EDIT: I no longer agree with what I wrote here. While I have my criticisms of the House Progressive Caucus, I now realize that the points levied against House Progressives in this article are non sensical, and some are made in poor taste. Although I’m writing this on 12/8/2021, I have come to this conclusion a long time ago. You can view my response here.
Progressives are good, we need to elect more of them, and they have made real accomplishments.
Image courtesy of Getty Images.
The 2020 election cycle has been a pyrrhic victory for the Democratic Party. Although they managed to clinch the presidency from the Orange Menace, it was no landslide. Both New Hampshire state chambers flipped to Republican, as did the Montana governorship.“Easy” Senate victories, such as against Susan Collins in Maine and Joni Ernst in Iowa, never materialized. Democrats failed to unseat criminal, insider-trading Senators in Georgia, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham was re-elected by a 10-point margin, despite going up against the most well-funded opponent in Senate history.
The House has seen especially devastating losses. Instead of an expanded majority, as promised by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats have instead lost seats, and though they’ve held onto the House, it is by the skin of their teeth. Democrats will now command 222 seats, just 4 more than the required 218 votes for an absolute majority.
At the same time, the House Progressive Caucus is ascendant within the Democratic Party. Their influence within the party is slowly growing, and the number of reliable progressives is expanding with each cycle. This election has seen the unseating of 3 Democratic incumbents by progressives, one of them a committee chair, and their ideas continue to grow in popularity, especially during this pandemic.
Such an expansion is a golden opportunity for progressives. As previously mentioned, a hypothetical Democratic House leader only has 222 votes, meaning they can only afford 4 defectors. Should that number tip to 5, though, and any bill is torpedoed, sent off to the graveyard.
Progressives currently have well over the 5 vote threshold needed to kill any bill. If they choose to flex their muscles, they can not only pursue a pro-American, pro-people agenda, but they can finally solve their crisis of legitimacy.
You see, the House Progressive Caucus has been regarded as little more than a laughing stock up until now. They are a bloated, disorganized, 96-member caucus, most of whom do not even support the progressive cause, but rather eagerly sign on for political gain. They have been notoriously ineffective in securing political victories; they famously demanded a 90% wage subsidy in the HEROES Act back in May, but when the subsidy was left out, every single progressive, save for one, voted for the bill, anyway. They have been hand-waved away by all levels of Democratic leadership, derided as “socialists” and “idealists,” most notably by Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and also Joe Biden, who, may I remind you, is the President-elect.
In fact, it seems the only thing the Progressive Caucus is capable of doing is complaining on Twitter. So-and-so should be ashamed and should resign, it is unthinkable that Pelosi did not include x, y, z in the upcoming bill, etc. They are as effective at getting things done as the Estates General was under Louis XIV.
So after all that we’ve done for the Democrats, and after all the disrespect and disgust we’ve received in return, after all the scapegoating and derision from leadership, it feels good to see that progressives finally have a chance to become the new Tea Party. Progressives have a chance to streamline their overblown, titanic-tent caucus into an efficient, 20-member legion that gets to keep leadership in check. They can bury any bill that is too friendly to big business, or extract concessions for the little guy in spending bills.
Which is why I felt enraged when I saw the de-facto spokesperson for the Progressive movement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, arguing against withholding the vote for Nancy Pelosi if progressives don’t get a vote on Medicare-For-All.
A little backstory: the House elects their Speaker before every new Congress by means of a simple majority, meaning any candidate for Speaker that gets 218 votes wins the gavel. With the culling of the Democratic majority, and assuming no Republicans vote for Nancy Pelosi, progressives need only muster 5 opposition votes in order to stop Pelosi from becoming Speaker.
Not long after the Nov. 3rd elections, progressive media gaint Jimmy Dore stated on Twitter that progressives must withhold their votes for Pelosi unless they get a House vote on Medicare-For-All. Since then, the idea has grown tremendously, with the endorsement of other progressive media outlets and figures within the progressive movement.
It’s a good idea. Nancy Pelosi wants the Speakership, we want a Medicare-For-All vote, so let’s make a deal. Remember, 5 votes is all we need to derail Pelosi’s ambitions for Speaker, and believe me, we WANT to derail a Pelosi Speakership. We shouldn’t keep electing a House Speaker who loses seats for the party, let alone one who bungles impeachment, and is incapable of not acting out-of-touch during her media appearances. We also need to block Pelosi because she has been a thorn in the side of the progressive movement for a long time now. She has continuously delegitimized the movement; refused to appoint progressives to head committees; provided cover for moderate candidates; and she refuses to bring legislation we want for a vote. And that’s not just bad for the movement, that’s bad for America. It means no expansion of healthcare, no ranked-choice voting, no green jobs programs, and so on. It is clear that Nancy Pelosi is not our friend, no. She is our enemy.
So why the hell is AOC rejecting the idea of holding out the vote for Pelosi? So far, I’ve seen a deluge of excuses on Twitter. It isn’t a convenient time, as if there will be a more convenient time for a universal healthcare vote than a pandemic, with a Speakership vote that we can leverage; it won’t pass the Senate, though that didn’t stop AOC from advocating for a Green New Deal vote earlier; look at all the cosponsors of Medicare-For-All, as if that means anything; and perhaps my favorite, the cosponsors can show fake support for it, because it won’t pass the Senate.
