Progressives: Beware of Co-Opters “Bearing Gifts” to Your Meetings

In a recent packed Sunday afternoon Portland meeting of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), several critical issues were on the crowded agenda. Chief among them was the national organization’s heavy emphasis at its recent convention: congressional passage of Medicare for All. The mystery to some of us was why a representative from the Multnomah County Democrats was on the bill.

Would she announce that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) had listened to a furious electorate desperate for affordable and adequate health care? Or would she be asking to share our members to shore up their troops for the 2018 midterm elections? In other words, was she trying to “co-opt” our chapter for the Democrats’ purposes?

A couple of us suspiciously concluded the representative was sent to co-opt our DSA chapter to recruit volunteers for the 2018 midterm election campaign or, at the very least, to woo voters among our members.

Co-option is a divide-and-conquer tactic to melt down or exterminate groups on issues considered stumbling blocks to a major party’s policies. Once that happens, the co-opters take charge and “guide” the group into other causes. Worse, co-opters strip movements of creative talents, time, money and energies.

“Alliance” Is Promoted

For nearly an hour, the representative from the Multnomah County Democrats gave us an enthusiastic pitch for something called the “Progressive Alliance.” It was, she said, a brand-new coalition of a half-dozen progressive groups in Oregon. It wasn’t a Democratic Party operation, nor would the party ever try to control it, she said. Coordination and cooperation win elections (so does co-option — sometimes).

Our visitor’s principal pitch for this “Progressive Alliance” seemed to be convincing the DSA chapter that a coalition would be stronger than stand-alone groups working on separate domestic causes. Her tranquil composure through the largely polite grilling that followed was admirable and consumed time for other agenda items. She wound up by asking for a motion to have a committee explore the possibility of DSA joining this “alliance.”

Of the 60 card-carrying members eligible to vote amid this sizable crowd of “explorers,” only 18 of us opposed the motion. If an exploratory committee was appointed, we have yet to hear about it — or any result.

Last June, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) even seems to have set the timeline for the national DSA, loosely tied as it still is to the Democrats. And presumably that her Senate counterpart Chuck Schumer followed suit. As The New York Times reported reported:

At a briefing with reporters last month, the House minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, replied with a flat “no” when asked if Democrats should make single-payer a central theme in 2018. She said state-level action was more appropriate, though she said she supported the idea in concept. “The comfort level with the broader base of the American people is not there yet,” Ms. Pelosi said.

Co-opters certainly follow party orders, particularly in this instance on any single-payer launch date. One seems to have been successful infiltrating an Oregon statewide coalition of more than 100 members — Health Care for All Oregon (HCAO) — which our chapter voted to join in mid-June. At least a dozen members now involve county Democratic groups, including the powerful Multnomah County Democratic Central Committee.

So HCAO’s board agreed to push the measure in the 2020 presidential election rather than the 2018 midterms — this despite the fate of Medicaid and Obamacare currently hanging in the balance, topped off next year by private insurance hikes of 35 percent to 48 percent — and more in subsequent years. Our chapter’s single-payer group will follow the 2020 date. The postponement probably will kill the measure — apparently the DNC’s intention.

A Pew poll in January found that 60 percent of Americans wanted Medicare for All health care now — not 2020 or 2024. Even if it failed in 2018, voters would be so well educated on the issue that a 2019 special election for Medicare for All could pass in many states.

It’s an unknown whether HCAO polled Oregonians about the 2018/2020 launch date, but I decided to do a small straw poll of those attending the unions’ Labor Day picnic, and then at an activist rally against a Nazis in downtown Portland. Out of 75 respondents, all but six enthusiastically voted for the 2018 midterms. The common remark was “the sooner, the better.”

HuffPost Detects DNC Co-option Tactic

Fortunately, a columnist for HuffPost recently detected the DNC’s “invisible hand” and slapped it: “Don’t attempt to corral or co-opt the burgeoning Indivisible movement — instead, just do your damnedest to fulfill their expectations.”

