Manchin or McConnell?

If you think Joe Manchin is too conservative, how would you like to have Mitch McConnell running the Senate again?

Hard left Democrats and activists are beside themselves about Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are the two main flies in the progressive’s ointment. About a week ago, Manchin wrote an oped in his local paper vowing to oppose both the Democrats’ voting rights bill and elimination of the filibuster.

His filibuster position was just a restatement of what he’s been saying all along and, because of that, his position on the voting rights bill doesn’t matter anyway. That’s because, with the filibuster intact, it would take 10 Republican votes to pass the voting bill (and any other bill that isn’t subject to budget reconciliation) and there won’t be any. So, even if Manchin and every other Dem voted for it, they’d still be 10 votes short.

But, I suppose seeing it so clearly stated in black and white is what set off the hard left. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) called Manchin, “the new Mitch McConnell.” No, trust me, if Mitch McConnell were still majority leader things would be much worse.

If you don’t like Joe Manchin essentially running the Senate, how much would you like this guy?

“HR 1 (the voting rights bill) stands up against lobbyists and dark money. I would reckon to think that this is probably just as much a part of Joe Manchin’s calculus as anything else,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

I reckon she’s wrong. To make the wild, evidence-free charge that Manchin is in the back pocket of dark money and lobbyists just because he doesn’t want to change the filibuster — which Joe Biden is reluctant to do as well — is irresponsible. It’s far more likely that Manchin is just being realistic and representing his very conservative state, a state Donald Trump won by 39 points last year.

Only Wyoming gave Trump a bigger margin and, yet, Manchin holds down the seat for the Dems. AOC should be grateful that Manchin is there at all; she shouldn’t expect him to be as far to the left as she is. After all, it was Manchin who made the Democrats’ $1.9 trillion COVID relief package happen and it’s Manchin who makes every other Democratic agenda item at least possible. If Manchin weren’t holding down the most unlikely of Democratic seats, it would be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and absolutely every Biden initiative — including court nominees — would be dead in the water.

True, Manchin is no progressive. I disagree with him on the filibuster, on voting rights and probably on a host of other issues. But the alternative to Manchin is not AOC’s hard left paradise. The alternative is McConnell and no progress at all.

As he often does, New York Times political columnist Nate Cohn got to the central point. In a recent piece, he tracks how West Virginia went from a solid blue state, then to being resistant to the Republican’s “southern strategy,” but ultimately becoming the deepest of red states. Cohn’s basic argument is that West Virginians, who are overwhelmingly working class and white, were alienated by the hard left cultural agenda.

Cohn writes that when Manchin’s gone, perhaps in 2024 when his term ends, “There will be no Senate Democrat whose electoral history and coalition are so completely at odds with the new activist base of the party. Progressives will be free from the burden of trying to lure a senator with such a conservative voting base. But Democrats will also be weaker, at least in their numbers in the Senate, for not having found a way to forge a durable alliance with some of the most reliable Democratic voters of the 20th century.”

And that is the key point here. Hard left activists labor under the illusion that the choice is between Manchin’s centrism and their nirvana. They’re wrong. The choice is between moderation and the hard right policies of the currently unhinged Republican Party.

The main project for a Democratic Party that I would want to be part of would be to find a way to lure back more of those blue collar voters, instead of insulting and alienating them as the hard left does on a daily basis.

Far from being in the way of positive change, Joe Manchin is the only thing that keeps any hope alive at all for an infrastructure bill, a jobs bill and more progressive judges. What he represents is like the last Passenger Pigeon. Once ubiquitous, working class Democrats were taken for granted. Now, they’re almost all gone.


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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