MoveOn Apologizes For Backing A Winner

In the Democratic primary for a Brooklyn congressional district two weeks ago, assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries romped to victory against controversial New York city councilman Charles Barron, perhaps best known for stating “I want to go up to the closest white person and say, ‘You can’t understand this, it’s a black thing’ and then slap him, just for my mental health” at a 2002 rally for reparations for slavery. Although the race was expected to be relatively close, Jeffries won by over 40 points in a landslide. But MoveOn.org, the progressive advocacy group that backed Jeffries, did a rather peculiar thing after their endorsed candidate won. They issued a mea culpa.

In an email sent out yesterday, Justin Reuben, MoveOn’s executive director, apologized profusely to members that his organization criticized Barron. His email started:

Last month, you received an email from MoveOn about Councilman Charles Barron, a candidate for Congress in your district. It was offensive and inflammatory—and we shouldn’t have sent it.

On behalf of the MoveOn staff, I apologize to you and to the Brooklyn community.

The email was all too reminiscent of the kind of attacks that have been used by our opponents to divide progressives over and over again—white folks from African Americans, Jews from non-Jews, recent immigrants from descendants of immigrants, etc.

The original email about Barron labeled him “unfit to serve” and catalogued many of his more outlandish comments over the years, including his praise for Muammar Qadaffi and Robert Mugabe as well as his venomous disdain for the state of Israel. It ended by comparing Barron to the “most offensive tea partier. Those tea partiers, frankly, don’t belong in Congress. And neither does Charles Barron.”

Although it’s understandable why some at MoveOn might have found this rhetoric a little strident, it’s mind-boggling why they would apologize for it. After all, they backed the candidate who won in a landslide against the candidate described by the New York Daily News as a malignant clown. Normally, that’s worth a victory lap, not public self-flagellation.

Ben Jacobs

Ben Jacobs is a journalist living in New York. He is a former reporter for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and contributor to the Boston Globe editorial page. Follow him on Twitter @bencjacobs.