The House Medicare-For-All Act has 118 cosponsors, but that doesn’t mean anything. Most of the cosponsors don’t actually want Medicare-For-All, they just want to exploit its popularity. Most of those cosponsors will jump ship when push comes to shove because it is no longer politically convenient, a great example being our very own Madam Vice-President-elect, Kamala Harris, who was the first Senator to cosponsor the Senate version of the bill… and also the first to abandon Medicare-For-All on the presidential campaign trail when it was time for the rubber to hit the road.
And there are reasons why House Democrats wouldn’t want to fake support for the bill, even if it will die in the Senate. Take Democratic cosponsor Ted Lieu of California. On paper, he supports the bill; (no pun intended) but, according to OpenSecrets.org, he has taken a combined $100,000 from health professionals, drug manufacturers, and insurance companies during the 2019-2020 cycle. He may think twice about losing support from these sources, and that’s the whole point of the vote! This vote is meant to expose House leadership and anger the Democratic base, who support Medicare-For-All overwhelmingly. This vote is meant to flush out Democrats who want to benefit from the progressive brand without actually advancing the cause.
And on a side note, what is all this hokey about wanting to wait for a more convenient time, or that there isn’t enough support? The civil rights movement didn’t give a damn about how convenient it was to fight for desegregation, or how popular it was; they just did it, because it was the right thing to do! There was a time when people thought segregation was okay, but public opinion reversed precisely because civil rights advocates fought those inconvenient battles. If the civil rights movement had chosen to sit on their hands until it was convenient to advocate for civil rights, well… America would still be segregated to this day.
AOC sounds eerily similar to what the great Martin Luther King Jr. called “the white moderate:” people who were more concerned about appearance and order, rather than fighting for what’s right:
“…I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.“
Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16th, 1963
In the same way, tepid support from those who nominally support our cause is much more bewildering than outright rejection from craven Republicans.
But back to the issue at hand. Allow me to flip the question on its head: AOC, what is the alternative? Are you suggesting progressives unconditionally swear in the House Speaker who is openly hostile to your agenda? Do you think Pelosi is going to reward your vote for her with a House vote on Medicare-For-All in turn? Do you think she’s going to give you that because you were oh so nice to her?
If you think so, you live in a fantasy world. Nancy Pelosi will laugh her way back to the House Speakership and continue sticking knives in your back, provided there still is a space in your back, what with all the other gaping holes already there, and that goes for all progressives, not just AOC, who share the same fantasy.
And thus, the great Progressive clown show will continue. The same circus of fake demands and Twitter outrages will go on, laughed at and treated like a joke, from coast to coast of the United States, from Republicans and Democratic leadership alike.
And look, it doesn’t even have to be a Medicare-For-All vote. It can be a vote on other issues, it can be an informal deal to get progressives in key positions, whatever. The focus is on the vote and not the outcome, in my opinion, because even if this vote ends in a dumpster fire, it will still be a victory, because it means the Progressive Caucus will finally assert itself as a force to be reckoned with.
Progressives should not just be bogged down in this Speakership vote. There will be many bills to vote for in the coming years. Many of them will be bad. Progressives have the numbers to drive the vote under 218. If they work together, they can voice their objections and make demands, enforced with the threat that any bill they don’t like will die. They can make sure legislation more accurately reflects the will of the people, and progressives will finally be a group respected in Washington.
We will finally have a place in the sun.
And frankly, I am growing ever more impatient with the lack of fight from the progressive wing of the Party, and I am not the only one. Put flatly, I am disappointed in AOC. I am disappointed in Bernie. I am disappointed in chairs Mark Pocan and Pramila Jayapal. I understand, a balance must be struck, and I admire that progressives call out establishment Democrats, including leadership. I admire their efforts thus far, and I understand it is not easy. I understand that it’s a lot easier to just criticize people over the internet than to defy an entrenched party leadership.
But let me remind you: you all, the progressives, were elected by US. WE elected you on the express condition that you would push the party left, that you would challenge leadership. Isn’t that what you all went on and on about before Nov. 3rd? How we’re gonna push Biden left as soon as he becomes President? But now that it’s actually time for progressive lawmakers to push Democrats left, the progressives are nowhere to be seen. What is going on here?
And we are getting sick and tired of progressives playing ball with the Democrat establishment. We haven’t forgotten the photo shoot AOC did with Nancy Pelosi, and how she called her the “mama bear” of the Democratic Party. We haven’t forgotten how progressives unanimously approved the CARES Act, which created an unrestricted $500 billion slush fund for Steve Mnuchin to dole out to his buddies, and established a $300 billion small-business loan program which ended up being looted by big business. We haven’t forgotten how Bernie Sanders rolled over for Joe Biden without extracting a single concession, and then got nothing in return but a bunch of pro-war, pro-austerity, and anti-progressive cabinet picks. We listen, we see, and we remember.
Healthcare cannot wait. Fighting climate change cannot wait. Combating economic inequality cannot wait. Destroying the insurgent far-right Republican Party cannot wait. I understand there is a way these things are done. There is a framework, I understand. But progressive leaders that are unwilling to get the ball rolling, to get the change started, are not helping. We do not have time for the clown show to continue.
And if the current progressives refuse to fight, they should remember: there are hundreds of progressives willing to replace them, who will.