Both Sides Of Force The Vote Are The Same

Photograph Source: Mike Maguire – CC BY 2.0

“America “is no country for the infirm” because infirmity indicates a failure of enjoyment. To be sick is thus to be guilty. The sick illustrate the persistence of dissatisfaction and distance within the society of enjoyment. In acknowledging the sick, one acknowledges lack as well. Hence, like Roy Cohn, we opt instead for nonstop motion, for trying to eliminate the distance that the sick would introduce into the contemporary world.”

—Todd McGowan

I don’t follow left media infighting. I hope you don’t either. But it is hard to miss this “Force The Vote” stuff coming up again. Needless to say, I disagree with both sides equally. There are cases in life when both sides are correct and this causes us to agonize over which side to choose. These sorts of decisions often lead to depression as we are divided between two good values that cannot coexist at the same time. Thankfully for us Force The Vote can only depress us if we pay attention to it. I don’t want to get into too many details about it. If you know it you know it all too well. If you don’t know it then you should make sure you never ever find out about it.

I am taking a lot of heat for defending Zizek but given the current lack of depth of political arguments how can Zizek’s advice of “don’t do, think” not be seen as prescient? The argument raging online about whether progressives in the House should have forced a vote on Medicare For All in 2020 (leveraging Nancy Pelosi’s bid for Speaker) has risen up again amidst the Republican holdouts for Speaker McCarthy.

The left takes the unfortunate position of seeing such far-right holdouts as courageous as the Republicans are willing and able to stand up to their political party while the Squad is not. The Squad relies on the Democratic Party to get elected which always has and always will severely limit the radical nature we chose to read into them. The Freedom Caucus relies on corporate money to get elected and therefore the so-called courage to cut benefits for the poorest people is not only cowardly on its face but also not even politically risky.

The argument online about Force The Vote hinges on a contradictory premise that makes both sides of the argument the same milquetoast side of the social democrat coin. Any disagreement between people like Jimmy Dore and Sam Seder is not about politics, for they share the same social democratic ideal that most of the anti-Marxist left does. Instead, it is always about the culture wars, with Seder taking the correct side of the culture wars and therefore being more sympathetic and less dangerous.

The argument by Dore is that the vote could have been forced and Nancy Pelosi would not have been hurt by it. His fantasy is that there merely would have been a vote on Medicare For All, those against it would have been exposed and therefore held accountable in primaries with more social democrats, and there would be no political consequences for anyone who did this. As naive as Dore’s argument is, Seder’s argument that those who forced the vote would be punished by the Democratic Party and have nothing to show for it, is true, but also limited.

While I certainly think Seder is a more serious thinker than Dore and more of a good-faith actor the question always is what is The Squad waiting for? To follow Dore off the cliff is certainly the wrong strategy but at some point, something must be done and whenever this thing is done it will be imperfect and to some extent ineffective. To paraphrase Emma Watson; if not now, when? If not us, who?

Force The Vote was a uniquely bad plan and thus it gets a unique amount of attention. The idea of forcing a vote on Medicare For All when the vast majority of Congress already openly says they are against Medicare For All and wins elections because of it and not in spite of it shows Dore has not been paying attention. Such a vote would continue to allow those who claim they support Medicare For All to pretend that they do because the vote would lose anyways.

The premise that those who vote against it would be challenged in a primary needs to be interrogated too. In a primary by who? More Justice Democrats who Dore says have sold out. His instincts are right that these people are ineffective but why then is his solution to elect a few more of them? If the Squad, independent of corporate money, were able to take over the Democratic Party, he might have an argument for more of them, but what will a few more of them really do, especially if Dore believes his own premise?

The problem is deeper than this though. Bernie Sanders is just as naive as Dore when he proudly proclaims in a losing election that he won the ideological war over Medicare For All. Ideological health care! That may save a soul but never a life. What Bernie meant is that his ideas were far more popular than Biden’s but no one wanted to vote for him because they knew he would be undermined by the establishment anyways, something he seemed to forget as often as he said.

