Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 19, 2018

Nancy Pelosi and the horse trading progressives

Filed under: two-party system — louisproyect @ 8:27 pm

Nancy Pelosi has been making news lately as an obstacle to the transformation of the Democratic Party into the kind of European Social Democratic Party the DSA and Sandernistas yearn for. There is a growing momentum to reject her bid to be reelected as Speaker for the House of Representatives.

Norman Solomon, the director of RootsAction.org, a Sandernista online activist group, wrote an article for Truthdig titled The ‘Pelosi Problem’ Runs Deep that does not quite call for a vote against her: “Nancy Pelosi will probably be the next House speaker, a prospect that fills most alert progressives with disquiet, if not dread. But instead of fixating on her as a villain, progressives should recognize the long-standing House Democratic leader as a symptom of a calcified party hierarchy that has worn out its grassroots welcome and is beginning to lose its grip.” Solomon instead urges his 1.5 million “members” (nothing more than clicking a link online) to continue more or less the same course DSA urges, namely activism around various issues such as a “Green New Deal” and electing people like Ocasio-Cortez.

Justice Democrats, another online activist outfit like RootsAction.org focused on electing “progressives”, has received the endorsement of Ocasio-Cortez. Two days ago she got on the phone with some 700 Justice Democrats, most of whom were active in the Sanders campaign, and told them: “Long story short, I need you to run for office. We all need to run at all levels of government, but I really hope that many of you join me here in Congress.”

Last Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez participated in a sit-in at Pelosi’s office calling for a Green New Deal that she views as requiring the same commitment as WWII and the Marshall Plan. If I were her, I’d probably not have alluded to such obvious imperialist projects but then again I live in Another Country, as James Baldwin once put it.

Does this mean that she was ready to vote against Pelosi becoming Speaker? Surprise-surprise. Four hours ago, she pledged support for her as the “Most Progressive Candidate” . She added, “All of the rebellion for the speakership are challenges to her right, and so I think it’s important to communicate that.” Among the 16 House Democrats opposing Pelosi is Max Rose, who just got elected in Staten Island, a NY borough that has much more in common with rural Iowa than the rest of the city. Filled with white cops and firemen, you’d think that Rose would be another Joe Manchin. A visit to Rose’s website, however, will reveal that he favors lowering the age of Medicare eligibility to 55, etc. The NY Times analyzed why he beat the incumbent:

His pedigree might have alienated potential constituents, but his rhetoric did not. He offered a simple, unifying message that was progressive in substance but relatively neutral in its delivery: that the system is rigged to benefit special interests, that the little guy is getting stiffed over and over, that we need better infrastructure and stronger unions.

The most outspoken opponent of Pelosi’s reelection is Marcia Fudge, an African-American Representative from Ohio, who has even been considering a run against Pelosi. Fudge has been stigmatized as homophobic for refusing to co-sponsor the Equality act but defends herself by saying that that she supports gay rights, but not the way that particular bill was handled. She said, “They can’t find one vote, not one vote, that’s anti. I just don’t want to insert it into the civil rights bill. It should be a stand-alone bill and I’d support that.”

Fudge is an ally of Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, who also signed the letter against Pelosi and who ran against her for the House Speaker post in 2016. There’s nothing much in his record to place him in the DP’s rightwing. Indeed, in an op-ed piece for the NY Times, he stated: “I think that Ocasio-Cortez was expressing the frustration that so many people feel right now that our systems aren’t working for the people who work hard and play by the rules. She talked about the cost of rent, health care, wages and education. Those are bread and butter issues that play all across the country.”

I really don’t have the time, nor the motivation, to look into the background of the other 15 Democrats but for argument’s sake will accept the possibility that they are to the right of Pelosi. What interests me more is how this fits into the broader question of how to understand the role of the Democratic Party in American society.

To start with, Ocasio-Cortez does have a point. Pelosi is, by DP standards, fairly progressive. On Facebook, Stephen Zunes, a San Francisco professor and well-known journalist of the left, wrote:

Given that under Nancy Pelosi’s leadership the Democrats won back the House while under Chuck Schumer’s leadership Democrats actually lost seats in the Senate, why is it Pelosi whose leadership is being challenged?

1) Pelosi, while not nearly as progressive as I would like, is still more liberal than Schumer. For example, she opposed the invasion of Iraq and supported the Iran nuclear agreement while Schumer sided with the Republicans on both of these important foreign policy matters. Pelosi is also more progressive on a number of important domestic issues as well.

2) Pelosi, because she is more willing to challenge Republican priorities, has been attacked a lot more by Republicans than has Schumer and some Democrats get easily spooked by right-wing criticism

3) there is still a lot of sexism among Democrats

In my view, the opposition to Pelosi is overdetermined in the Althusserian sense. Among the various factors, each of which by themselves would serve as a sufficient grounds for opposing her, are:

  1. As Zunes said above, she has been pilloried for years now by the Republicans. Leaving aside the merit of their attacks, her unpopularity rating is at 29 percent. To some extent, this is the same sort of burden Hillary Clinton carried around. The two are female (obviously), wealthy, urban, and indifferent to the plight of the working people. For example, in 2010 Pelosi opposed a moratorium on home foreclosure, something Clinton ironically did support.
  2. As opposed to the Republicans, the Sanders wing of the party views her as inimical to the changes that are necessary to make the DP an agent of “socialism”. Despite the Republican attack on her as a “radical”, Govtrack.us ranks her as the 37th most conservative Democrat in the House.
  3. Probably the most important motivation for replacing her is the perceived need voiced by younger elected officials in the DP to make room at the top for themselves and their cohorts. In a way, it is the same problem that exists in the academy where professors continue to hold down jobs well into their 70s, if not their 80s. An old friend who taught sociology at Columbia described this as “calcification” not much different than the kind that can cause a stroke.

