Joe Manchin, Professional Spoiler

Joe Manchin, Professional Spoiler

Sentiment was subdued to start the new week with headlines generally centered on Janet Yellen’s first diplomatic foray (and the attendant G-7 economic plan), forthcoming inflation data and Joe Manchin, whose Op-Ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail drew sharp criticism from Democrats.

Manchin won’t support legislation designed to curb some states’ voter suppression efforts, a decision he (unironically) said stemmed from his desire to strengthen democracy.

“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,” he wrote.

I thought we’d reached “peak Manchin” in April. Apparently I was wrong.

The sheer, blatant absurdity of citing a weakening democracy in voting against a bill aimed at stopping states from suppressing the vote wasn’t lost on Manchin, I’m sure, but for many, it was too much to stomach. “Manchin’s Op-Ed might as well be titled ‘Why I’ll vote to preserve Jim Crow,’” Mondaire Jones said, in a tweet.

“Unfortunately, we now are witnessing that the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized,” Manchin said, adding that,

Today’s debate about how to best protect our right to vote and to hold elections, however, is not about finding common ground, but seeking partisan advantage. Whether it is state laws that seek to needlessly restrict voting or politicians who ignore the need to secure our elections, partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy — it will destroy it.

As such, congressional 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.

Try as Manchin (or anyone else) might, it’s difficult to escape the reality that some state lawmakers are engaged in a rather transparent attempt to curtail voting rights. If the right to vote is sacrosanct in America — if the country believes the franchise shouldn’t be hampered for anyone who can check the legal boxes when it comes to establishing their right to vote in an election — then efforts to curtail those rights should be stymied. It’s just that simple.

That Manchin would cite democracy in not supporting his own party’s legislation aimed at ensuring voting rights aren’t eroded by sleight of hand is disingenuous, at best.

For good measure, Manchin went on to say, in writing, that he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”

Manchin now stands to undermine key White House initiatives unless the “other” Joe can somehow talk him out of what, by now, has morphed into an almost pathological desire to play spoiler to his own party’s agenda in the name of preserving the “integrity” of the Senate. It might be a little late for that. I’m not sure there’s much “integrity” left.

Note that, as The New York Times put it, Manchin “has effectively given Republicans veto power, saying he does not oppose the substance of the [voting rights] legislation, only its lack of bipartisan support.”

That’s ludicrous. There’s a time and a place for principled commitment to bipartisanship. But I’m not sure “I like the concept of voter participation, but only if at least one Republican does too” is a tenable position at a time when folks are increasingly prone to street protests against anything that can be linked to the marginalization of underserved communities or institutionalized racism.

Unfortunately, Manchin’s Op-Ed at times resembled propaganda. For example, he asked,

Are the very Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump because of actions that led to an attack on our democracy unwilling to support actions to strengthen our democracy? Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?

Yes. And yes. Sorry, Joe. With one high-profile exception (Liz Cheney) Republicans have either gone silent on the events of January 6, toned down their criticism of Donald Trump’s role, or else reversed their stance altogether. It’s true that a handful of GOPers will, when asked, reiterate their disdain for the former president. But the vast majority of Republicans would rather just not talk about it. (I wouldn’t want to talk about it either, if I were them.)

But that’s not even the problem with Manchin’s deflection. The problem is that… well, is that it’s a deflection. It doesn’t matter what a given senator thinks about Trump or how a given lawmaker voted during his (second) impeachment.

Obviously, this bill is inextricably bound up with the 2020 election (voter suppression efforts in various states are largely a response to Trump’s loss), but pointing to the guy or gal across the aisle and saying “Well, he doesn’t support this bill, and he voted to impeach, so clearly his motives are pure,” is an absurd attempt (by Manchin) to engineer plausible deniability.

Manchin supports another voting rights bill (The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act) with Lisa Murkowski providing cover.

Ironically, the “better” (and the scare quotes are there for a reason) argument for Manchin is probably just to parrot some version of the Republican line or to call the bill what it is. As the Times put it,

The House and Senate versions of the For the People Act were always something of a legislative Hail Mary. Republicans labeled it a Democratic power grab, and even some members of the Congressional Black Caucus worried its prohibition on partisan gerrymandering would end up costing Black representation in the South.

There’s some plausible deniability buried in there, if that’s what Manchin is looking for. Something like this: “Well, obviously our hearts are in the right place, but this is kinda Hail Mary-ish, and if we can, you know, huddle up and strip out [XYZ], then I’ll take another look.”

Instead, Manchin appears keen to wield what amounts to a veto over his own party’s agenda — again. This is a pattern.

I’m sure that’s satisfying for him and maybe the folks in West Virginia are into it, but it feels a bit like circuitous self-aggrandizing. And now it’s coming at the expense of people’s right to vote.