I am not preaching hopelessness but I do want to take an inventory of where we are at. We have a very popular policy but achieving it through top-down politics seems nearly impossible and the strategy of throwing primaries for a few candidates to win isn’t working. I know Jimmy Dore thinks AOC is the root of all evil but she received less than 17,000 votes in her 2018 primary. Is this a scalable approach? A couple more hundred AOCs in a country with no political confidence? This amount of AOCs may satisfy Dore’s sadomasochism but it does not satisfy those without health care.

Dore’s desire to enjoy, his obsession with those he finds alluring, is of course appealing in its lack of repression given the current landscape of left-liberalism which aims to sheep herd people back into incrementalism and away from achieving one’s desire. But he purely wants pleasure. He does not want to win. He wants to chase around his object of desire. But our task, at least politically, is to achieve our desire, as frightening as that is. And our desire is to give everyone healthcare, even if that takes away our enjoyment. It is something that must be done. People have a right to live and only an obligation to enjoy.

Would I be for a more militant Force The Vote? Absolutely. But the fact that Dore has to pretend like his strategy if it worked, wouldn’t have short-term losses shows that he is not serious about long-term gains.

What would it take if we were serious about getting Medicare For All? A lot more than Pelosi not being Speaker for a few days. For one she would lose the speakership. Democrats would jump ship to the other side when Medicare For All is on the table. At the very least a more conservative Democrat would have taken charge. And yes there are such things. Pelosi is one of the more progressive Democrats in Congress. She was the AOC of her day. We have short memories.

If the Democrats and Republicans couldn’t agree on a conservative candidate to nominate the government shuts down during a pandemic and the left is blamed. If we get Medicare For All it could be worth it. But are we ready for or being honest about the stakes?

The reason why Medicare For All candidates don’t win is that we haven’t built the infrastructure for people to believe it is possible. Many people are fascist or uninformed so they vote Republican. Many people who are uninformed vote, Democrat, too. Many more vote Democrat for harm reduction with the knowledge that we haven’t built what it takes to transform society for the better.

A real push for Medicare For All would involve massive strikes by workers in the health industry. We would have to build systems that take care of people’s health in the short term while this happens. We would have to build systems that skill people outside of the for-profit health industry during this transition period. We would have to mount legal defense and civil disobedience campaigns to defend the workers treating people while off the job. We would have to form resilient structures to delay medical debt and law enforcement during this time. All of this would have to be local and grassroots. We would have to build trust in communities where people would know that shutting down the business interests for a short time would give us a victory in the long run. We would even have to be honest that some people, even if we were to plan all of this very well, will die, even if far more live in the long run.

Who is prepared to say these hard truths let alone to actualize them? Trust me when I say I am no better than most in practice. I have my own shit. But I do want to be honest about how much more it would take to transform society in a radical way.

I am agnostic on Sam Seder vs. Jimmy Dore. I don’t really get how they disagree. One of them defends progressive democrats because he believes they are the answer and the other blasts them because he feels betrayed by them. Why does Dore feel betrayed? He thinks they are the answer. They are not. I live in a Squad member’s district. They’re better than most and I don’t feel triggered or expect anything from them.

If we want to change the world we have to do it. Jimmy Dore’s premise that nothing would go wrong if we tried Medicare For All is just dishonest. Something will go wrong and we need to try anyways. The problem with Dore isn’t that he is too radical but more that he is not radical enough.

In American society, we have retreated into politics and away from the social. In this same way, I am beginning to see how in some ways Marx was a retreat from Hegel. If Karl Marx truly believed we could overcome contradiction through progress in the realm of material production then it is no wonder opportunists took up his ideology. But if we follow Hegel into the belief that contradiction can never be overcome then we can struggle for a better society.

This argument over politics and over ideology, in general, is a retreat from what needs to be done. If we want health care for everyone then we must give people the power to resist the industries that profit from it by withholding their labor regardless of the law, the economy or other coercive factors. To do this means building social trust in local communities and it involves sharing education and resources in creative ways. To attempt to do this backward through politics is our mistake and it is our retreat.

