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House Progressives and #forcethevote, Part Two: Historical Precedent and the Future

Prologue: This Is Not New

As precedent for what the House Progressives can do, I want to consider the example of the so-called Freedom Caucus. This was a small group of hyper-conservative Republican Representatives who, by using their numbers and sheer political will, forced former Speaker John Boehner to resign. An intransigent group of separatists not loyal to the GOP, they realised that leadership depended on them to get business done given how partisan Washington was. I want to examine sections of a monstrous Rolling Stone piece on these people and use that as precedent for #forcethevote.

Origins of the Freedom Caucus

Contrary to popular belief, the origins of the Freedom Caucus occurred late in the Bush Administration. Specifically, in response to the Wall St and auto industry bailouts. The Tea Party wave of 2010 presented itself as populists in opposition to the corporate bailouts. But these policies took place under Bush. This provides key context for the Freedom Caucus that we sometimes overlook. They defined themselves more in opposition to establishment Republicans than Democrats. This was a GOP civil war. The members of the Caucus formed a subgroup within the larger GOP Conference in the House. Further, they recognised the power this gave them.

The Rolling Stone piece notes the partisan and racial makeup of Freedom Caucus districts: deep-red and very white. I draw attention to this only for reasons of comparison with the Progressives in the House. They are a racially diverse subgroup within the Democratic Conference, so their appeal is much wider. It is easier for them to appeal to wider groups because of how they campaigned: populist without the wingnut aspect. As an example of the wingnut aspect, refer to the Rolling Stone piece about defunding planned parenthood and all that ‘dead baby parts’ garbage. The analogy between House Progressives and the Freedom Caucus goes only so far, but the parallel is apt.

The Resignation of John Boehner

The great achievement, if one may call it that, of the Freedom Caucus was the resignation of former Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). This hardline subgroup made life so difficult for Boehner that he was forced to resign the Speakership. The reason, according to the Washington Post at the time, was that Boehner and his leadership team did not take a hardline enough approach when dealing with President Obama. Specifically, the focus of their ire was how Boehner and his team dealt with issues such as ‘government spending, abortion, immigration, and Obamacare’. In other words, Boehner and his team were concerned with governing rather than ideological purity. We note here that Boehner was not entirely blameless in the situation: there were also Democratic members in the House. Building a coalition could have led to more stable government in the House, but Boehner and his team refused.

The Parallel to House Progressives and #forcethevote

This article has officially taken on the form of a classic Rachel Maddow segment: historical parallel leading to the discussion of a contemporary issue. I want to be careful though: the parallel only goes so far. I am not suggesting that House Progressives act precisely as the Freedom Caucus did. As much as I would like to see Nancy Pelosi replaced as House Speaker, the issue for the moment is #forcethevote. If that causes her to resign, if she is that petulant, so be it. But such is not the purpose of the movement.

I am also not the first person to notice the parallel between the Freedom Caucus and House Progressives/Justice Democrats. One of the original founders of Justice Democrats, Kyle Kulinski (host of Secular Talk on Youtube) wanted to call the movement The Left Teaparty. Thus, the concept of a subgroup within the Democratic Party that would ultimately take it over was there from the start.

Where to Now: #forcethevote and Beyond, Part One: The Present

The idea of subgroups existing within political conferences is hardly new. One need only consider the cabal of hard-right lunatics in the Liberal Party. These clowns toppled a Prime Minister. But there is a difference between influencing policy (particularly in the correct direction as #forcethevote would do) and causing leaders to resign. As unpopular as Pelosi is on the left, no-one is suggesting that life be made so intolerable for her that she resign. She should leave of her own accord. All that is required, Madame Speaker, is a few policy concessions that are, you know, in line with what the majority of the electorate (across the aisle) actually wants.

Turning the Democrats into a populist party that would win elections should not scare you. You should welcome it with open arms. But you cannot allow such a vote, and you are counting on the Progressives to fold on cue like good little Democrats. The exposure of the establishment wings of both parties as whores of oligarchy (which you are) is something you simply cannot abide. The entire corrupt edifice would collapse once the peasants knew just how broken, rotten, and corrupt their government is. You must stop this movement with all possible force because some actual populist worked out how to expose you.

Where to Now: #forcethevote and Beyond, Part Two: The Future

But alas, the genie is not going back in the bottle. This movement, no matter how much you slander it, or how much AOC or some other apparent pseudo-progressive stands in the way, is here to stay. As efficiently as you will try to derail this, and even if it ultimately fails this time, you cannot kill an idea. Politics, like the law, is built on precedent. This idea is not going anywhere, and it has the people on its side. I suggest that all corporate politicians get with the populist programme. The very existence of the House Progressives indicates that corporate donations are not necessary to run for office. Therefore we must conclude that taking corporate donations is a choice.

Conclusion: Jimmy Dore and the Future of US Politics

Jimmy’s plan to #forcethevote exposes both the tools of oligarchy as well as their enablers who say ‘not right now’. Is this a little cutthroat? Perhaps it is, but America is desperate. Waiting for ‘the right time’, best understood as when the establishment runs out of delaying tactics, is not an option. Riddle me this: did MLK wait for ‘the right time’ for the Civil Rights Movement? Did Rosa Parks wait for ‘the right time’? The very point of rocking the boat, as those icons knew, was to create trouble and make people uncomfortable. Power surrenders nothing without a demand.

The ball is in your court, Progressives.

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2 comments

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  1. wam

    Yes Rosa, waited for the right time when, at 42 after many years of anti-racism activity, she was tired from a hard day’s work and sick of getting on the bus, at the front, to pay her fare and then getting off to get back on the back door to sit in the black area and from the black section. So sick of this injustice she refused to give up her seat in the back for a white man and was gaoled this sparked a boycott of the buses by 75% of its customers. The 381 day boycott gave MLK a boost and left the bus company the choice bankruptcy or desegregation. QED.
    MLK 8 years after Rosa it was time to be free for MLK.
    Those people heeded Douglass’ 150 year old words and created historical pinnacles, your story sounds like a latte Melbourne lawyer with a destructive mind, selling his wares by blackmail.
    Whatever, ‘there is something written in the state of and someone should wield a scalpel. My money and hope is on Kamala.

  2. Andrew J. Smith

    Interesting, but one would add that the Freedom Caucus not only act as ‘lemmings in suicide vests’ (McCain) but channel and are nurtured by Koch Network policies.

    Similar to the Liberal backbench ‘wolverines’ in Canberra who are informed by another Koch Network think tank the IPA, while in the UK Parliament it’s the European Research Group (who pushed Brexit) with policy support from another Koch Network think tank the IEA Institute of Economic Affairs (one of several).

    For analysis and understanding, the ‘architecture’ for funding, policy and communications strategy in the background needs to be highlighted (themes are often very common and obvious, even down to talking points) versus assuming all communication and action is original and transparent; both Jane Mayer in ‘Dark Money’ for the US and Peter Geoghegan ‘Democracy for Sale’ for the UK but clear links between think tanks and individuals…..

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