Call him what you will, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has, if nothing else, secured a place of prominence in the history of the 117th Congress.
How has Manchin so irked his Democratic Party compatriots? While most others in the new majority remain laser-focused on passing as much progressive legislation as possible – with or without any input from ideological rivals – Manchin says he seeks compromise. At the very least, he refuses to destroy the filibuster, making him – ironically, perhaps – one of the only Democrats not betraying the future of the party.
“Joe Manchin: Why I’m voting against the For the People Act.” So read the headline for the senator’s submission published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail June 6. In it, Manchin put in writing not only his misgivings regarding this particular partisan bill designed to expand voting rights, but also his declaration of intent to defend the filibuster.
Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) became the mouth for the progressive left when he called Manchin the new Mitch McConnell, a traitor to his party, and a threat to democracy. “Mitch McConnell during Obama’s presidency said he would do anything in his power to stop Obama. He’s also repeated that now during the Biden presidency by saying he would do everything in his power to stop President Biden,” Bowman told CNN’s John Berman. “And now Joe Manchin is doing everything in his power to stop democracy and to stop our work for the people, the work the people sent us here to do.”
George Stephanopoulos of Good Morning America called Manchin disloyal to the Democratic Party. CNN ran an article titled “Joe Manchin just *totally* screwed Democrats.” CBS This Morning’s Anthony Mason accused Manchin of potentially sinking “the move to override Republican state laws that limit voting access.” Representative Mondaire Jones – another New York Democrat – took it a step farther by playing the race card. “Manchin’s op-ed might as well be titled Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow,” he tweeted.
But the truth is, no matter how loathed by liberals, he’s practically untouchable – so long as he keeps playing the role of reliable and reasonable moderate. Manchin hails from a very conservative area. He served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1982 to 1986 and the state Senate from 1986 to 1996. After a brief break, he was the West Virginia Secretary of State from 2000 to 2004 then the governor from 2004 to 2010. He has served as a Democrat senator since 2010 in a state that has backed Republican presidential candidates since the 2000 election.
If it weren’t for Manchin, both U.S. senators for West Virginia would likely be Republicans, giving the GOP a slim majority in the upper chamber. He knows better than anyone that his preference for bipartisan, moderate compromise – whether genuine or façade – is the only reason he’s in office. And even if he did have reason to worry about a progressive primary challenger with any real chance of unseating him, that election won’t be until 2024.
So what did Manchin write that has stirred up so much ire in the mainstream press and his own party? Stripped down to the core points, here’s what the senator said:
- The right to vote is fundamental and shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
- Party labels don’t matter as much as doing what’s right.
- The fundamental right to vote has become overly politicized.
- The debate today isn’t about finding common ground; it’s about seeking partisan advantage.
- Partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in America’s democracy – it will destroy it.
- Voting legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together.
- The filibuster isn’t a hindrance to democracy – it’s a safeguard that protects it for the minority.
- When the GOP held the Senate, the Democrats were the defenders of the filibuster.
- Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and every party wants to exercise absolute power absolutely.
- Senate rules have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult – the Senate’s best quality.
- The process can be slow and result in compromise, but that’s better than the alternative: an America in which a single party can dictate and demand whatever it wants, whenever it wants.
- American democracy is special; it’s bigger than one party or the tweet-filled partisan-attack politics of the moment.
Well, which of those points does he have wrong?
Read more from James Fite.