For the last three weeks in New Delhi, India, massive protests were orchestrated by thousands upon thousands of farmers in response to a new series of proposed agricultural legislation, which farmers claim will severely compromise their respective earnings. After the peaceful protesters even resorted to blocking traffic along major highway systems, India’s Supreme Court conceded and decided to go forward with a mediation panel where they would hear out the voices and the terms of those who had felt their government was not legislating on behalf of their best interests. Just another worldly anecdote to demonstrate what can happen when protesters and activists seize upon and wield the leverage right before them.
But I think it was Isaac Newton who coined the phrase, “for every action that wields leverage to successfully extract a concession, there’s another piece of leverage getting squandered really hard like there’s no tomorrow.”
Nearly two weeks ago, political commentator Jimmy Dore and Los Angeles Chargers running back Justin Jackson inadvertently triggered quite the debate with regards to a theoretical Medicare-For-All vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. Dore has made the proposal that, because of the Democrats’ brief majority in the House, a small amount of progressives, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rep. Ro Khanna, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, should threaten to withhold their vote for Nancy Pelosi as House Speaker in January unless she agrees to bring a recorded vote for Medicare-For-All to the House floor. In addition, other voices have made the case that in addition to potentially extracting a floor vote on Medicare-For-All, the progressives could also bargain for other reforms such as removing the Med-4-All nay-sayer Richard Neal from the Ways and Means Committee, and getting a floor vote on legislation that would allow each state to create a respective single-payer healthcare system for themselves.
But AOC, oddly enough, and in spite of previous remarks of hers which I will reflect upon in a moment, didn’t seem too enthused about this play, and, when Justin Jackson echoed Dore’s proposal on Twitter, AOC responded with the assertion that the proposal hasn’t been given enough thought.
AOC would later go on to make remarks agreeing with an underlying sentiment of the progressive movement that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer both need to go, yet also seemed dismayed at the fact that supposedly there was nobody suitable enough to take the place of the aforementioned in their seats.
Well, it’s certainly discouraging to say the least that AOC doesn’t sound too keen at the moment to capitalize on the briefest of opportunities to extract something for her vote for Pelosi, but at least there was a consistent and concentrated conglomerate of progressives and Democratic voters alike that immediately threw in their support behind Dore and Jackson’s insistence that House progressives at least attempt to do the bare minimum.
Oh but I forgot to mention! The first people to push back feverishly against Dore’s and Jackson’s notion were not health insurance lobbyists or Big Pharma execs with a bottom line to preserve, but instead, would-be sheepdogs for the Democratic Party more angered by voters like Dore trying to hold their elected leaders accountable, then they are at said leaders for not fighting for a single-payer healthcare system in the first place.
Oddly enough, individuals such as progressive commentators Benjamin Dixon and Tim Black, comedian Andy Kindler, and Host at The Young Turks Ana Kasparian seemed more committed to making the counterargument that Dore was “divisive”, and that he was some sort of grifter only interested in profiting off of the notion that progressives should commit “career-suicide” (meanwhile, more and more Americans as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic are increasingly and unfortunately contemplating actual suicide).
So are Dore and Jackson, and all of their progressive supporters, actually misguided on this one? I’m not so sure personally, but don’t take it from me, take it from AOC herself, who has insisted that protesting and activism is meant to make others uncomfortable so that their demands can no longer be ignored.
If the progressives are all about capitalizing on opportunities that don’t come by very often, wouldn’t it make sense to withhold their vote for Pelosi as Speaker unless concessions are extracted come this January when they may not ever get such an opportunity to do so again?
There’s some concern being raised that such a challenge to Pelosi from the progressives may cost them prominent positions on various congressional committees, but is this all we’re content with regarding our elected leaders? Was anyone casting their vote for AOC in the 14th District on the premise that they were really gung-ho about seeing how she’d shake up the House Committee on Financial Services?
If the progressives did withhold their vote for Pelosi and are unable to get a floor vote for Medicare For All, and Kevin McCarthy somehow finds enough votes to become House Speaker, then that’s on Pelosi. That’s not the progressives’ fault.
And finally, even if Rep. Jayapal’s H.R. 1384 is brought to the house floor at last for a recorded vote, and it is rejected, then doesn’t that open the floodgates for primary challengers to run for the seats of those in the House that voted against the bill? They’re all likely to bring up time and time again how their opponent voted against a single-payer healthcare system for their constituents in the middle of a pandemic.
However you slice it, this power-play right out of the Politics 101 textbook does not compromise the progressive movement.
Perhaps the issue isn’t that Dore’s proposal isn’t shrewd. It’s that AOC and the other progressives prioritize their own careers and stability in the House over actually fighting tooth-and-nail for what they campaigned on policy-wise. This certainly wouldn’t be the first time though the progressives bent the knee to the establishment wing and corporate wing of the Democratic Party.
Remember back in March when the CARES Act passed almost unanimously through Congress? The House seemingly never conducted a recorded vote for the massive $2.2 trillion bill, with only Rep. Thomas Massie advocating for (in vain) the vote to be on record instead of just being conducted through voice vote.
AOC – and the rest of the “squad” for that matter – never vocally opposed the notion of a voice vote when the time came for objection, and so her claim that she actually voted against a bill that constituted the largest upward-transfer of wealth in the history of the United States holds about as much water as a strainer.
As a result of the CARES Act, nine months later, the stimulus checks for day-to-day Americans have long since run out, and unemployment compensation may expire December 26th without any further congressional response. Meanwhile, $500 billion has been given to giant corporations, such as airline industries and national security industries, without any added incentive for them to preserve any jobs within said industries.
