New York (Brussels Morning) It is now looking increasingly likely that an already teetering American democracy will suffer another blow due to Senator Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) insistence on living in a fantasy world. In Manchin’s fantasy world, America is a place where the founders, morally and intellectually only one small step away from divinity, crafted an absolutely flawless constitution that is deeply and uniquely democratic.
Manchin’s fantasy world also extends to a belief that the US Senate is the world’s greatest deliberative body and a serious place where well-meaning and thoughtful people with honest but legitimate disagreements work together to craft compromises and bipartisan legislation. It is difficult to believe that in 2021 any sentient American still believes that, but being sentient is, apparently, not a prerequisite for serving in the US Senate.
Manchin’s recently stated positions that he opposes abolishing the filibuster and will not support the For the People Act demonstrate that for Manchin the fantasy is more important than the urgent, and real, task of ensuring that American democracy survives. In an opinion piece Manchin published in a West Virginia newspaper the Charleston Gazette-Mail, the senator used language that was positively Orwellian. “(C)ongressional action on federal voting rights legislation must be the result of both Democrats and Republicans coming together to find a pathway forward or we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials…
I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For the People Act. Furthermore, I will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.” Huh? According to Manchin standing up to a Republican Party, which has made little attempt to conceal its contempt for democracy and fair elections, somehow divides and destroys the republic.
Manchin’s concern seems to be that passing legislation, even legislation supported by majorities of the American people, weakens democracy and the social fabric of the country unless it passes with bipartisan support. According to that logic, it does not matter that Democrats have majorities in both houses of congress and that the President is a Democrat.
Nor does it matter that a majority of the American people cast their votes for Democrats for the House, Senate and President. In Manchin’s world that should all be overlooked if 41 Republican senators oppose any proposed legislation. There is nothing democratic about that. It simply empowers a minority that has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for democracy, fair elections and, given its approach to Covid, American lives as well.
The Senator from West Virginia is either unable or unwilling to recognise American politics as it exists today. There is nothing wrong with bipartisanship or compromise between the parties on many issues, but on basic issues of democracy, that approach does not work. There is no viable compromise position between democracy and authoritarianism, between free and fair elections and disinformation campaigns aimed at overturning those elections or between allowing everybody to vote or making it more difficult for African Americans to vote.
Manchin’s views are that the democratic side of these questions is not worth defending unless Republicans, the party of insurrection and democratic rollback, join the fight. This, of course, will never happen.
Manchin’s position is both cowardly and bizarre. However, he is most likely using these high falutin’ words and ideas to conceal the more quotidian truth that he wants to get reelected in 2024 and is fine with seeing further erosion of American democracy in pursuit of that selfish goal. The politics of that calculation are reasonably straightforward. West Virginia is one of the most Republican states and the country.
Other than Manchin, there is not a single statewide elected official in West Virginia who is a Democrat. Moreover, in both 2016 and 2020 Donald Trump won more than two thirds of the vote in West Virginia. Manchin will have a tough race in 2024 when he is up for reelection and being seen as a loyal Democrat would undoubtedly hurt his chances of winning that race.
A closer look at that political calculation tells a different story. Manchin will turn 77 in August of 2024. That is an age where retirement and a life of very lucrative consultancies, lobbying opportunities or board memberships would await Manchin if he loses his bid for reelection, or simply chooses not to seek reelection.
Manchin could easily have it both ways. He could do his part to rebuild American democracy and become a respected, and well paid, figure if he loses reelection. However, it is now apparent that it is more important to him to be called Senator Manchin into his 80s and to enjoy the constant attention and ego stroking that goes along with that title. This hubris has turned Manchin into just another handmaiden of democratic rollback.