As for other targeted movements, a political science specialist reminded their members:

We’ve already seen exciting moves … from Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Fight For 15 and independent anti-Trump movements. The left must build on that, and not let itself be swallowed by a party that’s historically done a piss poor job representing its interests. These groups and their allies can work with the Democratic Party when they see a tactical advantage in doing so, but they must never let themselves be bullied into blindly supporting the Obamas and Clintons of the world. Which, as we’ve seen, is something you open yourself to if you give them an inch.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee was bragging about its successful conquests of movements. Its spokesperson said:

[The DLCC is] … excited to see a renewed focus on down-ballot races from Democrats and progressives … this focus and energy is finding form in groups newly active in the state legislative space. DLCC is pleased to welcome these groups as new weapons in our arsenal … in our fight to flip state legislatures and build Democratic power in states.

These recruits, of course, will be asked to support the party’s new platform — “The Better Deal” — touted by congressional minority leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. Upon examination, the “deal” turns out to be old wine in old bottles — and even approves funding for anti-choice congressional candidates.

That slogan seems artfully designed to confuse voters into thinking the “Better Deal” is akin to FDR’s “New Deal.” But FDR’s program centered on instant, doable actions to solve vast and festering domestic problems — from controlling banks, to partially solving unemployment with public jobs for infrastructure. Though the public sees health care as the nation’s No. 1 problem, it’s not among the Better Deal’s three “bold” goals:

• Raising wages and incomes and creating millions of well-paying jobs.

• Lowering costs of living for families.

• Building an economy that gives working Americans the tools (e.g., training) to succeed in the 21st Century.

The “Better Deal” certainly won’t fool families of the nation’s millions of underemployed or unemployed, or those who have jobs paying minimum wage. By August, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 7.1 million were jobless, 5.3 million were reduced to part-time work, and 448,000 had given up ever finding a job.

“Better Deal” Is a Pipe-Dream

For co-opters to try diverting the DSA’s main issue of Medicare for All into a vacuous and improbable “Better Deal” far, far down the road from 2018 is unlikely to succeed. Too many members, locally and nationally, still support Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All emphasis, perhaps because many are either covered by Medicaid or private insurance.

Another argument used against the 2018 date is that Republicans and the health care industry will spend millions toward an attempt to defeat it in the midterms. But they’ll assuredly do the same in 2020 — or 2030.

Iron Is Hot for Medicare for All for 2018 Ballots

The iron is red hot for a 2018 ballot effort by progressive movements such as DSA. Instead of the usual minuscule turnouts for midterm elections, it is likely that voters will turn out en masse if Medicare for All is on state or national ballots next year. Moreover, any state or national candidate advocating it is almost assured a win by a bipartisan landslide.

That’s because in addition to progressives, many angry Republican Medicaid recipients are likely to vote for it. They’re still storming town halls and local offices of congressional lawmakers and demanding Medicaid/Obamacare retention — or Medicare for All coverage. Add to these thousands the millions on private insurance facing those ruinous 2018 premium hikes.

With most of the electorate well aware of Medicare’s benefits and begging for Medicare for All coverage, what’s behind DNC sidelining?

Key blockage is coming from congressional minority leaders like Schumer and Pelosi. Aside from the million-dollar cost of fighting the health care industry right now, they reap big donations for campaigns. And they’re not the only ones in Congress on the take. Neither are some state legislators and governors. They are likely hoping that by postponing Medicare for All until 2020, health care progressives may lose heart and quit fighting for it.

Yet the time for Medicare for All has now come. Incumbents or challengers who champion Medicare for All for the 2018 midterms — especially in rural districts — may well disobey Pelosi and Schumer and render this time-frame issue moot by a landslide victory. Most are acutely aware of how the winds are blowing. So do Republicans from those town halls where angry and energized Medicaid/Obamacare constituents braced their representatives about killing these health care programs. Why else would Conyers’ and Sanders’ Medicare for All bills begin gathering a sudden and surprising increase of co-sponsors when Sanders, for instance, couldn’t get a single co-sponsor for his 2013 Medicare-for-All bill?

Donor bribes and threats and party orders are worthless if even incumbents are defeated for refusing to obey the voices of voters.

In short, progressive movements like the DSA, Indivisibles and others need to be aware of co-opters bearing “gifts,” no matter how well disguised or argued. Political history such as FDR’s four terms teaches that if a major party wants to survive, it not only must eventually support grassroots causes, but it must do so energetically, sincerely and financially. And Medicare for All is more than worthy of that kind of support.