David Sirota wrote a clever piece a few weeks before the November election in which he compared Trumpism to the toxic pink slime running underneath the streets of New York City in Ghostbusters II. He explains how in the movie, the slime is “the physical manifestation of negative psychological energy - hate, loathing, rage, and nihilism,” and that it causes those who come in contact with it to be overcome with these negative emotions and lash out angrily against each other.
A few months later, the Left is roiled in a bitter feud over Jimmy Dore’s effort to pressure progressive Congresspeople into forcing a Medicare For All House vote by threatening to withhold their votes from Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House unless she publicly promises to bring M4A to the floor. When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rejected this strategy, Jimmy responded by accusing her of gaslighting her base and acquiescing to party leadership. This caused numerous independent progressive media figures to come to AOC’s defense, and some to back Jimmy’s plan. To put it mildly, things got pretty nasty, pretty quickly.
Jimmy is accusing anyone who isn’t on board of being sheepdog party loyalists, and proclaims that they are “unmasking” themselves as faux progressives by not taking his side. Others in Left media are accusing Jimmy of grandstanding for clicks and subscribers and unfairly attacking fellow progressives for self-serving purposes.
Jimmy is correct that under these circumstances, there is no excuse for not pushing as hard as possible for Medicare For All. 15 million people have lost their health coverage during a pandemic that has killed over 300,000 Americans, and progressives in the House have outsized leverage thanks to the Democrats’ slim majority - if ever the question if not now, when? applied, it’s now. Jimmy is also right to challenge AOC’s honesty about why she’s not backing this push. None of her many explanations and rationalizations make much sense. Most egregiously, she claimed that the Medicare For All co-sponsor list was an adequate indicator of who in the House actually supports the policy and who doesn’t. This is patently absurd. Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries, a sworn enemy of just about every progressive insurgent to ever run against a centrist incumbent, who played the race card against Justice Democrats by claiming they were wrongfully targeting black leaders to primary, who publicly attacked AOC’s former chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti for similarly bullshit identity politics-related reasons, who was one of Hillary Clinton’s most vicious attack dogs against Bernie Sanders in 2016, is a co-sponsor on Pramila Jayapal’s M4A bill.
That says everything you need to know about the value of the co-sponsor list, but it’s also a testament to the value of forcing the vote. Jeffries is widely thought to be next in line for the House Speakership. He’s publicly on record as both a Medicare For All supporter (he’s a “co-sponsor”) and a staunch critic of his progressive colleagues who openly advocate for it. In other words, he’s exactly the kind of Democrat who needs to be forced into a definitive yay-or-nay-vote. If for no other reason, getting him on record would itself be good enough reason to back the #ForceTheVote effort, seeing as Jeffries is Pelosi’s likely successor if and when she ever decides to relinquish the throne.
And so, yes, it makes total sense right now for progressives to rep their base, leverage their power, and force a vote on Medicare For All. And yes, it sucks that AOC isn’t willing to do it, and it sucks that she’s not being honest about why she isn’t willing to do it.
But there’s something else at play here. This isn’t all about Jimmy Dore being pure and righteous, and AOC being corrupt and deceitful. There’s more to it than that. There’s a river of pink slime, as Sirota would put it, flowing underneath this entire conversation. That pink slime is the Democratic Party.
The real conflict here is between those on the Left who still feel that that the Democratic Party is an institution of some legitimacy that can and must be the vessel, if not the vehicle, for progressive change, and those who don’t. This is not, as Jimmy would have us believe, a matter of who, individually, is for real, and who isn’t. It’s a matter of who still holds out hope that the Democratic Party can be redeemed, and who thinks it’s broken beyond repair. AOC and her defenders are in the former camp; Jimmy and his, the latter.
