THIS Is What “Force The Vote” Looks Like

Apologies for the hiatus. My last post was about the fly-on-Pence’s-head VP debate, for crying out loud. A lot has happened since then – much of it bad, because 2020 – and I’ve written not a word. Some of that may have to do with the fact that I was on vacation in early October when the VP debate was occurring, and felt like I had both time and bandwidth to write a post or two, and now once again I am enjoying a little time off for the holidays, so I have more time and energy to post.

But the other main reason for the occasional long gaps in posting on this blog is that I am a one-person show. These are just my own musings on specific issues, not a daily blog I use as an income source. I don’t comment on every bit of news that passes by on a daily basis, or even some of the big stories of the day/week, not only because frequently those are done better and quicker by people who spend their full time covering these topics, but also because I simply don’t have time/energy to cover it all daily. PTL is also not a “news” blog in that sense. Yes, it’s about politics and therefore the issues of the day, but I only really comment when a) I have time, and b) when I think I can bring something to whatever issue I’m writing about. This is one of those times.

Late yesterday (Monday, 12/28), word broke on Twitter from the invaluable David Dayen that he was working on a breaking story. The story was that Bernie Sanders, with the backing of the Dem coalition, was going to be putting the procedural screws to Senate Republicans regarding the $2,000 relief/stimulus checks that Trump had floated pre-Christmas. A couple of hours later (near midnight) that story arrived, and it was even better than Dayen’s teaser tweet suggested. Why? I’ll get to the details in a moment, but this story requires some back story because it’s set against a larger context of existing intra-lefty backbiting/infighting that has been going on for more than a week. Go read it all. I’ll wait. 😉

If you spend any time on lefty media, you can’t be unaware of Jimmy Dore. If you don’t frequent these waters (first, how the heck did you wind up HERE, LOL), Dore has had a YouTube show for years, making his living as do numerous others who carve out a space in the lefty news/commentary world. Dore’s brand of commentary isn’t my speed; I find him grating, not particularly insightful, and of that peculiar constantly-angry-but-not-particulary-effective, leftier-than-thou strain of counter-productive commentators whose chief accomplishment appears to be ensuring that the left of center circular firing squad continues. Nevertheless, that kind of impotent rage-tweeting/broadcasting has its adherents on the left (who love them a beautiful loser) as much as it is on the right (see: Jones, Alex, et al).

Some time late last month, Dore came up with an idea that quickly morphed into a Twitter hashtag and then a full-fledged campaign, called “Force The Vote.” The basic idea was this: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and the rest of the squad (and anyone else they could get to join them) should withhold their votes to make Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House once more, unless she agrees to hold a floor vote on Medicare for All legislation (perennially stalled in both the House and Senate, by Republicans). It’s not a completely dumb idea, since by virtue of being elected Representatives, AOC and the squad can do a lot more things inside the system than any individual or organization can do from outside, and the things they can do are of a different nature. Forcing a vote (or denying one) on a give piece of legislation is certainly something that can be used judiciously to achieve policy or political goals.

What was Dore’s rationale for forcing Pelosi to hold this M4A vote by threatening to deny her the speakership vote? That we are in a pandemic, that M4A was already the morally correct thing to do, and that now it’s even more desperately needed, and finally that AOC and others had made M4A a centerpiece of their respective campaigns. All of this is correct on the facts as far as that goes.

That’s the only reason I say #ForceTheVote isn’t an entirely dumb idea (just mostly): because all of those things are true. But that’s why I said that effective political or policy organizing hangs on that word, judiciously. Good organizing is always aimed at a goal: it demoralizes your opponents, or it rallies and binds your own side. More than anything else, it works toward achieving tangible results, even as it acknowledges they can never be assured and might not be achievable. Ideally, it does all of those simultaneously. But organizing actions that are wasteful of limited human resources (people’s time and energy) or which are merely performative or even divisive in nature are a step in the wrong direction, period.

Would #ForceTheVote have achieved M4A? Of course not. Every single Republican would have voted against it, requiring only a few Democrats to join them to tank it in the House. If by some miracle the House Dem caucus had spoken as one to pass it over the objections of the GOP, the resulting bill would have been DOA in the Senate, where Mitch McConnell, even if both Georgia’s seats flip blue, would still hold the power of the filibuster. Put simply, there is absolutely no way any forced vote on M4A would have passed this Congress. None.

That leaves the political aspect. If you’ve read nearly any of my stuff, you know one of my main beefs with the Democratic Party over the past couple decades is their tendency/willingness to pre-compromise. Instead of fighting for bedrock principles and being prepared to lose fighting for them because they matter, “new” Democrats seem ever-willing to compromise virtually anything and everything away, just to be able to say they passed something, even if what they passed accomplishes little or nothing or even complicates future efforts at real progress. But there is a flip-side to the trap of half-a-loafism as well: throwing one’s weight behind efforts that dispirit and divide your own side and accomplish nothing of substance. Once Dore came up with the idea, when it was not immediately adopted by AOC and other elected progressive luminaries, Dore literally told his viewers that AOC “is standing between you and your healthcare.”

