Medicare For All, the Squad and the DSA: Who Controls Whom?

Photograph Source: Molly Adams – CC BY 2.0

For the past six years, the liberal-progressives who persist in trying to change the Democratic Party “from the inside” after almost 50 years of resounding failure (McGovern, Jesse Jackson, Howard Dean, Dennis Kucinich, et. al. ad infinitum) have been bragging about reaching a pinnacle of success following the Bernie Sanders 2015-16 presidential campaign. This has been most prominently realized, so the argument goes, by “the Squad” of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Jamaal Bowman of New York and Cori Bush of Missouri. Each of their elections has been claimed as a win by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), which is now christened the largest socialist organization in a century.

The Squad’s relative quietude regarding the nationwide calls for single-payer Medicare for All, however, despite having a once-in-a-century platinum opportunity (a nationwide pandemic, economic implosion, widespread Left press agitation, and even a mass mobilization this month), is rather instructive.

Medicare for All (M4A) has a level of support that crosses the partisan divide within the voting public. In fact, the opposition is in a numerical minority. Unfortunately, it just so happens that this small group (Congress, the Biden administration, the medical-industrial complex) has all the power in the country necessary to prevent its enactment.

Last spring, the horse-faced Jimmy Dore, since revealed to be a sexist pig while employed by The Young Turks, began agitating for members of the Squad to #ForceTheVote. While we can debate the merits or ineptitude of the strategy, it would have made for good political theater. The proposition, sourced from a DSA strategy document, proposes that DSA’s elected officials bring the Medicare for All vote to the floor of the Congress ASAP. The legislators that vote it down would end up painting a target on their backs for DSA to utilize when deciding who to primary over the next several election cycles.

I’m going to be 35 next month. Owing to lifelong health issues stemming from a traumatic brain injury at birth, I have some real skin in this game. I’ve begun experiencing hearing loss because of over-use of aspirin to deal with chronic pain. I have lost a decade of building a livelihood to subsisting below ObamaCare’s poverty line mandates so to maintain eligibility for free Medicaid. I’m in the midst of giving up my lifelong dreams of filmmaking to take on a job with an insurance plan because the poverty mandates of being differently-abled in America are soul-crushing, alienating experiences. When I hear entryists brush aside the call for Medicare for All and urge moderation, I see them as nothing but sadistic creeps who are more interested in liberal accolades and praise rather than actually uplifting the wretched of the earth. They are moral monsters akin to Stalin, Mao, and other relics of the 20th century they justifiably distance themselves from. For their citation of a 1930s famine in the Ukraine, I point to the millions who will die this year because they didn’t want to alienate their pet liberal heroes. They are scum opportunists like Richard Nixon.

The #ForceTheVote episode and now the silence around mobilizations for M4A are telling, however. They reveal the absolute failure of DSA and how they never had a lick of actual power.

Socialist politics is not about posturing and preening like a peacock, it is about actually gaining material, tangible victories that improve the lives of the most unfortunate of our society. In a recent interview with the DSA house blog, Bhaskar Sunkara, publisher of Jacobin magazine, said “I used to believe that electoral politics comes last, that first you organize the class and civil society and you build, and you’re patient, and then one of the manifestations of your success is electoral success. But now I think that electoral politics is a jumping off point… I feel like this is the avenue for success.”

Though he is a swine, Jimmy Dore’s #ForceTheVote stunt showed in stunning Technicolor a reality that Sunkara would love to ignore (probably to sell more magazines). When AOC refused to Force the Vote, Providence DSA passed a resolution condemning her refusal.

But why should AOC care what Rhode Islanders say when she was elected by New Yorkers, most of whom are not in DSA? Her constituents didn’t challenge her to Force the Vote, a California podcaster named Jimmy Dore did! AOC will not face any consequences for this because she is accountable only to her constituents and not the larger membership of DSA!

Does DSA have any power over the Squad?

Or does the Squad have disproportionate power over DSA? Is this power so great that their national organization leadership will remain silent so not to embarrass much more mainstream legislators who, in all likelihood, played them to get free campaign volunteers but then acted on their own agenda?

DSA needs the Squad to claim success but the Squad doesn’t need DSA once they are elected. In fact, they may actually welcome expulsion from DSA to end all of the sexist, racist red baiting death threats they get for being nominal socialists! I can easily imagine AOC’s campaign coffers piling high with corporate checks if/when she opts to quickly shun DSA in public and say she has “grown wiser and more realistic” after a youthful spurt of idealism (cf. Clinton, Bill and Hillary).

These are rather simple structure tests described by Jane McAlevey’s brilliant organizing guide No Shortcuts. All the trendy hipster gentrifiers in DSA across the continent can protest as much as they like but they cannot ignore this simple fact: Their “largest socialist organization in a century” has absolutely zero methods for holding their member-legislators accountable to basic organization norms or platform requirements. There is zero reciprocity between the mass mobilizations in the grassroots and these elected “socialists,” meaning DSA is as powerless as it was a decade ago. Sunkara is ebullient in all probability because his profit margins have expanded but I have gained little as someone who is desperately in need of universal healthcare.

This is an extraordinary squandering of time and resources contributed by young people who should not have had these contributions wasted in such a fashion.

First, always on the horizon lies the climate catastrophe. Imagine if, instead of spending the last five years canvassing for Democrats, they had build a cross-country network of viable structures capable of absorbing millions of refugees from wildfires, killer storms, and other calamities into other states and from across the Global South. Rather than helping New York real estate developers ethnically cleanse Brooklyn and Harlem, what if they had seized vacant properties and turned them into emergency shelters?

Second, if history is a viable indicator, the 2022 midterms are going to be a catastrophe. Joe Biden has been pushed to the right by Joe Manchin more than DSA has been able to push him to the left. As a result, the austerity-minded right will give way to the success of an emboldened Tea Party 2.0 that could create a real calamity.

The late Bruce Dixon put it best when he said that the “mission is to struggle for power, and to build a movement of movements against capitalism, patriarchy, white supremacy and endless war. There are no shortcuts.”

That includes a quickie route through the Democratic Party ballot line.

Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.