Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has been returned as Speaker of the House of Representatives. She earned the requisite number of votes, suffering only five defections in her ranks, per the New York Times. Of those defectors, none of them was from the so-called Squad. This small subgroup within the Democratic Caucus consists of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib. Each of these women voted to return Mrs. Pelosi as Speaker.
What? No Concessions!? The Failure of #forcethevote
I realise I am focusing on the Squad here, but the entire Progressive Caucus should come in for fierce criticism. The decision to support Mrs. Pelosi without demanding anything for your support is pathetic. Eternal and unremitting shame on all of you! You fell in line like good little spineless Democrats, and for what? You will not be rewarded for your shameless complicity. Even before the vote was taken, AOC was snubbed for a House Committee seat. What possible motivation did AOC have to vote for Pelosi? Playing the game is not going to get you on their team.
Democratic insiders hate you and everything you stand for. They do not see you voting for them as justification to offer greater responsibility. Quite the opposite in fact: they are entitled to your vote! You are insurgents against an occupying force of corrupt corporate sellouts. Once you realise that they will hate you no matter what you do, you can use that to your advantage. Of course, doing this takes a political spine, something you pseudo-progressives seem to lack. The label Progressive means ‘in favour of progress’. It implies representation of the people rather than the corporations. You were intended to be populist firebrands who would make the powerful uncomfortable. Your failure to do this is both bitterly disappointing but also instructive.
Populism and ‘Institutional Capture’, Part One: AOC
AOC is very much the public face of the pathetic surrender of the pseudo-Progressives and their capitulation to Pelosi. However, it would go too far to suggest that it is only brazen personal weakness on display here. There is also the political science term Institutional Capture. This is where someone begins as an idealist (as AOC did) and a populist but is worn down by the institution the longer they are there. You do not change the Congress, so the saying goes, the Congress changes you. This is not to say that AOC is now a corporate Democrat, but she does appear to have lost some of the populist shine that she once had.
The beginnings of this were visible when she called Nancy Pelosi ‘Mumma Bear’ a few months back. But why? Why and how did this young, aggressive, hopeful representative come to fall in line with a notoriously corrupt Speaker?
I would speculate that part of the answer comes from wanting to fit in as ‘the new girl’. This natural inclination is understandable up to a point. As one person among 435 members in the House, one can see her point of not wanting to make too many waves. Maybe you make a friend or two. But you must be careful, lest you become overly influenced. You must also take care not to worry about being unpopular, particularly among the corporatists. Voting against corporate tax cuts, deregulation or even the holy military budget is not something to be shied away from. Indeed, these are populist moves that will play well with the base. Ms. Cortez appears to have forgotten why she was sent to Congress in the first place.
Populism and ‘Institutional Capture’, Part Two: Bernie Sanders
One politician who has been in Washington for decades but largely retains his populist label and voting record is one, Bernard Sanders. Sanders is not perfect by any stretch, indeed he appears to lack the political killer instinct and he voted for the CARES Act. But Sanders is unapologetic in his calls for M4A, tuition-free college, etc you know the list. He lacks political judgement as his ‘negotiations’ with Joe Biden demonstrate, but he still casts what are called ‘controversial’ votes and is known as the ‘amendment king’ in Washington. Why is it that Sanders can ‘hold his own’ to such a greater extent than AOC and the Squad?
The precise reasoning behind this is not clear, but I would suggest the fact that he is an Independent is quite important. While it is true that Sanders caucuses with the Democrats, he is not, as pundits during his two Presidential runs never tired of pointing out, a Democrat. He owes Chuck Schumer (leader of the Democrats in the Senate) precisely nothing. Sanders is not ‘playing for a team’ unless the people count as a team. He also has much more political experience than AOC and the other members of the Squad. His experience has taught him that the Republicans think he is a Socialist and the Democrats are not far behind.
Further, if he ever cared at all about the opinion of his colleagues, he no longer does: f*ck them and their donors, I represent the people appears to be the ethos. Sanders’ IDGAF approach to politics is something from which AOC could learn a great deal.
Conclusion: Suicide Squad
As much as I have tried to provide broader context and explanations for the capitulation of the Squad, I am not carrying water for them. This vote shows the utter political spinelessness not only of the Squad, but of the Progressive Caucus as well. Now many of these are what we might call PINOs (Progressives In Name Only), but it is still bitterly disappointing. Molded by the institution, you fell in line behind the corporate candidate.
The achievement of great things often involves throwing caution to the wind. You are either afraid that the vote on M4A will fail (for reasons known only to yourselves) or you are not willing to be hated by your colleagues and the media. Newsflash you blind fools: such is already the case. You gave up all your power and you got nothing. Hone your political instincts or you may find a primary challenge is on its way.
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