You read that right: a well-known leftist commentator singled out the most progressive champions/allies we have in Congress, and urged his viewers to believe they were intentionally working to keep M4A out of the people’s hands. I told you earlier I thought Dore wasn’t worth much, now you have a flavor of why. In what way does forcing a vote on M4A energize leftists? Dore’s popularity brought his pet quest to public attention on the left, and was enough to convince people from Susan Sarandon to Cornel West to jump on board. In the madness of the Trump-ignored pandemic and with little electoral progress for Dems other than removing Trump, eh, it may have seemed like the only option on the table that looked like it was “doing something.” Only, it wasn’t: see above chance of passage. And while I agree that the job of a party’s base is to hold elected officials from their own side accountable, rallying people around the idea that the very legislators who are your closest allies in Congress are working against one of their own primary issues is worse than useless, it’s harmful.

Enter Bernie Sanders.

Bernie has one advantage in all this: he’s been in this fight, at ground level, for his entire life. From the photos of him being arrested at civil rights protests in the early 60s to the endless floor speeches scorching Republicans and advocating for policies that matter – even when they stood no chance of passing – Bernie Sanders is no stranger to standing on principle. But he’s also no stranger to using his energy and that of his followers as effectively as possible. It’s why he was called The Amendment King in Congress: he has remained remarkably focused over a long career on actions that accomplish results, that get things done. When there is no higher-order way to stop the intolerable, he was and is willing to be arrested to show how much it matters. He is willing to fight and lose rather than compromise bedrock principles. But he maintains an eye out for opportunities to move real progress forward as well, and as Dayen reports, he did just that.

This is already too long, so I won’t re-type what Dayen’s already reported; if you haven’t read it already, go do that first. The bottom line, take-away from this idea is almost the exact opposite of Dore’s harebrained push for a doomed M4A vote and the resulting sturm-und-drang. Good organizing is above all else effective.

Where Dore’s idea was guaranteed to fail, the strategy of forcing Republicans to remain in Washington through New Years might actually work. How? Why? Why would M4A be certain of failure yet a vote on $2K checks might have a shot at success? Because every single elected Republican knows in their bones (and agrees) that M4A is tantamount to “socialized medicine” (in their minds). They also know their own constituents, however badly they might individually need healthcare, believe that M4A is “a government takeover.” Voting against M4A, for a Republican congressperson, will actually boost their support among GOP base voters. There’s no downside to voting against it for the GOP. But Donald Trump himself, as recently as last week, was complaining about how meager the $600 checks in the just-passed relief bill were. And people don’t need politicians from any party to tell them what they can see and feel in their own lives and communities: people are hurting. People they know, maybe even themselves. And unlike M4A, it doesn’t require detailed policy analysis or explanations to understand $2,000 > $600. Everyone likes cash, especially when they’re desperate.

Also unlike M4A, $2K checks could be disbursed and benefit people quickly, too. Even if we suspend not just our disbelief but reality itself and imagine Dore’s doomed crusade working and M4A passing into law, it would take months at the least to ramp up the infrastructure necessary to roll out a policy in practice that was not a disaster. Big public programs take a lot of work and time. And if the argument is that people need healthcare NOW because of the pandemic (and that was indeed one of the arguments), this can’t be hand-waved away as inconsequential. By contrast, checks can go out next week. Simple, effective, direct benefit, available (nearly immediately).

On the political side, the worst case scenario is that Mitch McConnell has to repeatedly deny a vote for $2,000 checks, something that can be used against every GOP elected official in the 2022 midterms, where the GOP will have many more Seante seats to defend than Democrats do. If you think that winning Georgia’s two seats here in a couple of weeks would be of benefit to a Biden/Harris administration (and it would), just imagine what picking up another two, three, four seats in 2022 with two years left in term one would do. Dore’s proposed #ForceTheVote strategy, by contrast, pits the lefty base against their own biggest champions and ideological allies – the squad – not for voting badly or refusing to defend bedrock principles, but for not being willing to try to engineer a doomed-to-fail vote that only alienates them further from the rest of the caucus and minimizes their power correspondingly.

Alternatively, if McConnell were to decide it’s too hot a potato not to vote on, then every single GOP Senator would – unlike a M4A vote – have to seriously consider the ramifications of voting no during a pandemic when many of their own voters are out of money and hurting. Again, a way to hang that around each individual Senator, going into 2022.

And finally, there are those imminent Georgia runoff elections. Both Ossoff and Warnock immediately jumped on the idea of $2,000 checks (because it was the right thing to do, compared to $600). Forcing McConnell (or individual Republicans, especially Loeffler and Perdue) to vote against those checks just as Georgians head to the polls, might very well be the difference between no wins in Georgia and a 50-50 Senate that can confirm justices and seat Biden’s cabinet immediately, and give us at least minimal normal functioning of government, even if little real legislation is likely with McConnell still holding the filibuster card. Heck, with a 50-50 Senate, Dems would likely even have a shot at one really good reconciliation bill that McConnell couldn’t filibuster. Dore’s M4A vote? None of the above. Only increased animosity and steps backward from any real progress.

This is why Sanders’ voice was mostly absent from Dore’s #ForceTheVote push and why he is leading this effort: because Bernie Sanders understands what works and what doesn’t. He’s always been ready to fight and lose when the chips are down, but he’s also always kept an eye towards moving things forward.