Archive | July, 2019

Issue LXIX: Congressional Liberalism (Part 2)

17 Jul

Trump’s tweets to the rescue

President Donald J. Trump just gave a great exit for Nancy Pelosi’s feud with the mediagenic “Squad” of four progressive congresswomen.  When things are not going well, distract from the failures of Sunday’s deportation raids, the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, immigration detention camps, and a looming war with Iran.   Making controversial statements has been a Trump Organization tactic since at least the 1980s (see: Netflix’s Trump American Dream) long before Twitter and cable news.  Like the credible fools they are, the media and political classes swallowed the mincemeat whole.

After the president’s outrageous comments that Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, and Pressley should “go back” to the countries they are from, Speaker Nancy Pelosi swooped in to make a House resolution.  In a party-line vote, the House of Representatives has called these statements racist with only a few Republican votes (ignoring House rules that forbid condemning anyone as a racist).  Commonly mistaken as actual action, resolutions mean nothing and do absolutely nothing.  I call it a congressional tweet with a roll-call vote.

Speaker Pelosi can thank President Trump for papering over differences within the party to create fake Democratic unity.  This contrasts to the controversy over the funding for the immigration detention camps which led her to rely on Republicans to pass the bill while a hundred Democrats voted against it.  Are we a big single Democratic family now?

Actually, no.  This unity will not and should not last.

Next Steps

In my last post, I wrote that the controversy has nothing to do with the “Squad” being women of color, and if anything, that bought them a few months of relief before the DNC establishment went on the offensive. Any man would have been labeled sexist to oppose Pelosi at the start.  The Squad’s sin is to open up the congressional process to the public with social media, work hard at congressional duties, and avoid the fundraising circuit using small donors.  Others may have been doing similar things for longer, but somehow these four deservedly or undeservedly got all the credit and attention.

The Squad has to move to institutionalize their role in the party.  They can create a sort of left-wing Freedom Caucus, the way that the Tea Party did in Congress.  Call it the Justice Democrats or the Working Families Caucus for example.  It cannot be the Progressive Caucus because it already exists and has rolled over many, many times when centrist Democratic leadership told it to shut up.  The caucus needs inclusion and exclusion criteria to join: no corporate money, no SuperPACs, transparent and accessible voting records online, commitment to Medicare for All, and commitment to reform and democratize the Democratic Party and its institutions.  I would even suggest a refusal take campaign money from the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee to show their complete independence from the party structure and its corrupt fundraising.  A parallel fundraising and campaigning apparatus has to be developed with grassroots money.  New insurgent candidates have no support currently as the Democratic Party has resolved to cut contracts to any election consulting firm that supports a primary challenger (to prevent any new Ocasio-Cortez from being elected).  Members of Congress who join the caucus who do not follow the rules should be able to be expelled to promote loyalty to the cause and not just branding.

This caucus can be used to develop a coherent worldview that will allow voters to vote for the kind of policies they want.  This caucus will form a party within a party much like the Tea Party label did for the Republicans.  Unlike the Republicans, this caucus will eventually become the embryo for a new progressive, working class party.  Eventually, the right of the party will either expel the progressives or leave the party just the way the Right left the British Labour Party in 1981 and again in 2019.

Why should the Squad go on the offense?  Because even before Trump’s tweets, the knives were out. Justice Democrats, which recruited Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, wants to target conservative or corporate Democrats in safe seats.   AOC’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti was part of this and is being smeared for wearing a shirt of Indian independence hero Subash Chandra Bose (a smear so transparently idiotic I will not even dignify repeating it).  Further proving my point that claims of racism and sexism may only be made by the Democratic elites against the left and right, the House Democrats official Twitter account attacked Chakrabarti for criticizing moderate Sharice Davids (D-KS) for funding immigration camps without human rights protections.  Per usual, he was labeled sexist for criticizing this Native American woman.

Identity politics does not and will not work, and the Squad better avoid it. The next time they call Nancy Pelosi sexist or racist, she will roll out the corporate-funded Congressional Black Caucus and its lobbyists to defend her.  If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar want to survive, they have to double down and institutionalize their challenge.




Issues LXIX: Congressional Liberalism

13 Jul

When Nancy Pelosi Attacked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D – CA) attacked four congresswomen in the New York Times over the weekend for opposing a recent bill on the immigrant detention camps on the Mexican border. The self-described progressive “Squad” of Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) have their “public whatever and their Twitter world [b]ut they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”

This is not the first attack she has had on the gang. In April, she also denigrated the progressive wing of the party as “five people” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The leader of the Squad, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) pointed out that she can attend committee hearings all day long (you know, her job) because she does not have to dial for dollars and waste time with fundraisers like the other congressmen who leave early. She is funded by small dollar donors. She now complains that the singling out of newly elected women of color was “outright disrespectful.”

Identity politics certainly will not protect AOC and the Squad; it does not matter that they are minority women. Their sin is to be progressive and ambitious, and they plan to democratize the public debate to a clear left-wing point of view. As women, they may have avoided attacks for a little longer for pushing against Nancy Pelosi (the media class would have labeled any male opposition to Pelosi as sexist), but their get out of jail card was bound to expire.  Just ask white, straight, and male Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) who received plenty of minority and female political endorsements against a lesbian actress primary challenger from the left in 2018.  Identity politics is a tool only wielded by the center-right political and media establishment against the left and right.  No one from below is allowed to use the tactic in the class war.

This leads to my exhortation to avoid using identity-based attacks and critiques from progressives to the establishment and to instead use deeper theoretical and historical analyses to understand what is happening.  Speaker Pelosi can always deny being sexist or racist or have women and minority politicians deny it for her.  Plausible deniability always limits these tactics, and we need firmer grounds than this.  Hence my translation of the following quote from the late Professor Ralph Miliband from British English and politics to American English and politics.

Parliament, Party and Society

Of political parties claiming socialism to be their aim, the Labour Party has always been one of the most dogmatic – not about socialism, but about the parliamentary system… the leaders of the Labour Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as industrial action for political purposes) which fell… outside of the framework and conventions of the parliamentary system.

Parliamentary Socialism by Ralph Miliband at the London School of Economics

This applies precisely to the United States in the following translation.

Of parties claiming liberalism to be their aim, the Democratic Party has always been dogmatic – not about liberalism, but about the Congress… the leaders of the Democratic Party have always rejected any kind of political action (such as strikes and protests for political purposes) which fell… outside of the framework and conventions of the Congress and its committee and fundraising system.

Congressional Liberalism (imaginary translated book)

The problems that Congresswomen Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Pressley will find within the halls of Congress are increasingly going to be the vicious reaction of the Democratic congressional leadership.  With their large cohort of member-donors, the Squad can claim that they represent a concrete base of the electorate.  Even though they can self-finance with online donations and can spend more time with legislative and constituent responsibilities, they represent a headache for the party leadership.  Party leadership wants donations from the corporate class and would rather continue fancy $2000 a plate dinners even though it wastes time and energy.  Relying on a well-defined party membership that pays regular dues will net tens of millions easily, but the members will want a say in policy.  If only 10 million of the 65 million Americans that voted for Hillary Clinton donated $10 a month to the Democratic Party, the party would have $1.2 billion to spend on elections, candidate recruitment, and organizers for grassroots mobilization for the year.

This is normal.  In a normal country, a group of people get together (farmers, workers, language groups, businessmen) to create a political party to represent their interests with party politicians.  The policies are set by the members in a convention and the leadership ultimately answers to the members who pay dues.  The members make policy and choose the politicians.  In the United States, it is the opposite.  The politicians choose the voters and the policy.

The British Labour Party was founded over a hundred years ago to represent newly enfranchised workers in the United Kingdom.  Members either joined the party directly or indirectly by being union members.  The Democratic and Republican Parties have no such things.  Despite the clear union origins of the party, over time the Labour members of Parliament began to see themselves as parliamentarians first and foremost and not members of a broad, progressive working class movement.  They viewed the officeholders in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as superior to the millions of members and unionists.  Instead of a mass movement which elects politicians, it became politicians controlling a mass movement; that means using non-parliamentary tactics like mass strikes, or protests to achieve goals is a nonstarter.  Hence Miliband’s quip that this parliamentary socialist party was more into parliament than socialism.

In the Democratic Party of Congressional Liberalism, we have a party that refuses to see beyond the halls of Congress.  They too see power and policy to be exclusively in the hands of elected officials (or their fancy fundraisers).  Opening up the political-legislative process up to the masses via social media is not acceptable.  Challenging current incumbents in primaries (called “re-selection” in Britain) is nuclear war.  There is no role for protests or strikes to actually swing votes and demonstrate public sentiment (“public whatever” according to Pelosi).  Thousands or millions of progressive donor-members are derided as “just four votes” by Speaker Pelosi.  The same would never be said about the center-right Blue Dogs or the new Problem Solvers Caucus (who prevented human rights regulations on the immigration detention camps in the recent budget vote on the border).

This royal prerogative claimed by the congressional leadership brings a modern twist to King Louis XIV’s quote (“L’é’tat, c’est moi”).  What is the party and the state?  It’s us, in Congress, not you. If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her supporters want to survive the coming storm, they better improve their understanding of theory and history.  Because we cannot treat until we diagnose.  Conceiving of politics as being more than the decisions and votes of 535 members of Congress and the White House is a complete threat to the entire political establishment, and they will not go down without a fight.