The right’s MoveOn nearly ‘kaput’

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.