The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

The Republican House Speaker Votes Show Progressive’s Disbelief In Their Own Legitimacy

So, 4 days, 13 votes as of this writing. A small band of right wing House members are holding candidates hostage.

To win the bloc of rebels thwarting his rise, McCarthy was apparently prepared to agree to conditions that he had not been previously willing to accept. That includes reinstating a rule that would allow a single lawmaker to force a vote to remove the speaker, effectively placing himself at the mercy of his detractors who could trigger a vote at any point.

McCarthy and his allies hope the concessions and several other commitments will be enough to persuade enough holdouts to drop their objections and end the stalemate that has clouded the opening days of their new majority.

In 2020 Democrats had a House margin of 9 members. Five members, committed to vote as a bloc, could have held Pelosi or any other candidate to ransom until they got what they wanted.

(I am fundraising to determine how much I’ll write next year. If you value my writing and want more of it, please consider donating.)

You have power if you’re willing to use it. The “Squad” is a joke because when they have leverage, they don’t use it. They don’t really believe in their own ideology: they don’t think they have the right to force other Democrats to govern better.

Republican right wingers, as much as I disagree with them, know how to use power. They don’t believe they are illegitimate.

Until left-wingers get over the idea that exercising power is bad, they will remain meaningless, and politics in most of the developed world will continue its 50 odd year swing to the right.


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Open Thread


  1. Dan Lynch

    Agree with Ian, and will only add a few things:

    — they’re fighting over the Speaker because the Speaker wields a shit-ton of power. But is it a good and necessary thing for the Speaker to wield a shit-ton of power?

    — what if the Speaker was elected with ranked choice voting? Then there would probably be no impasse, and ranked choice tends to disfavor extremists.

    I’m not defending our corrupt politicians, but a lot of the dysfunction in U.S. politics is baked into the system. At best the U.S. system is dated, and Howard Zinn would say that the U.S. system was deliberately intended to create the illusion of democracy while ensuring that the upper class maintained power — and that it is working as intended. The system itself is at fault.

  2. Raad

    This same crap pervaded so much of the toothless people that refused to fight around Corbyn as well that it actually pisses me off; kids can’t get fucking antibiotics and a host of other problems because using power is so so baaaad and would look sook uncivil!!

  3. Mark Level

    Thank you, Ian– short & sweet & your best line is “They don’t really believe in their own ideology”– Whether consciously (or more likely not) they have internalized the Guy Debord & Situationist insight of the mid-1960s that politics is purely “Spectacle” & entirely performative. They posture and pose and pretend that they are fighting for something, while utterly supporting a system in which (as Joe promised the donors) “Fundamentally nothing will change.” They play a rigged game in which they don’t want to win, they just want to shine on their stupidest followers (as Trump did with the MAGA crowd) & fund-raise. Look at how they let Roe be rolled back and are now making bank off poor women being set up to die . . . Really, if one investigates any of these people it quickly becomes apparent that they are the suck-up politician kids that many of us despised in elementary or high school. AOC for instance is not some poor, Puerto Rican girl fresh off the boat. She did an internship for Ted Kennedy in college, definitely someone “connected” like Obama from an early age, just an ethnic brand on the same old status quo slop to fool the dumb voters. Appearing in a fancy gown at a Met event emblazoned with graffiti to “tax the rich more” does not do anything except draw attention to her as an individual. Nobody with a lick of sense or perspective in that crowd was in any way “threatened” by her actions, she had already appeared in a glamor spread in Vogue (as the Zelenskys subsequently did), so everyone knew she’s one of them. In closing, there used to be a joke that D.C. was “Hollywood for Ugly People,” and since she’s clearly not ugly, she won a twofer. Despicable and hateful as the R party is, I will give them credit for being less hypocritical than the fake “Lib” Dems. They really believe in kicking the little people, workers and minorities, immigrants, etc. around. The Dems allowed into power of course support all the same things but unconvincingly (at this point, when “pro-Labor” Joe Bidet makes sure the RR workers have 0 Sick days annually and no chance to legally strike, while the owners make billions) pretend otherwise. They get to have their virtue cake and eat it too!! At this point I prefer the R Thugs who will kick you in the teeth without pretending any other goal to the slimy D’s who stab you in the back without the most minor qualms. Both are beloved by the 0.1%, it’s purely tag-team performance.

  4. bruce wilder

    Most congress critters today are spokesmodels for lobbyists — those exercising power for real are off-stage writing the lines. The “far-right” Republicans do believe in their (mostly nutty) ideology — they apparently think they are there to govern! The joke’s on us.

    For a congress member to be able to exercise power, I think they would have to be in a position to play one Interest off against other Interests, leaving themselves with some choice because no particular Interest could dominate. As the economy financialized and consolidated behind monopolies, the conflict of interests disappeared from the halls of Congress and power migrated to where the money flowed and the money flowed from a few sources and in one direction only.

    To me, the strict partisanship that makes the intramural Republican drama possible is as remarkable as the stubborn stupidity of the radicals. (Let’s not overlook how dumb the radical Republicans are even as we admire their willingness to use power.) The mainstream Democrats and Republicans in Congress differ very little on policy $ubstance with members of the other Party but differ radically with substantial blocs of their respective electorates. The electoral base in each case doesn’t quite grasp the difference between themselves and the political class wearing the same jerseys, but the sense of frustration is there, ready to be managed or exploited. Within the Party.

    The idea of McCarthy reaching out for Democratic help or the Democrats fearful of empowering a radical Right finding a way of supporting a moderate Republican core seems almost obvious from a naive distance. In the Senate, the Democrats always have a designated turncoat or two available to help the Republicans on policy enactments where the Democratic Senators like to pretend they are not vicious and craven, but want their “virtue” to be “frustrated”. But the dynamics are different in the House and the Democrats use Party discipline to avoid “interfering”.

  5. Arthur

    Somewhere in time, I guess it was post sixties, the left or liberals, whichever one prefers, got the idea that the use of force, be it verbal or physical, was some how immoral in all situations. The notion may have come from the best of intentions. After all, is it not better to reason together? However, when it became clear that it was a dead end idea it should have been thrown on the ash heap of history. For some unknown reason the Dems have refused to learn. It may be cowardice, knowing who butters their bread, or continued belief in a stupid idea. Whatever the reason, they refuse to learn and we are where we are.

  6. Eric Anderson

    There’s a phrase for that. It’s called virtue signaling. And that’s all the left in this country does. Why? Because they all have it so good. I do hope everyone here realizes the ‘progressive’ (whatever the $%#@ that means in this day and age) base:

    tldr? Overwhelmingly white and affluent. It’s all cosplay to them.

  7. different clue

    In the ” holding Pelosi’s desire for the speakership hostage” scenario, the Prog Squad would have been willing to risk it being a kamikaze attack. In order to risk that, they would have needed a vision of political combat and conquest extending beyond the elected officeholder arena.

    Because the DemParty Regulars would have gotten career-murder revenge on them in terms of elective politics and any other field where the Clintonites and Obamazoids and their sponsors and owners have influence.

    But if the Prog Squad had been prepared to not care about that, then they could have derailed and destroyed Pelosi’s goal for the speakership. They could have kept the last Congress speakerless and therefor not in session for the entire two years if they had been that prepared to not take it anymore. And maybe other successor Proggie Squadies might have emerged to charge through the hole thereby blown into the wall.

    The kind of Left which Ian Welsh wishes for has been mostly destroyed in several waves of repression starting with Woodrow Wilson’s mass destruction of the Socialists of his day, and moving on through the McCarthy-HUAC era purging of every socialist and communist-adjacent person from politics and from labor union leadership, and ending with the 60s and 70s era of FBI CoIntelPro social deletion engineering and the multiple assassinations carried out by the Paperclip Nazi Deep State on behalf of the pro-Nazi establishment which brought them all into this country.

    So the Left which our host accuses of not believing in its own legacy has actually been mostly exterminated from existence in this country.

    The left which remains is a left which is deeply contaminated and polluted by the ethical subhumanism of the Quakers and the various other Pacifists. They despise excercising power and they despise anyone who would excercise it. They would rather strike the Beautiful Prophet pose of Speaking Truth To Power. They are too pure of soul to soil themselves with something so icky and grubby as power. Can you imagine Joan Baez singing a song titled ” What’s so funny about War, Hate and Understanding”?

    That’s the left which has been carefully left in existence all through the extermination of all the other Lefts in this country.

  8. different clue

    In the first sentence above, I should have typed ” would have had to have been willing to risk it being a kamikaze attack.”

    We could still get a movement in this country based on War, Hate and Understanding.
    But it won’t be a Left wing movement.

  9. different clue

    @Mark Level,

    You know where I first heard and read about Guy Debord and the Situationists? In the pages of Acres USA! Can you believe it?

  10. Hairhead

    I am in 100% agreement. During those 2 years that Manchin and Sinema disrupted good legislation, I was wishing that old Lyndon Johnson had been in there. He would have whipped them both in shape. Just for one example, Manchin’s daughter was the creep who upped the cost of Epi-pens 500% or so. If I had been the Whip of the Senate, I would have met Manchin in his office with 10 other senators and 10 prosecutors and investigators from the DOJ; and I would have said to Manchin, “Get on board. If you don’t, your daughter is going to be in the general population for the rest of your years in office.”

    Remember, at a time FAR more racist than today, Johnson passed the Civil Rights Acts and the Voting Rights Act. He had the goods on everybody and used it ruthlessly. “The Squad” — don’t make me laugh!

  11. NR

    I’m not going to defend the Squad and other progressives who won’t use power, but Ian, is there any doubt in your mind that if left-wing members were to try this same thing with a prospective Democratic Speaker, that said prospective Speaker wouldn’t make a deal with Republicans rather than give them any significant concessions?

    Once again, I’m not defending weak and ineffectual progressives here, but I think there’s a strong chance that that’s what would happen. It still would be worth doing because it would show the true colors of the Democratic establishment, but I doubt they’d actually be able to get anything of significance.

  12. Trinity

    “At this point I prefer the R Thugs who will kick you in the teeth without pretending any other goal to the slimy D’s who stab you in the back without the most minor qualms.”

    It’s not my place to tell you what to do, or what not to do. But here’s my thoughts on that:

    If you continue to lean into the far right, you (and all the others who are, especially in Ukraine) will be doing exactly as you are being directed to do. That’s where they want you, that’s where they want us all. The one and only thing they are afraid of is us (and the tumbrils being built), so they have to manipulate us. It literally is theater, but theater with a purpose. They are not vested in you leaning in to either party, they just want you leaning to one side or the other, and away from what is really going on. And your vote, of course.

    I’m not saying lean left, either. They do it, too. I’m saying remain neutral. It provides some space, some distance, better to see what’s really going on.

    It’s also good in the sense it reduces the disappointment when they (whichever side) once again fail to do what we know they should be doing. Which is pretty much everyday now.

  13. Ché Pasa

    Well, yes, but…

    We have seen over and over again that right-wing Dems — of which there are always “just enough” — are more than happy to wield Power to get their way, mostly successfully, generally to stop some potentially progressive legislation. It’s happened so often that many of us see this process of right-wing subversion as a pattern that’s built in to the System.

    In other words, rightists, no matter the party, have and use the whip hand to control, shall we say, the Lesser Folk. The Progressive Caucus is, yes, largely performative, but they are not useless to the Overclass. Hardly. They help keep the Rabble tamed and serving the interests of their Betters. On the other side, the radical, sometimes crazed, Republican “Freedom” Caucus serves much the same function as the right wing Dem hold outs to force the adoption of rightist policies — no matter which party is ostensibly in control.

    As a rule, socialist/progressive candidates cannot get elected to higher office, or in many cases to any office at all. Those who pose as the Progressive Caucus in the Democratic Party are mostly frauds. Sometimes, the Progressive Caucus is openly infiltrated by — and controlled by — some of the rightist Dems which is always the majority of the Party.

    The hope that the Squad would wield the kind of openly rebellious power that the Freedom Caucus does on the other side was mostly misplaced. These people have a role to play, but it is not one of open rebellion against the leadership. Oh no! Instead, their role is to present a front of political “progressivism” that is to influence but not control the Party’s choices and to maintain the illusion of public interest where often the only interest is to serve power and money.

    This has been going on for so many years it should be obvious.

    Can we change it? I say probably not, at least not through any ordinary political means. Voting won’t do it. It’s not that our votes are worthless. It is that what and who we are allowed to vote for — when we are allowed to vote at all — is so strictly limited that the outcome pretty much fore-ordained.

    When we are prepared to go after the System itself and those who control it, we might have a chance at positive change, but I haven’t seen that attitude gain momentum for a long time, and every time it does, suppression and repression are guaranteed. Not so with rightist efforts to subvert, undermine or even overthrow the System.

    That’s how we keep slouching into Fascism. The System keeps it so. Change that and something better may be possible. But when will we be ready and able to do it?

  14. StewartM

    I disagree with this, Ian. The difference is that the R leadership will bow and grovel to satisfy its right/fascist wing, all the while ignoring the option (which was always there) to cut a deal with the Democrats (here, to put in a speaker who would govern in a way acceptable to most). In fact, cutting a deal with the Democrats *was* the easiest and most straightforward path forward, and it was deliberately ignored.

    If “the Squad” were to try the same tactic, the Democratic leadership would have had no problem reaching out to Rs to get the necessary votes, and thus diluting the ‘progressiveness” of anything on the table even further. The two situations thus are not truly analogues.

  15. Willy

    A few years ago I should’ve bookmarked, printed and vaulted the TV interview I saw of a US representative describing how he kept noticing government peers who would suddenly show up to work driving new cars and wearing expensive new clothes. I didn’t, because I assume that everybody knew that this is the way of things. I also hadn’t realized how rare it was for corporate media to allow such segments to pass through their own editorial filters. Imagine working in a place where the vast majority of your peers think that anybody who lives “doing the right thing” is a loser and sucker.

    And then progressivism is about progressing. Progressing means debating over solutions to complex problems in our world of constant change. Debating is often a messy, angst filled process. Meanwhile conservatism, at least of the modern kind, is about accepting the status quo and all their power games and especially all their cash, while rationalizing that this is good as it can get. Modern conservatism is much easier, and far more lucrative.

    I’m sure the squad believed their own ideology, just as I believed my own. They’re powerless to fully exercise it. The only effective behavior I’m seeing is where that rare politician named Bernie who cares little for material prizes and can “thick skin” all the smears, does what he can to influence POTUS, his peers and the corporate media.

  16. Ian Welsh

    This one hit a nerve, wave of insult comments (spammed). Amusing.

  17. elkern

    I strongly disagree with the OP, for several reasons.

    One, AOC and the “Squad” are activists, not ideologists. Yes, they do a lot of virtue signaling, but that’s just a side-effect of youth (a kind of plumage thing). They know that their constituents – the people who vote for them – need economic support from Government. Pissing off House Leaders and the President would be disastrous for the communities they come from, and would end their political careers – and any chance they have of helping their constituents.

    Two, they seem to recognize that they are Newbies, and that they need to understand the game before they can play it well. The reason that Bernie Sanders has had to keep Quixotically running for President is that there were NO other progressives in any position to run. The Squad need to learn before they can rule, especially because the deck is stacked against them.

    Three, they are paranoid, for good reason: several powerful (monied) interests are arrayed against them. They need to establish a solid base of support, in their own districts, and by getting other Progressives elected, before they can hope to make any real difference. Progressives can *always* be outspent by Corporatists; The Squad needs to survive and grow before they can challenge any of those interests.

    The GOP radicals can “succeed” merely by shutting down the US Government for a while. Their constituents (and their Donors) don’t want anything from them except more Culture War theater; besides, Biden won’t bother to reduce services in their districts, because he believes in Government, and still hopes that rural voters will wake up & vote Democratic after he fixes their New-Deal era bridges.

    Until Left/Progressive voters recognize the hole we’re in, and stop attacking people like Bernie, AOC, and The Squad for not being perfect enough, we are only digging the hole deeper. That’s fine for committed Marxists who think that The System has to implode before they can magically take over & build their Workers Paradise. But for those of us who recognize how dangerous that fantasy is, we need to show some patience, and support people who are at least trying to make a difference.

  18. different clue

    We need some thinking coming in from a little off to the side of the political theater stage. A little bit of verbal WD 40 for rusted-stiff brain hinges.

    Before I offer the link to what I am about to offer a link to, let me first state that I am NOT a subgenius. I am as pink, gray and normal as anyone here, and more so than many.

    That being said, here is a link to a bunch of sayings from J R “Bob” Dobbs which may help some readers free their minds’ feet from the cement galoshes they have been set into. And let some people lead themselves to some new avenues of para-political thinking and parallel political approaches. These sayings go beneath and below some sayings I myself have offered here in the past, like . . . every dollar is a bullet on the field of economic combat, nobody owes the rich a living, I am not my keeper’s brother, and so forth.

    Ready? Here is the link.

  19. Willy

    Instead of attacking The Squad in some attempt to shame them, why not work to give them a safer space within which to operate? Make it worth their while to be our martyr?

  20. different clue


    If millions of non-rich people were to to pay some money each month to maintain a small ecosystem of think tanks and etc. for martyred Prog Squadies; the way that thousands of rich people pay some really big money to create and maintain their vast ecosystem of Wingnut Welfare for martyred reactionaries and regressionaries; then Prog Squad type people would know that they could economically survive the loss of career attendant upon excercising power against the mainstream Democrats.

    Seeing such politically exiled Prog Squadies remain able to make a supported after-office living would encourage other Prog Squad wannabes to enter politics and take the same risks, knowing that they would not be starved in revenge by the Democrats.

    That would be a way to create a safer survival space for them.

  21. Eric Anderson

    The problem with progressivism comes back to it’s ambiguity. Just like libertarianism. Whenever confronted by a libertarian on a soapbox I ask them:
    “Whose liberty?” Thus, the ambiguity.
    Progressivism suffers the same issue:
    “Whose progress?”
    As indicated above, it’s the progress of white affluent people who have the time and resources to engage politics. Thus, progress to them looks like student debt relief. None of the poor give two blinks about that issue. And thus, the movement will never crack 8-10% of the voting public.
    Screw progressives. Ever since I heard Dylan Ratigan start throwing that word around I’ve cringed. It’s only gotten worse.

  22. Ché Pasa

    Yes, as Eric says, the question is (paraphrase): “Liberty for whom? To do what?” as well as: “Progress for whom? To what purpose?”

    We never get answers to those questions when they’re asked in part because actual “liberty” will only ever belong to a select elite, and the same with “progress” in the end.

    We see these results all around us, especially in the precipitous decline in lifespan for the non-elites. The elites’ lifespan on the other hand keeps increasing. How about that?

    One thing I’ve mentioned from time to time over the years is that Progressivism has a history in the United States and elsewhere. It wasn’t created by Dem politicians all of a sudden a decade or two ago to escape from the Gingrichite charge of “Liberalism! The work of the Devil!”

    No, Progressivism was a genuine and very successful political movement created by corporate Republicans around the turn of the 20th Century as a deliberate and perhaps cynical counter to the spread of Populism from its rural roots toward the urban working class.

    Progressivism was/is corporate at bottom but masked by and operated by experts and managers (the dreaded PMC if you wish.) The oligarchs persist, but they are ostensibly not in charge of much of anything but the money.

    And from time to time some oligarch or other is sacrificed on the altar of Progress to show the masses that Progressivism is on their side. Oh yes. Well sometimes.

    If you look, you see pretty clearly that the more radical (“”) Republicans have adopted some of the old line Progressive tactics: attacking selected corporations for “wokeness” or special privileges, installing their own PMC players to replace the otherwise failed managers and experts, calling the entire political system into question while placing more and more restrictions on the access to and exercise of the voting franchise, selecting a favored population element for its inherent excellence and right to rule (Progressives back in the day made much hay with this tactic), and so on.

    Republicans are not yet successful in their efforts to recreate some of the old line Progressive “liberty” and social/political “progress,” but they don’t give up, unlike the Dems who very much do.

    We’ll see where this goes come the next election cycle. It won’t require a majority for success.

  23. Willy

    @different clue,
    Sounds reasonable. I’m just a little concerned that shaming The Squad for their ineffectiveness, seems to me like just a hop away from shaming poor people for their ineffectiveness.

    @Eric Anderson
    Maybe we need a better word?

    But then… in a world where the definition of “woke” was easily morphed from “aware of racial and social justice” to “something stupid and bad”, would they be able to morph “progressive” from “making use of or interested in new ideas, findings, or opportunities” to “something stupid and bad”.

    Maybe before finding a better word, we should find that word redefinition guy?

  24. Creigh Gordon

    Agree with the disagrees. The bomb throwing R’s are trying to stop government actions. Bomb throwing doesn’t work when you’re trying to get something positive done. Burning things down has always been easier than building.

  25. Mark Level

    Hi, Eric Anderson. Thank you for the bump, but of course I already understood these “folks” are entirely performative. Society of the Spectacle nailed it many decades ago, & stays relevant today! The PMC & the “voters” keep pulling the lever for their own oppression & alienation, as is their “right”. It won’t end well, but as Schiller noted, “Against stupidity, the Gods contend in vain!”

  26. Eric Anderson

    I’ve been screaming into wind for years now: “Leftists!”
    We are leftists. That’s it. No more need be said because nobody dare co-opt it.

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