If we go further back to the 2018 midterm primaries, AOC told former Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald that the Democrats needed new leadership to replace Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer in the House, but when push came to shove, she fell right into line months later with the other progressives to cast their votes for both Pelosi and Hoyer, with no objections to be heard.
For all of her insistence, both before and after her first taking her place inside the House, that Democrats need new leadership, she’ll still acknowledge Pelosi as the “mama bear” of the Democratic Party, as if Pelosi’s in lockstep with the same ambitions and legislation as the progressives are. Months later, she would go on to say Pelosi would get her vote for House Speaker again if Pelosi was the most “progressive” option the House could muster. Insert obligatory Inigo Montoya quote here.
After the 2020 presidential debates, AOC refused to hold Biden accountable for his insistence that he would not ban fracking in his administration, in spite of previous efforts by the congresswoman to ban fracking completely throughout the U.S.
When pressed about the merits of the U.S. continuing to push forward with an illicit CIA-backed coup in Venezuela, AOC refused to take a stand on the issue and instead replied merely that she would only “defer to caucus leadership”.
And finally, despite her renewed claims first referenced earlier about how Pelosi and Schumer must go, neither AOC or any of the other squad members chose to endorse Pelosi’s challenger in the primaries earlier this year – progressive Shahid Buttar – nor did they consider throwing their own name in for consideration as House Speaker.
AOC’s and the squad’s squeamishness to extract anything for their vote for Pelosi as Speaker come January is not something that is being carefully mediated – it’s another instance of a nearly two-year pattern of House progressives unwilling to stand up to and challenge establishment politicians, in the hopes that “playing nice” is the more fruitful path forward. Just ask Kathleen Rice – who just beat out AOC for a seat on the Energy and Commerce Panel because she actually chose to withhold her vote from Pelosi in 2019 to extract concessions – how far “playing nice” gets you. The Freedom Caucus never worried about how “divisive” their rhetoric may have sounded to their constituents in their quest to push former House Speaker John Boehner further right, even if it risked shutting the government down at one point; agree or disagree with the caucus’ ambitions, Boehner never doubted that the caucus had the power to make life hell for him in the House.
Journalists such as Matt Stoller have made the case that progressives cannot effectively and seriously obtain influence in the House if they continue to cozy up to and try to make nice with establishment and corporate Democrats. Instead, what Stoller has argued is that the progressives need to go the route of Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primaries when he told off Jeb Bush, and lambasted the Bush family name by retorting again and again that George W. Bush’s administration failed to keep Americans safe after 9/11 and rushed into a political quagmire in the Middle East under a false pretense. Trump’s play to rub sand in the eyes of the GOP establishment throughout the primaries came as cathartic to Republican voters disgusted with how corporatized the political apparatus of D.C. had become, and a similar rhetoric from Bernie Sanders both in the 2016 and 2020 primaries, albeit not as pungent, appealed as well to his respective base.
Playing nice with the establishment dems seems to be a poor way of producing bounteous results with regards to the progressives’ legislative ambitions. If AOC is going to vote for a bill like the CARES Act without trying to extract any concessions in return, or refuse to hold Pelosi accountable for not bringing progressive legislation to the House floor for a vote, is it really better that we have her there in the House when she operates anyway in a similar fashion to the seat’s previous holder Joe Crowley, a moderate Democrat?
With all of this now in mind, we return to the often-cited talking point about how progressives can make big strides from within the Democratic Party, rather than go through the efforts of making an impact from the ground-up through a novel third party. It is my belief though that the progressives cannot hope to be effectively taken seriously so long as they continue to coddle establishment Democrats, indulge in the tired-and-tried talking points that pit the left against the right rather than the 99% against the 1%, and fail to capitalize on the brief opportunities of wielding leverage that come their way.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans continue to see the necessity and value in having a viable third party option in this country. If the progressive movement cannot make waves inside a highly corporatized two-party system, then it may have to seek other means and parties to have its voice heard.
One activist group making strides in particular is The Movement for a People’s Party, a group fiercely making the case for single-payer healthcare, free public college, better infrastructure, a federally-funded jobs program, and especially, money out of politics. Their party – The People’s Party – has officially registered as a state party in Maine, with the remaining 49 states already on their radar as well, and are endorsed by some of the most prominent thinkers and commentators at the moment, including but not limited to Chris Hedges, Dr. Cornel West, Marianne Williamson, Nina Turner, Abby Martin, Oliver Stone, and Jimmy Dore. You can find the link to their homepage right here.
The progress of third party movements also changes the narrative dynamics of both the Democratic and Republican parties. In order to stay on a level playing field, both parties won’t be able anymore to just run on culture wars and insist that the best case for electing them is that they aren’t “the other candidate”.
Or, if you’re reading this and you are in support of a progressive milestone such as Medicare-For-All but are still uncertain about the viability of a third party, listed below are the numbers to reach the offices of each progressive in the House of Representatives, as well as a link that will assist in general with obtaining contact with any respective representative. Call up your representatives and start making demands. The politicians are not your friends, they are your elected leaders, and if you feel they are not legislating directly on your behalf, vote them out.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – (202) 225-3965
Ayanna Pressley – (202) 225-5111
Barbara Lee – (202) 225-2661
Jesús “Chuy” Garcia – (202) 225-8203
Ilhan Omar – (202) 225-4755
Jamie Raskin – (202) 225-5341
Katie Porter – (202) 225-5611
Mark Pocan – (202) 225-2906
Pramila Jayapal – (202) 225-3106
Rashida Tlaib – (202) 225-5126
Raul Grijalva – (202) 225-2435
Ro Khanna – (202) 225-2631
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: