The Fight Over the Speaker of the House

W.J. Astore

If only Progressive Democrats had fought at all when they had the chance in 2021

There is no Left in America, not in Congress, at least. Whenever the so-called Left, or Progressives, or the Squad have an opportunity to drive policy changes, they cave to the corporate centrists within the Democratic Party. Which is why I laugh, however ruefully, when Republicans warn about the “radical left” and how powerful it allegedly is in America. What “radical left”?

Two years ago, before Nancy Pelosi was yet again elected Speaker of the House, so called Progressives (perhaps we should call them PINOs, or progressives in name only) had a rare opportunity to drive change by withholding their votes for Pelosi as Speaker, just as Republicans are doing now for Kevin McCarthy as Speaker. Like today’s Republicans, the PINOs could have extracted concessions from Pelosi, including a House vote on Medicare for all, for a $15 federal minimum wage, and similar policies the PINOs claim are at the top of their agenda. They chose to do nothing. They got no concessions. They drove no change. And thus the centrist/corporate Democrats continue to ride roughshod over them.

Remember this, Democrats? Force the vote was a rare opportunity to drive change, but the PINOs caved to Pelosi and got nothing in return

Which is why I salute the Republicans who are holding up McCarthy’s appointment as Speaker. They have convictions and are willing to fight for them. They are extracting concessions from McCarthy. Meanwhile, all the PINOs are doing is posing for selfies while poking fun at alleged Republican disorder.

No, you PINOs. This is what true democracy looks like. It’s messy. It involves in-fighting. You have to be willing to get bloodied, at least figuratively speaking. And if you’re unwilling to fight, to “bring the ruckus” to your own party, as AOC claimed she wanted to do, party rulers like Pelosi and current House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries will diss, dominate, and demote you, as they did and do. 

Let’s take a quick look at the new House Minority Leader.  CNN praised Jeffries as “the first Black lawmaker to lead a party in Congress.” That’s truly what matters, right? Diversity. More Black faces in high places. Or more women at the top. Or more LGBTQ+ and so on.

But what if “diversity” results in no meaningful policy changes? What if diversity, as my wife puts it, is mainly an optical illusion?

Jeffries, as Sabby Sabs of RBN (the Revolutionary Blackout Network) notes here, is just another corporate Democrat who’s especially skilled at fundraising for the Party. He’s against Medicare for all, he despises the Squad, he’s a fervid supporter of Israel (the “sixth borough of New York City,” he quipped), and his resume includes Georgetown University and (of course) a law degree.

Hakeem Jeffries, House Minority Leader

Can we expect progressive policies from Jeffries? Is he a radical leftist? Of course not! He’s a younger version of Pelosi, a corporate shill who’s sold as a change agent because he’s the first Black party leader in Congress, just as Pelosi was praised for the “change” she represented as the first Madam Speaker.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s generally a good thing when more women, more BIPOC, and other traditionally underrepresented groups attain positions of power. But if their ideas, policies, commitments, and practices are basically the same as those old white fat tomcats who preceded them, where’s the progress? Where’s the change?

In so many ways, today’s Democrats are yesterday’s Republicans. They are pro-war, pro-military, pro-business, and thoroughly corporate. Their alleged diversity is mostly optical. Meanwhile, the Republicans, whatever else they may be, are showing true diversity of views, as manifested by Kevin McCarthy’s messy fight for votes from his own party.

All those corporate Democrats and PINOs in Congress should take a very long look in a truth-telling mirror before crowing about how dysfunctional the Republicans allegedly are. If dysfunction means fighting for change that’s consistent with your principles and campaign promises, the Democrats could truly use some of that “dysfunction.” So too could America.

Vote for What You Believe In, Not for Crumbs

W.J. Astore

As a progressive-leaning person, I’m deeply disappointed by Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.  I’m an independent and have no allegiance to either party.  The Republican Party, dominated by Trump, is a non-starter for me.  The Democratic Party is corporate dominated, a party of the moneyed interests, so I have little interest in it at the national level.

The Progressive Caucus keeps praising Biden instead of pushing him, so they’re part of the problem.  The so-called Squad (AOC and company) never seem to use their combined power for anything meaningful.  A concerted minority can make a difference: look at the Tea Partiers.  But the Squad basically does as they’re told by Nancy Pelosi.

People tell me the Squad is small and their influence is limited by the mathematics of Congress.  But what Congressional hills have they chosen to hold fast and fight on, if any, to effect true change?  United, a squad of progressives could drive policy because Pelosi often needs their votes.  Yet they refuse to come together to drive change that might upset Pelosi/Biden, so how progressive are they, truly?

When you look at the specifics of Democratic actions, they (the actions) disappoint.  A climate change bill saluted and applauded by the oil and gas industry.  Changes in drug pricing that don’t take place until 2025, and only to a short list of drugs.  The complete abandonment of a government-option for health care.  Basically, the Democrats have kowtowed to lobbyists for fossil fuel, big pharma, and private health insurance companies.

In short: nothing has fundamentally changed, exactly what Biden promised to his big donors. He is what he’s always been: a conservative-leaning Democrat who serves the moneyed interests, who supports expanding police forces and prisons, and who believes the best way to promote peace is by supporting massive military budgets and overseas wars.

Even if there’s truth to my critique, my Democratic friends say, you must still vote blue no matter who, because the Republicans are so much worse.  Yet if we continue to vote for Democrats because they give us a few more crumbs than the alternative, all we’ll ever get is crumbs.

A colleague of mine, Matthew Hoh, is running for the Senate as a Green in North Carolina.  The Democratic Party there did everything it could, legal and less-than-legal, to block his access to the ballot.  It took a lawsuit and a federal judge to get his name added to the ballot.

Matthew Hoh, candidate for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina

Matt Hoh is a former Marine and State Department guy who resigned publicly to protest the Afghan War.  He has strong progressive principles and unassailable integrity and supports policies most Americans would loudly applaud.  Again, the Democrats did everything they could to block him from the ballot.

Some people say that a vote for Matt Hoh and third-party candidates like him is a vote for Trump and the Republicans.  For me, that’s total BS.  Candidates like Matt Hoh help us.  They drive an agenda that’s truly for workers, that’s truly for change.  If nothing else, they force corporate-tool Democrats to turn slightly leftward rather than always toward the right.

Perhaps you know the saying about Democrats: fake left, run right.  They fake left in the primary, exciting the “liberal” base, then they run right in the main election and, if they win, they then rule and legislate from the right as well.  The mainstream corporate press terms this “sensible” and “moderate.”

We need more principled leaders like Matt Hoh to drive real change.  If they “help” Trump and the Republicans by “stealing” votes, that’s not their fault: it’s the fault of the Democrats who are reluctant to be seen as truly liberal or progressive and who are basically tools of the moneyed interests.  

If Matt Hoh wins lots of votes in North Carolina (and I hope he does), all credit to the voters for seeing him as he is and for voting for what they believe in.  Indeed, instead of people insisting that Matt Hoh should drop out to help the mainstream Democrat, it’s the mainstream Democrat who should drop out to help Matt Hoh.

I do my best to vote for what I believe in.  Which is why I won’t be voting for Trump, or DeSantis, or Biden (or Harris or Mayor Pete or whomever) in 2024.  I’ll be voting for candidates who in their words and deeds promise us something more than crumbs. Leaders like Matt Hoh.