This is why I continue to interrogate democracy as such. Not only as a Marxist but more so as a Hegelian, to the extent I understand what it all means. Actually, existing Marxism has questioned democracy but in the wrong way. Marxism in the wrong hands proposes that democracy is not achieving our goals of production fast enough and therefore the people themselves must be part of those sacrificed in the goal of fast-tracking said utopia of zero contradictions and peak production.

Hegel on the other hand may propose to us in our present-day that social democracy is providing us with solutions too quickly rather than too slowly as Marxists would say. In this way Jimmy Dore is being too expedient when he claims that if we had just followed his idea from the DSA handbook we could achieve Medicare For All. This is a quick fix and the fact that AOC or Sam Seder opposed it does not mean we should be stuck on this fork in the road years later.

At best Dore’s plan would have taken us into another contradiction which he won’t acknowledge (any argument with him means you are against Medicare For All). More likely still Seder was right that it would have no upside and all downside. Our job is not to simply refuse Dore’s desire for this will only perpetuate it and further his obsession. We must instead propose something even slower than Seder’s strategy of playing nice with the Democrats.

We must propose the difficult work of restoring organization, trust, sharing and obligation without our communities. Even the liberal drama Grey’s Anatomy features civil disobedience by its main character who as a doctor treats a patient without proper medical insurance. She suffers a temporary setback but eventually in this karmic fantasy on screen, she is rewarded. I am not saying that everyone will win here although such an ideal is worth pursuing.

Political organization is not so different from surgery. Come at it with a butcher knife and someone will be hurt more than they are helped. At the same time not attempting the surgery saves a life for only a short time and saves those of us interested in healing society only from a malpractice charge and not from our failed task of saving lives.

It is this responsibility we are running from because our obligation to the Other has radical implications. We know that capitalism is unable to save lives. We know it is incapable of solving its own problems and it is us the invisible proletariat who prop it up, not only through our identity as workers but also in our personal lives where we give everything up to save each other but do so quietly because such behavior is not normal and often criminal.

Rather than propping up such a system could we overcome it? Are we really satisfied with our retreat away from the social? If we were, we wouldn’t keep returning to it. We continue to ask what we can do even though we know in order to survive we must ignore the cries of pain from the Other that are always happening. In this era, what Jeffrey St. Clair calls the Go Fund Me era of capitalism, this cry can always in some ways be addressed and each time we refuse it we hurt ourselves and are alienated further from our true purpose.

But to go at this battle alone, in the same way, a bourgeois subject does with work, stocks, and the like, leaves us even more vulnerable and alienated. We too must be taken care of and our relationships of care must be mutual or we risk burn-out and resentment, which could indeed be our subconscious goal as we are secretly terrified of what a real obligation to society would mean. But we always return for the opposite leaving us unfulfilled and miserable.

Medicare For All will not fall from the sky and when it fails we can pretend like Jimmy Dore does that our conflict is with the sky itself, with something abstract instead of something concrete. We can pretend that it is the lack of guts that is in our way and we can preach that we have valor and this will save us. Of course, we have valor. We have valor for the capitalist because that is how we survive. It takes incredible courage to wake up let alone act in a world that eats its own. But here we are again going too fast. We think saving ourselves will solve our problems when it just keeps us on the treadmill to nowhere.

We do not fear our own death. We are told to and thus we act this way. But our real fear is to not to fulfill our destiny while we are alive. Death is nothing. The real failure is to fail to be free. This is far worse than death and yet this is what we choose to do because we fear dying. But this tendency is not unredeemable either. We want to stay on the treadmill because we believe there is something more out there. We want to stay in the game just in case.

We would be foolish to leave life up to chance but we also would be foolish to assume it is a lost cause and give up on it before we try. Thus we are in the lurch. We feel abandoned and we feel as if we can be fulfilled if we too enjoy the game. We never will enjoy such a game and thus we must turn to the task of authentic life which entails authentic death.

This is our destiny and if we run from it our punishment will be life without living, a fate far worse than death and one the capitalists subject themselves to; an act even more cruel than the deaths they endorse in the name of profit.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at