Revisiting the Jacobin Mag Approach to FTV
Taking another look at Jacobin's "Jimmy Dore is Right About the Urgency for Medicare for All. But AOC isn't the Problem." (Dec. 19, 2020.)
As a precursor to my next article covering more of the internal DSA leadership issues with Force The Vote and the broader M4A strategic approach, I felt it important to revisit the initial sentiments towards FTV from the likes of Jacobin Mag and the DSA. Many of you have probably seen Jacobin’s December 2020 article published last month by Ben Burgis, but let’s recap, shall we?
PS: Don’t forget, this was published before the House voted to make Pelosi the Speaker of the House again.)
Issue #1: The Pelosi Problem
We already know the sentiments of this argument—Pelosi is terrible, but we might get someone more terrible if we don’t vote for Pelosi—per AOC. Burgis also added, “It’s sadly very easy to imagine someone even worse replacing Pelosi, but if AOC and the rest of the Squad refused on principle to vote to empower someone like Pelosi, that might be usefully clarifying for casual news consumers who might be vaguely aware that Ocasio-Cortez and the others are “more extreme” than establishment Democrats like Pelosi but might not really have a sense of the ideological gulf between them. The long-term strategic benefits of clearer ideological differentiation might be worth the short-term price of a slightly worse speaker.” Let’s be honest: most of us knew AOC would ultimately vote for Pelosi in the end.
While I understand the long-term objective here, I can’t imagine that there are many “casual viewers”, as Burgis points out, who are monitoring legislative issues without knowing the supposed “ideological differences” between Nancy Pelosi and AOC. In other words, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has over 11M followers on Twitter. People know who she is—she’s not shy about her political stance on issues. It’s not a mystery that she was elected to “disrupt” the establishment. To argue that these “casual viewers” might not already understand the ideological divides between Pelosi and AOC shows a serious misunderstanding of how informed the general public is in the country. Americans might not know the specifics within a piece of legislation—but I’d be stunned to find an American who didn’t know what AOC’s brand was. Get real. Worst of all, this particular take completely ignores the URGENCY that comes along with M4A while we’re living in a pandemic. In fact, I’d argue that AOC and The Squad’s general support would’ve increased had they withheld their vote from Pelosi—in turn, adding to the strength of the Democratic Socialists.
Issue #2: Don’t Call it Tone Policing (his words, not mine)
Typical of what we’ve heard from many on the left, Burgis reminds us that while BJG and Krystal Ball’s support for FTV was a “measured approach”, stating: “Dore’s response to AOC failing to sign onto this specific idea is telling his audience that AOC is a “sellout,” accusing her of “standing between” her constituents and health care, and screaming things into his camera like “you’re a liar” and “f— you and f— anyone who defends you!” This is not productive in the least — and saying so isn’t “tone-policing.” I don’t care that Dore is angry about the lack of progress of health care; I’m angry, too. But I do worry about putting a wedge between the progressives in his audience and the strongest supporters of Medicare for All in Congress. That risks wildly disorientating us about the real forces blocking progress in the United States.”
I wholeheartedly disagree with Mr. Burgis here. That’s exactly what it is — tone policing.
Issue #3: Forcing the Vote v. Playing it Safe
Burgis addresses Dore and BJG’s argument for FTV—it would put people on record and would, in turn, expose their true feelings on the matter. Rather than cite the merits of this argument—obvious as they may be, Burgis then presents two problems with this approach. The first being that we already know that establishment Democrats and Republicans are already opposed to M4A. The second, and “more important problem”, according to Burgis, is that, “There’s no evidence that voters will punish anyone at their polls for how they acted in such a floor vote — especially one where there was no suspense about that result. In the last Democratic nomination battle, a candidate who openly opposed Medicare for All — and didn’t even hedge his bets with any sort of triangulating rhetoric about “Medicare for all who want it” — won the nomination even though exit polls in state after state that he won showed that most Democratic voters disagreed with him on the issue.”
Which is it, Mr. Burgis? Do voters punish politicians for their specific votes on the floor or not? In the first argument, he reminds us that there needs to be a clearer differentiation between the likes of Pelosi and AOC, but asserts that the general public doesn’t understand those differences. If AOC were to come out against Pelosi, at the time the article was written, voters might not understand the specifics that they disagree on. Yet here, he claims that voters do not punish politicians because of their stances on issues like M4A. Are they informed or not?
Issue #4: The Changes
I’ll let Burgis speak for himself.
“The core of the Dore proposal that makes sense is that picking a fight — any fight — with the Democratic leadership that gets people talking about Medicare for All makes sense if only because it would raise public awareness about how the social-democratic faction in the Democratic caucus wants everyone to have health care and the leadership doesn’t. That’s useful in itself.”
Arguing that a one-day media frenzy following a forced vote would be examined by the corporate media for its’ failure to pass, Burgis (intentional or not) belittles Gray’s argument with an analogy about space aliens, writing:
“Gray argues that the floor vote tactic couldn’t be ignored by the corporate media if the Squad “were to coordinate with the activists and protesters who helped to organize the historically large mass protests from this summer,” or if their play was backed up by “organized labor” through “the threat of a general strike,” and this is all true enough as far as it goes, but it’s a bit like saying that three people waving around signs in front of a city council meeting couldn’t be ignored if they coordinated with space aliens so that an intergalactic spaceship simultaneously landed on the roof of City Hall.”
The Jacobin solution? Go sit in Congress.
“But there are more grounded ways that the basic message about which side of the ideological divide within the Democratic Party wants everyone to get health care and which side is standing in the way of that could be sent. A sit-in on the floor of Congress like the one staged by mainstream Democrats over gun control, for example, would be a dramatic piece of political theater that could actually add to the movement’s momentum rather than sending the counterproductive message that Medicare for All doesn’t have a realistic chance of happening anytime soon.”
“The Left’s goals can’t be won with procedural tricks or exhorting individual leaders to fight harder. They have to be won by organizing the working class at the base of society and, hand in hand with that, building an electoral left that can, instead of using some dubious “leverage” against centrists for the sake of symbolism, defeat those centrists and take power for itself.”
I’ll be blunt. Getting a group of people together to stage a sit-in in the halls of Congress sounds unlikely. Not only are we living through a pandemic—let’s just be honest here—none of us are getting anywhere near the halls of Congress in the coming weeks after what happened last Wednesday in the Capitol. Call it a coup, call it an insurrection, call it a very NON-peaceful protest—I don’t care what you call it. No one’s staging a sit-in anytime soon.
To be fair, Mr. Burgis would probably agree that his suggestion is unrealistic after the events at the Capitol last Wednesday. Having said that, I ask the following: