In Defense of Joe Manchin

Can we get a little perspective here, people?

Sen. Joe Manchin is taking a lot of flak from the left for not being onboard with their $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate change program. “Two people do not have the right to sabotage what 48 want, and what the President of the United States wants,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, referring to Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. “That to me is wrong.”

Sanders makes a curious point. If 48 of 100 senators want something, that means that 52 want something else. If my math is correct, 52 of 100 make a majority. I don’t know. That sounds like democracy to me. Is that wrong?

For the record, Manchin is more conservative than I am. I’m for the whole package. I agree with the left that this may be their best opportunity to get this stuff done (stuff being cutting childhood poverty in half, just for example) and that once accomplished it will never be undone even when the Dems lose their majorities — which they almost certainly will at the next election.

But the left is nuts to claim that Manchin and Sinema have some sort of obligation to vote with them.

The problem is the guy on the right (literally, not metaphorically).

First, Manchin and Sinema support record setting spending. They’ve already voted for a $1.9 trillion COVID relief package and they badly want to vote for another $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending. They’ve even said they could live with yet another $1.5 trillion or so in the safety net/climate package. That’s $4.6 trillion in spending programs that these two “moderates” are ready to vote for in only nine months. And that’s $3.4 trillion more than any Republican will vote for. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.

Second, Democrats don’t owe their majority to Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or The Squad. This is only a debate at all because Manchin and a handful of other moderates win in swing districts or, in Manchin’s case, an absolutely hostile state. Donald Trump won West Virginia by 39 points. Manchin, et. al., aren’t holding up anything. They’re making this all possible.

Third, Democrats have no mandate to remake America. They lost Congressional seats in the last election and Joe Biden won the electoral college by only 44,000 votes, even less than Trump’s margin in 2016. Yes, pieces of the big package poll well, but there is no appetite among Americans to create the kind of cradle-to-grave social welfare state that works in Western Europe. And Americans would rebel at the much higher middle class taxes that Europeans pay to get all that.

Fourth, the left needs to respect the fact that Manchin and the moderates simply disagree with them on fundamental principles. Manchin is not a guy who wants to be Sanders, but just lacks the political courage. He’s a man who simply views the world differently. “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society,” Manchin said. “I think that we should still be a compassionate, rewarding society.” He has a legitimate concern that government can get too big and that people can become too dependent on it. I’m not sure that Sanders’ package is the threat to that principle that Manchin sees, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a fair point.

The left is doing a great deal of harm (as is their way) to their own causes. They should go ahead right now and take what they can get. Pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill tomorrow and get those road and Internet projects in the ground ASAP. Then pair down their huge plans into mere big plans and pass $1.5 trillion or so in social and climate spending. Also get those benefits into people’s hands ASAP and hope to reap the political benefits a year from now.

If the left would just get off its damn high horse and get with the program they might have some slim chance of defying the odds and retaining Democratic majorities so that they could make more progress in the following couple of years. But that kind of practical, strategic thinking just is not in the DNA of the left. Self-righteousness and virtue signaling are in their very souls. They would rather be right and make no progress then compromise and make some progress.

Despite my frustration with the left, I am still reasonably confident that the Democrats will get around to passing something sometime. But every day wasted means another delay in getting tangible benefits to the American people and less likelihood that the Dems will gain anything electorally out of all of this.

And to make matters worse, the left’s intransigence could end up costing Terry McAuliffe his governor’s race in Virginia next month, paving the way for Trump’s comeback.

It’s just absolutely clear. The problem is not Joe Manchin. The problem is the left.

Welcome to the 238th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

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

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