I watch Democratic Senator Joe Manchin interviewed and often feel an impulse to slap that complacent reasonableness off his face, particularly when he smiles amiably after the interviewer asks no follow up to his prepared bipartisan-sounding answers. Yes, Joe, we all agree it would be a better country if the two parties worked together, if we did not live in a zero-sum moment where one party, making no concessions, can simply tell any lie to justify their unconscionable actions to their angry base. We’d also be a better, more decent country if millions of our countrymen stopped being violent racists and misogynists, agreed Joe.
I’ve got two words for Joe Manchin and his idealism about bipartisanship: Mitch McConnell.
Do you think, for a second, that Scorched Earth Mitch would hesitate to nuke the filibuster once he regained the majority? He already did it for Supreme Court nominees, after blocking Obama’s nominee because it was only ten months from an election. You recall Mitch blamed it on the Democrats, who’d eliminated the filibuster for presidential nominees after a record shattering number of the president’s nominations were filibustered by Mitch and his colleagues and never reached a hearing.
Our government was not always gridlocked this way. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was confirmed 96-3. Radical right-wing activist Boof Kavanaugh did not enjoy quite as much bipartisan support, he prevailed 50-48, after Mitch got rid of the filibuster.
Tell us more about this principled bipartisanship of yours, Mr. Manchin, and how it will melt the heart of a power-crazed troll like McConnell. Or how it will enlighten even a handful in a united Republican Congress that continues to block a commission to get all the facts about the riot at the Capitol, a party that will not denounce its 147 members who voted, without evidence of any kind but the former president’s lies, to contest the counting of Electoral College votes, even after #Stop the Steal rioters, infuriated by the exhortations of the president and other rabble rousers, stormed their workplace, put many police in the hospital and interrupted the ceremonial counting as members of Congress scrambled for their lives and rioters looked for Pence and Pelosi, to string them up. This is Trump’s party, a party in which even “moderates” refuse, as a block, to vote with the radical Democrat left embodied in Biden and Harris (no vote for Covid relief, Mitt?)
On the other hand, Manchin, former governor of West Virginia, was elected to the Senate in a state that voted this way in 2020:
A decisive ass-whupping from a state where Trump had promised crowds of cheering West Virginians he’d send them back into the coal mines. Thousands of mining jobs were lost under Trump, a man with a spotty record on telling the truth, but MAGA man is apparently still beloved in West Virginia, at least among the 63% who turned out to vote in 2020. It’s clear, in light of the heavy Republican tilt of the great state of West Virginia, that Joe Manchin has to be mindful of the likelihood of being lynched if he calls too loudly for helping an illegitimate Democrat [sic] president by making it harder for obstructionists to filibuster every one of his proposed laws.
Yes, white people do get lynched too, once in a while, “race traitors” in particular, when it’s extremely necessary for a mob to make an example out of one who violates sacred norms and folkways.
So, while I don’t like it, I can understand Manchin’s tap dance. In a hopeful part of my brain it reminds me of the recent statements Biden has been making about fighting the climate emergency and job creation. Fighting climate catastrophe will create millions of good, clean jobs, he says (not unreasonably) and transform our economy from an extractive system that is destroying the world into a sustainable one that will allow our children’s grandchildren to live on healthy planet. As he talks I keep hearing the term he refuses to say, the plan he vowed to veto if it ever reached his desk: The Green New Deal. That’s politics, you can’t always say what you actually mean, for fear of stoking partisan rage that will sink a good idea before it can get political traction.
If Manchin says, before it is absolutely the last moment to do so, “fuck the filibuster, I’m with Joe and Kamala” he’s done, as he knows. Could he do a better job by making a less moronic argument for why he’s against changing a frequently abused parliamentary rule that is not part of the original design of our government? Possibly, even though all arguments in support of the filibuster require overlooking its mostly racist history. But people who are dying deaths of despair in large numbers, as they pine for good jobs they once had in the coal mines, in a state that American prosperity has left behind, likely would not cotton to even the most otherwise reasonable arguments for making the filibuster harder than merely sending an email to the proper authority. They like Joe because he fights for West Virginia and is basically an older-style Republican conservative who ain’t gonna do anything we don’t want him to do.
Here’s an interesting article about the challenges West Virginia faces. It provides several ideas for how the federal government could help states like West Virginia and win voters away from the idea that all federal programs are part of a coercive system that must be resisted as strongly as the deprivation of States’ Rights once was by states that took up arms against such tyranny.
The article points out:
The economics of redevelopment in the state are particularly tricky given that the state government has limited resources, local governments have meager tax revenue, and philanthropic dollars are scarce (those out-of-state coal companies didn’t leave behind a lot of local family foundations).
The solution, of course, collect taxes from giant corporate “persons” that currently pay none and let the federal government invest the money to help actual human persons in places where the entire economy in some small towns, in recent years, has been based on obtaining and selling millions of doses of the prescription drugs people with no other options use to dull their pain, and 238 times a day, end their pain once and for all.
That kind of large-scale economic development program, directly benefiting a wide swath of his constituency, is the only thing that will allow a Joe Manchin to take less maddening positions on things like actually allowing debate on bills in the Senate.
I have no insight into what motivates the first openly “bisexual” member of the Senate, Arizona’s anti-filibuster reform, anti-minimum wage hike Kyrsten Sinema (elected in 2019 to fill John McCain’s seat), but I have no reason to suspect it is high ideals about democracy. Arizona and West Virginia Democrats have to keep the pressure on these two “centrists” to do the right things. It’s unlikely they’ll listen to anyone else.