18 thoughts on “Joe Manchin, Professional Spoiler

    1. If that’s the reason, it’s acceptable (as in, you can’t ask someone to vote against their paycheck). Not leadership or courageous, indeed, cowardly but acceptable.

  1. For all the Republican whining about RINO’s the past 4 years (anyone who doesn’t support Trump). Manchin is clearly very much a DINO. Which is probably why McConnell wasn’t that worried when he “lost the majority”.

  2. So here we are yet again in a deadlocked Congress that can’t get anything done. What I think the “American experiment” has proven is that Democracy does not work when you have only 2 parties. One party will leverage the mechanisms of government to disable it’s efficacy and now we’re likely staring down more executive actions to try to make progress towards the goals a majority of Americans want to see our nation make. Which is in itself the opposite of a democracy, pushing us further and further towards Autocracy. The Republicans win either way in this scenario, they pass whatever they want when they have power, and they further increase executive power by blocking all legislation that isn’t exactly what they want when they are “out of power”. The next Trump will have Carte Blanche to do whatever he likes thanks to this disassembling of Democracy the past 30 years by the “Conservatives” (Extremists).

    1. Getting nothing done is what congress is mostly meant to do; the supermajority threshold is there to make sure of that by design. Tyranny of the majority, pareto optimality and all that (not to say it hasn’t been weaponized). But it’s a feature not a bug.

      1. From a founders perspective, I guarantee you the intent was not to establish a branch of government that does nothing. Tyranny of the majority would only make sense if the majority could tyrannically impose its will. Right this moment and, during the last time it occurred, the Democrats have the majority and are powerless to accomplish anything because of the filibuster which was itself a creation of the Jim Crow south to ensure that the minority was always in power.

    2. Appears to me what we are witnessing is the early formative years of an unapologetic fascist state. After all it’s only about 100 years ago that our government machine gunned Union coworkers in Colorado at the behest of mine owners. That Manchin , of coal mining West Virginia, would be instrumental in the establishment of the legal means to foment the fascist state is an interesting irony. It kind of goes to show that we in the US are completely ignorant of our history.

      1. We are flying towards a fascist state with each and every new administration. Trump got very close to imposing an Autocracy on the United States, he was a test case for how it could be done and what mechanisms to leverage, the next Trump will learn from the last one and be far more efficient.

  3. One thing that suddenly struck me as I read this is the sad fact that there is no intelligence test required for election to the Senate. And look what that got us, Hawley, Manchin, Blunt (pure irony there), Paul and the list goes on. Increasingly we the people are lowering the bar for senators so any Tom, Dick, and Harry can get elected, even one whose thinking skills and sense of the ethical have been severely impaired. Originally, lest we forget, Senators were not directly elected by the people and they had to be land (and presumably slave) owners. Eventually, we changed the constitution, established direct election of senators and did away with that awkward land owner thing. Not sure whether that was a good or a bad thing.

    1. Don’t expect intelligence to equate with reason. There are many highly intelligent people who are easily misled by propagandists. A large volume of Jonestown participants were doctors and lawyers, highly intelligent people, who died for a lunatic. Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, et al are very intelligent people who have the Constitutional law credentials to make them ideal candidates for office. Do those credentials mean they make the best decisions for the people? Absolutely not.

  4. Manchin is not stupid but crafty. As another poster pointed out he is protecting his right flank here. The game has only begun. Biden is very crafty also. We have not seen the end game on voting rights, infrastructure, or lots of other policy initiatives. Betting there will be a deal on infrastructure within the Democratic caucus that may cause some Republicans to jump ship and vote for a bill. And a voting rights act bill in some form will be passed as well. If you want to point out stupid in the Senate coach Tommy Tuberville is your guy! Fitting that he represents Alabama…

  5. There is a perception amongst some people that the two parties are identical — because they both get nothing done.

    Manchin’s action was not helpful, but we’ll see if Murkowski can come through and get something done.

  6. at least the political passions will be burning as we approach the 2022 midterms…this may be what’s most needed to wake the typical American voter up from apathy and ignorance…sadly the 2016 election was a massive body blow to democracy as the majority vote loser was able to commandeer a lasting take over of the Supreme Court and Justice Branch … the dems failed at a few good opportunities to pick up more Senate seats in 2020…in fact they only have the Senate because of Trump’s post election delusional divisiveness that allowed them to squeak out two victories in Georgia…worldwide the situation for democracy is quite bleak without an increase in voter critical thinking and participation…

  7. I believe the only significant former British colony with a unicameral legislature is New Zealand. Increasingly every year, it also seems the healthiest and most livable of those countries. Personally I don’t think this is a coincidence. The House of “Lords” is alive and well, doing what it was designed to do.

    1. For more on why New Zealand is a more successful society than the United States read “Fairness and Freedom” by David Hackett Fischer a Unite States historian.

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