, Freedom's Watch is likely to shut its doors permanently, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Two quick observations. First, this has to be considered one of the more humiliating fiascos in recent history for the conservative movement. Freedom's Watch was sitting pretty -- huge budgets, unmatched connections, a far-right void just waiting to be filled -- and it all fell apart very quickly, and with precious little to show for their efforts.

And second, when Freedom's Watch was first announced, it was billed by conservatives as the right's version of MoveOn.org. It's worth remembering that the right has always been confused about how MoveOn became a success. Conservatives too often think, "We'll get some money together, deliver a right-wing message, hire some Bush hands, and the grassroots will come together. It'll be awesome."

It doesn't work that way. MoveOn doesn't follow a top-down model; it's the other way around. MoveOn drew support because it had a cause (Clinton impeachment). It showed staying power when new causes emerged, and there was a genuine demand for progressive activism.

This wasn't an instance in which a bunch of liberals got together and said, "Wouldn't it be great to form some kind of organization to advance a liberal agenda?" It was a far more natural evolution, a fact that seems to elude those who wish to emulate it.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (22)

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The forty year cycle between conservative and progressive ideas has been completed. The conservatives should expect to be out of real control for at least 40 years. With the financial melt down they can add another 35 years to that.

Posted by: jeff on November 25, 2008 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

Selling silk umbrellas to beach bums...

Making political surf out of deregulation is hard work. Especially when a Cat5 economic tsunami, caused by less regulation, is crashing overhead. That sort of ruins your brand a bit...

Of course, they might have hired Little Middle Class Sarah to sing: The sun will come out tomorrow...
But I betcha that wouldn't have helped much either.

Posted by: koreyel on November 25, 2008 at 8:15 AM | PERMALINK

Gotta disagree to some extent on MoveOn not being "top down". Yes, they initially organized around a popular cause - but it was something like 3 people who put it together and who still pretty much run the show in terms of what the agenda will be. I don't get emails from them asking "what should our agenda be" but rather "this is our agenda, you need to do x to help support it." To be fair though, there's not a lot out there these days that isn't organized top-down. Up until the mid-90s there were actually quite a lot of groups where state or local chapters set their own agendas - AARP, Common Cause, etc - but they followed the trend of government and started dictating to the state orgs from their Washington offices. I know it got increasingly difficult starting at about that point to pull together coalitions of groups in states for things like initiative campaigns, because you often couldn't get the organizations' central offices to agree to let the state organizations take those kinds of things on. I put it down to the virtual complete takeover of the Washington lobbying culture - just as the Democrats more and more decided that this was the power base, so too did formerly "grassroots" organizations. Hopefully we'll start to see this go back to the older model which was frankly more effective and encouraged more people to get involved.

Posted by: Jennifer on November 25, 2008 at 8:34 AM | PERMALINK

It was a far more natural evolution, a fact that seems to elude those who wish to emulate it.

Well, when you don't believe in evolution, it becomes kind of hard to use that model.....Telling, isn't it, that the conservatives went with the top down Intelligent Designer approach?

Posted by: Stefan McGrath on November 25, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

Steve - Freedom Watch was a fabulous success, almost as successful as the Monarchist Union of Central Russia, so don't go knocking it and don't tell the conservatives how they could ruin the idea by making it a bottom-up organization. All progressives should be worried about the collapse of Freedom Watch - the replacement might just possibly do its job right.

Posted by: blowback on November 25, 2008 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

The organization will shut its doors the moment the money runs out.

Conservatives love the CONCEPT of volunteering....

A mental note for everyone:
The momnent this Sheldon Adelson turkey gets two nickels together again, how much do you want to bet he'll start bankrolling puppets again?

If you're heading for Vegas, Las Vegas Sands Corp. owns the Venetian and the Palazzo hotels.
Stay somewhere else. The harder this guy falls, the longer it'll take for him to get back up.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on November 25, 2008 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

Stefan - they would have real problems with an organization with a bottom-up evolutionary approach based in Scunthorpe. Their intertubes filtering software would never let them see it.

Posted by: blowback on November 25, 2008 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't Focus on the Family having financial difficulties, too? Maybe they should join forces. They could call it, Focus on the Freedom, or maybe, The Freedom Family, or some other kind of vaguely Orwellian term...

Posted by: josef on November 25, 2008 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

The collapse of Freedom's Watch is proof positive that America is a center-right nation. Maybe even farther to the right than center-right.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on November 25, 2008 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

Two words: Cargo Cult.

Posted by: elmo on November 25, 2008 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

When last seen, Bradley Blakeman was embarrassing himself by sniping at Obama about taking his campaign plane to Hawaii to visit his dying grandmother. This is what the GOP has come to. Look upon its works, ye mighty, and laugh in disbelief.

Posted by: Jersey Tomato on November 25, 2008 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

It's ironic that after devoting its efforts to supporting the party whose goal is the transfer of the most wealth into the fewest hands, Freedom's Watch can't get anyone to transfer some wealth into their hands.
Note to conservatives: Now that you're out of power you can forget about having those you enriched return your calls.

Posted by: Dennis-SGMM on November 25, 2008 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

the right would love a moveon to call their own, because they suffer under the illusion that they're oppressed, that all the cards are stacked against them. Can a rich white Christian man catch a break in this town?

They refuse to accept that the cards aren't stacked against them, they own the cards, the casino, the concessions & restaurants in the casino and all the transportation to and from the casino. They confuse being oppressed with being liked & genuinely respected, which is why they attribute Obama's success to racism ir anti-Bush sentiment, not his qualities or their lack thereof.

Until neoocons are truly endangered - in numbers AND in their power base, any attempt to replicate moveon will be laughable.

Posted by: slappy magoo on November 25, 2008 at 9:44 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, I like your use of "Kaput". Haven't seen that word in a while--it's a fun one. Reminds me of the hysterical Mel Brooks film: "Blazing Saddles" and the scene when Madeline Khan sings on stage "I'm so tired...I'm kaput!" :)

(Sorry, for the off topic)

Posted by: I'm so tired, I'm 'Kaput!" on November 25, 2008 at 10:28 AM | PERMALINK

Focus on the Freedom is a fabulous idea! Dr. Dobson will be the organization ventriloquist, and the perfect dummy is Sarah Palin. It'll be gooder and wonderfuller than Freedom's Watch also. Their Thanksgiving TV Special will be even more better and spectacular, with a live broadcast of the slaughtering of Bruce, the Liberal Gay Marriage turkey.

Posted by: bluestatedon on November 25, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

The authoritarian mind is incapable of understanding how bottom-up organization works, which is why they fail to understand much of anything about their real opposition (which isn't just MoveOn). The thought of having people who think for themselves getting together to think for themselves as a group is absolutely terrifying to these people. Witness statements by the "minders" over at RedState that people are to "stay in line and not attract our attention" if they want to avoid being kicked out.

Posted by: TCinLA on November 25, 2008 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

No, no, a thousand times no.

Liberals always get conservatives and neoconservatives mixed up because of the similarity in names and because they have both been part of the Rove Republican coalition.

Neoconservatives like Adelson are liberal and Jewish for the most part, supporting wars in defense of Israel, not conservative.

Adelson's parents were Jewish. His mother's family emigrated to the United States from Ukraine; his father's family came from Lithuania.[3] Adelson was born and grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, a rough-and-tumble section of Boston, where his father drove a taxicab.

Posted by: Luther on November 25, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

In some ways, trying to make a right wing moveon parallels trying to come up with left wing talk radio.

First, people forget that folks like Rush didn't come on all at once. There were a few stars that emerged out of many - there are lots of Rush immitators, most of whom are relative talentless hacks (Rush, for all his failings, knows how to work a radio show.) There was a vacuum in the marketplace - people who wanted their right wing propaganda delivered in a straight and (to them) entertaining fashion. Thanks to support from clearchannel and others, the medium was given time to develop.

Air America radio, on the other hand, was an attempt to create something in one swoop, pulling in outside talent and money. The issues were some of the big name hosts were not radio people, there was no organic growth of talent due to the time element, and the plans were too big - the expectation was to be a rival right away as opposed to building over time. Further, the vacuum wasn't there - the left had the blogs, and preferred a more thoughtful and balanced delivery of news - in the radio, they were content with Bob Edwards giving them news during their commute rather than talk radio.

Similarly, the right attempted to replace organic growth over time with sudden creation.

Posted by: Fides on November 25, 2008 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Freedom's Watch spent millions against Mark Udall here in Colorado, and every time one of their ads ran, I hoped they'd do more... it seemed that they're ads were so transparently silly that they actually helped Udall.

Posted by: Lukeness on November 25, 2008 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

"First, this has to be considered one of the more humiliating fiascos in recent history for the conservative movement."

I thought that was the "1/2 Hour News Hour".

Posted by: 2Manchu on November 25, 2008 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

a) Before they closed shop, they still had enough green-back energy to produce and run anti-Martin ads in Georgia.
b) I fully expect them to come back to life in 2012 if not sooner; not so much like a phoenix but like the vile salamander (who never perished in the fire)

Posted by: exlibra on November 25, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

"...Freedom's Watch was sitting pretty...and it all fell apart very quickly, and with prescious little to show for their efforts."
An apt summation of the present Administration, as well. The pity is that GWB and Co. took eight years instead of two to dissolve into complete ineptitude.
And left a much bigger mess in their wake.

Posted by: Doug on November 25, 2008 at 8:18 PM | PERMALINK



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