You get a real sense of the ambitions that drive opposition to Pelosi from Beto O’Rourke, the leftwing darling who lost a narrow race to Ted Cruz in November. In today’s NY Times, he comes across as the ultimate careerist:

“You have some of the institutional members say, ‘Who are these upstarts?’ ” one of these younger Democrats, Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who was elected in 2012, told me in 2015. “One member of Congress compared us to spoiled kids, like teenagers who want a car on their 16th birthday. But you look at my class: Tulsi Gabbard, she’s not going to stay in the House for long — she’ll run for governor. Joe Kennedy, the same. Pat Murphy, the same. And they’re all talented, ambitious and good fund-raisers. I’ve just got to think that when you see that 20-year road to be in a position of consequence, other options look a lot more attractive.” O’Rourke, of course, left this year to pursue those other options, following his fellow erstwhile rising House stars Xavier Becerra (who was appointed attorney general of California in 2017) and Kyrsten Sinema (whom Arizona elected to the Senate this month). [emphasis added]

This reminds me quite a bit of what Les Evans told me when I joined the SWP in 1967. “I looked around when I joined and saw that I could become a leader of this party without too much trouble.” (Or something to that effect.) After cutting his ties to the party during the turn, Evans took a position at UCLA exploiting his knowledge of Chinese he developed in the party. Today, he is a Zionist and a liberal. Who knows where O’Rourke will be in 20 years? I can say that when he started out, he was not exactly the sort of politician that would endear himself to the average DSA member.

Probably the most savvy take on the progressive opposition to Pelosi comes from Politico, a website that views this sort of thing the way that touts view the odds at a horse race. Titled Progressives back Pelosi for speaker — in return for more power, it sees the compromise as old-fashion horse-trading, to continue with the equine analogy.

It wasn’t a coincidence that moments after Nancy Pelosi promised progressive House leaders more power in the next Congress, a host of liberal groups announced they were supporting her for speaker.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who is expected to co-chair the House Progressive Caucus next year, left a Thursday night meeting with Pelosi in the Capitol and proclaimed that her members would have more seats on powerful committees and more influence over legislation.

The Washington state Democrat then phoned MoveOn and Indivisible with the news, and they promptly tweeted out support for Pelosi. Then, on Friday morning, Jayapal, previously uncommitted on whom she would back for speaker, gave Pelosi a full-throated endorsement.

“No one can really doubt Pelosi’s progressive chops,” Jayapal told POLITICO in an interview. “And I do think, for the next two years, as we lead into 2020, and are coming off this big wave, we need someone who is smart and strategic and has done this.”

Smart and strategic? I suppose so. To give you an idea of what this means in practice, look how Jayapal and her cohorts finessed the abolish ICE demand as reported by In These Times:

In July, three members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.)—introduced a bill to abolish ICE. They intended it as a statement of principle and, as Vox observed, “weren’t ready to be taken seriously,” given that the majority of Americans oppose abolishing ICE and Democrats themselves are split. House Republicans threatened to bring it up for a vote, with the hope of embarrassing Democrats. The progressives then announced they would vote against their own bill. But as with Warren’s plan for reforming capitalism and the more ambitious climate change plans, such laws that push the moral envelope lay important groundwork for when progressives and Democrats actually have power. [emphasis added]

So if they don’t take themselves seriously, why should we?

Writing for The Nation, the abysmal Joan Walsh interviewed Jayapal as “a bridge between the still-feuding Clinton and Sanders wings of the Democratic Party”. It concluded with these words from Jayapal: “We can’t tear each other down. If we start to divide ourselves now, we’re really lost. It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree about things. But we agree we’re all working toward the same place. That’s when we begin to win.”

For the past year or so, we’ve been hearing about how people like Jayapal and Ocasio-Cortez will eventually take over the Democratic Party. Mark my words. Within a year or two, the Democratic Party will have taken them over. That’s what it has been doing with the left for over a century and it is an art it has perfected. When those being co-opted are getting richly rewarded for their surrender, no wonder there will barely be a whimper. It is up to us who still see a need for revolution to scream at the top of our lungs from every rooftop.

3 Comments »

  1. Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

    Comment by jamesbradfordpate — November 19, 2018 @ 9:57 pm

  2. Nancy has always been able to move people and has never been afraid to walk into a hostile room and try to win them over to her agenda. When I ran against her for Congress in 1986 and 1988 we debated a dozen times or so. The winner depended on the audience, she lost the debates at the Mission Cultural center, I lost the debates in Pacific Heights. She appealed to the left in those days by explicitly selling herself as the lesser-evil. She would come into a room where the majority were planning to vote for the Peace and Freedom Party, and tell them a vote for her would do more to help end US military intervention in Central America than throwing votes away on me. From the days when she was raising money behind the scenes at lunches for the ladies in Italian restaurants in San Francisco, before Sala Burton anointed her as her crown princess, Nancy’s one great ambition was to be the first woman speaker of the house. Her second was to be the best speaker of the house ever. She told me this while I waited on her in those restaurants. She will undoubtedly be speaker again, and she will undoubtedly sway the “progressives” to follow along like puppies when she wants. She will do this by throwing them a few bones and dog treats and scratching behind their ears.

    Comment by Ted Zuur — November 20, 2018 @ 4:04 pm

  3. Yep, co-optation is always the name of the game. Thanks for your post, Louis

    Comment by William Boyd — November 20, 2018 @ 6:08 pm


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: