FLOATING SIGNIFIERS

Yes, there's unfinished business in Washington, but this is good:
The House on Friday passed, 228-206, a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, handing President Biden a major victory after months of party infighting and negotiations.

... The core piece of Biden’s signature domestic agenda includes massive investments in roads, bridges and waterways, among other “hard infrastructure” provisions.
Here's how I know it's good:


Thirteen Republicans voted yes. Democrats didn't have the votes on their own because six Democrats voted no.
The six Democrats who voted against the infrastructure bill were all members of the so-called "squad": Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman.
If you're angry at "progressives" in general, please note that apart from these six, the dozens of members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, led by Pramila Jayapal, voted in favor of the bill.

And yet ... what purpose did those six no votes serve? If you're in politics or you follow politics closely, you know the answer: The Squad members wanted a simultaneous vote on the Build Back Better bill or an ironclad guarantee that it will pass. But they'd lost the battle to fully link the two bills once the infrastructure bill was put up for a vote. So why keep fighting for full linkage?

Does the average voter understand the meaning of the no votes? I think the average voter just sees a no vote on a good bill. And by "average voter" I don't necessarily mean a white retiree in a rural Pennsylvania diner -- I also mean hard-working residents of the Squad members' own districts, which aren't very white. I mean anybody who doesn't spend hours and hours a day absorbing and parsing the political news.

A no vote in this case is just so ... postmodern. The Squad members favor the provisions in this bill, but they voted against it, so a no vote isn't really a vote of opposition to the content of the bill. It's similar to the way we're often told that "Defund the Police" doesn't really mean getting rid of policing, or "Abolish ICE" didn't really mean throwing out all enforcement of our immigration laws.

Those slogans were provocations, meant to encourage us to radically rethink policing and immigration policy -- but many people took the slogans literally because, y'know, people do that. Most people think words mean what they seem to mean. And while I don't think the Squad members are at serious risk of losing their seats in 2022, I wonder whether the people in their districts will think this no vote meant no, I didn't approve of this bill, which is a perfectly understandable way to interpret a no vote.

The no votes were on behalf of poor and working people ...


... and yet "no doesn't mean no" makes sense mostly to people who are, much as I hate the term, culturally elite. I prefer the stance of the other progressives -- fight hard to get Build Back Better passed as well, but vote for the instracture bill because it's a bill you believe should pass. No floating signifiers. A yes vote means yes.