AOC is, after all, a Democrat. She ran as a Democrat, and she serves as a Democrat. She’s great - for a Democrat - but her party affiliation and her place within the duopolistic electoral system inherently and inevitably limits the role she can play in the progressive movement. The course she chose was to work within the system, within the party, to try and affect as much change as possible. This is why, when pressed on The View about her relationship with Nancy Pelosi, she referred to her as “Mama Bear.” She did this in mid-February of 2020, two weeks before Super Tuesday, as a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders campaign. Her goal at the time was to use her appearance on that show, which caters mostly to mindless #BlueMAGA wine moms, to convince as many viewers as possible to vote for Bernie in the upcoming primaries, which were less than a month away at the time. In service of that goal, she obviously thought it best to take a more conciliatory tone towards party leadership than she’d have probably liked, so as to signal to the mainstream liberals in the audience that she and the campaign she represented weren’t overly hostile to the party they sought to lead.
I suspect she was faking her adulation for Pelosi, and given the circumstances, I don’t totally blame her. And before you scoff too loudly at that, I want you to check yourself, because during the primaries, every Bernie supporter was playing that exact same game, whether we can admit it or not. Even the most militant Bernie-or-Busters were committed to an inside-the-party strategy, which meant we needed to, one way or another, with vinegar or with honey, try and win over as many mainstream Democrats as we could in order to push our candidate over the finish line.
The difference between us in the grassroots, and politicians like AOC, is that once that campaign failed, we on the outside were free to abandon the Democratic Party altogether, whereas AOC was still bound by her position as a Democratic Congresswoman. Therefore, she remains, to this day, stuck playing yesterday’s game of trying to influence the party from within. In her estimation, in order to do that, she has to pick her battles very carefully. She doesn’t see this particular #ForceTheVote battle as winnable, which is why she isn’t fighting it. Is she wrong about that? In my opinion, she most certainly is. But does her being wrong signal a nefarious motive on her part, or a hidden loyalty to party leadership, or an affinity for status quo politics? No, it does not.
AOC’s place in the progressive movement is, for better or worse, inside the Democratic Party. Her standing in the party is her perch from which she can wield power, and she therefore feels a responsibility to protect it. Jimmy calls this “careerism,” but if she weren’t the “careerist” he says she is, she’d still be tending bar in New York, and she’d have no power to fight for her agenda, which is still essentially our agenda as progressives.
But once again, for better or worse, she is, because of her position, fully committed to fighting her fight within the Democratic Party. And because the Democratic Party is that river of toxic pink slime that poisons everything in its path, in order to work within the party, she has to lie for the party, apologize for the party, feign admiration for the corrupt party leadership, and toe the party line which says that the GOP, not the system itself, is public enemy number one.
To those of us who have given up on the Democratic Party entirely, this is very upsetting to see. It appears to us that our rising stars have been co-opted by the establishment they were elected to rebel against. So we get angry. We get bitter. Resentful. Jaded. Maybe even a bit nihilistic in the face of it all. The pink Democrat slime does its work on us. Because even as we’ve made what we thought was a clean break from the party, we can’t keep ourselves from crawling back to it, begging some of its more progressive members for help, thinking that maybe they’ll take a stand for what’s right and good and just, not realizing that however well-intentioned they are, they’re stuck on the wrong side of the equation, because they went all-in on an inside-the-system strategy that we as bloggers, podcasters, readers, and activists never did. We kept our distance from the party, whereas they infiltrated it. And now they’re mired in the slime, because they thought they could successfully detoxify the Democratic Party.
And so we on the outside don’t have to put up with any of their nonsense when they try to pull us into their delusions about how a co-sponsor list is a good enough indicator of who supports Medicare For All and who doesn’t; but we don’t have to hate them for it either. We can just see the truth for what it is: Jamaal Bowman, AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Mark Pocan, Pramila Jayapal, Ilhan Omar, and Cori Bush, are good people with good ideas and good intentions, and they can partner with us in certain instances when weaknesses in the system afford them the space to do so, but we cannot count on them for leadership, because they’ve got the toxic slime of the Democratic Party all over them.
It’s as simple as that. The party is the problem, because the party is poison. And whenever we invest too heavily in the party, or any of its functionaries, well-intentioned as they may be, as a solution to any of our problems, we get some of that poison on us. That’s how a feud like this one grows so bitter. Those of us who know the virulent toxicity of the Democratic Party are those who know better than to make this a battle of personalities. The enemy is the institution, as is always the case in any struggle for justice. We must not let our emotions cause us to lose sight of that truth.
Photo: Gage Skidmore