The Manchin wrecking ball.
July 19, 2022
Joe Manchin continues to be a one-man wrecking ball for much of the Democratic agenda. Many voters blame Joe Biden for the havoc created by Manchin. At the same time, some Democrats see Manchin as a “savior” who prevented Democrats from falling victim to the “excesses” of the “radical progressives” of the Democratic Party. In short, Manchin embodies the roiling crosscurrents besetting the Democratic Party. Before looking at the details, let’s say the most important part first: Democrats will make it through this challenging period—possibly soon. In using Manchin as a lens for examining the challenges facing Democrats, my goal is to bring some semblance of order to a seemingly chaotic news stream, not to catalog our woes.
Let’s also get this out of the way: Joe Manchin is a colossal hypocrite who has worked to undermine the interests of his constituents while increasing his personal wealth. Manchin has denied West Virginians better healthcare, cleaner water, cheaper electricity, safer schools, and a more representative government. But his coal brokerage business has done quite well under his relentless campaign to protect the coal-mining jobs of 11,418 West Virginians by killing ambitious climate legislation that would have protected 320 million Americans.
Although weather extremes are not the climate, the fact that Europe is experiencing the most dangerous heat wave in recorded history is sobering for anyone whose wealth is not tied to burning fossil fuels to create electricity. See WaPo, U.K. heat wave could bring record 40C temperature. (FYI, 40C is equal to 104 degrees Fahrenheit, the predicted temperature in Wales on Tuesday.)
And then there is this: As Manchin was killing environmental and climate legislation to protect all Americans, Manchin and his wife ensured that $16 million in federal aid for water quality and environmental protection was directed to the quaint West Virginia valley that is home to their luxury vacation home. See The Intercept, Manchin Directed Millions to Wetlands Near Vacation Condo
Manchin’s six months of bad faith negotiating over the Build Back Better bill overlaps almost perfectly with the steep decline in Biden’s favorability ratings. Biden’s inability to pass the BBB has created the (mis-)perception that Biden has failed to do anything. While that perception is not factually correct, it has taken root in the psyche of American voters and is now routinely reported as “Biden favorability ratings are at historic lows” with no effort to contextualize that polling. See CNN, CNN Poll: Most Americans are discontented with Biden, the economy, and the state of the country.
In some corners of the Democratic Party, Manchin is viewed as a hero who stood up to the “progressives” or “radical left-wing” and literally “saved Democrats from themselves.” I hear from those Democrats from time to time, and their thesis is that the Build Back Better bill was a reckless, irresponsible grab bag of progressive giveaways that would have wrecked America. That opinion is widespread (or at least surprisingly so to me when I hear that view from readers). It is particularly popular with the Never Trumper faction of the Republican Party, who have joined cause with Democrats to defeat Trump.
It is easy to forget, but every Democrat supported the Build Back Better bill in the House and 48 of 50 Senate Democrats. That broad support hardly seems like the bill was “radical” or “left-wing.” The Build Back Better bill is here, H.R.5376 and its main provisions include the following (stop me when I get to a “radical” proposal):
Expanding Medicare to include dental treatment and hearing aids.
Allowing HHS to use its market power to reduce drug prices.
Moving away from dependence on coal.
Encouraging renewable energy.
Creating a nationwide network of electric car chargers.
Expanding tax credits for childcare.
Requiring four weeks of paid family leave per year (employers >50).
Offering universal pre-K schooling for children.
Increasing deductions for state and local taxes from $10,000 to $80,000.
Restoring corporate tax rates to their 2017 level.
Implementing a 5% surcharge on income above $10 million per year.
Student loan forgiveness.
I look at that list and see initiatives that are designed to help working Americans in a tough economic environment. I see an effort to protect the environment. I see an effort to provide for the care and education of children and to protect families facing healthcare crises. Those do not sound like radical ideas. Indeed, they were broadly popular among all Americans. And if “four weeks paid family leave” seems radical, it is—but only because the US is a radical outlier among Western democracies in not offering paid family leave. See Pew Research Center, Of 41 countries, only U.S. lacks paid parental leave.
And yet, among many in the Democratic Party, the narrative has become that BBB was the “wish list” of the radical progressives in the party, largely thanks to Joe Manchin’s demagoguery. That re-telling has become a destructive narrative that reinforces Republican talking points—which may explain why Manchin is raking in money from wealthy Republican donors. See CNBC, Joe Manchin raises $1 million from Bob Kraft, Wall Street, energy companies. So, too, is Kyrsten Sinema. See Rolling Stone, Kyrsten Sinema Raising Money From GOP Donors.
But just as Democratic “centrists” wrongly blame “progressives” for the party’s woes, progressives wrongly blame “centrists” for the inability of Biden to achieve more on the legislative front. It is clear that Biden’s lack of progress lies at the feet of Manchin and Sinema, both of whom refuse to carve out an exception to the filibuster. Neither can be described as a “centrist”—and maybe not even as “Democrats.” I hear from progressive readers who are furious at this lack of progress and find the filibuster excuse unacceptable. While that may be an unacceptable excuse, it is rooted in an undeniable reality. But Joe Biden gets the blame, nonetheless. See The Hill, Frustrated Democrats mull drastic step: Challenging Biden in 2024.
Some progressives would “expel” Manchin and Sinema from the Democratic caucus, which would hand control of the Senate to Mitch McConnell. But for frustrated progressives, that might be a better outcome than the mockery of an impotent Democratic majority controlled by a coal baron and former Green Party member who is now subsidized by oil companies and Big Pharma.
The challenges faced by Democrats are compounded by the fact that the GOP is becoming more homogenous as it shrinks into a bastion of white, Christian evangelicals. That uniformity is a strength that the Democratic Party does not enjoy. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo wrote a thoughtful piece titled, Some Miscellaneous Thoughts on The Current Moment. Marshall writes,
Many people talk about satisfying or addressing the needs of the Democrats’ base. But the Democrats don’t have a base, at least not in the sense that Republicans do. Probably 60% to 70% of Republicans’ base is made up of white, Christian conservatives. . . . To the extent the [Democratic] party has a “base,” it is made up of African-Americans, white liberals, Hispanics and other ethnic minorities, cultural/sexual and religious minorities, women (especially single women) and other historical out-groups. This “base” [is] made up of a handful of groups that are quite distinct and often want different things — or at least, do not all want the same things.
As between the two parties described above—a monolithic bloc of white Christian evangelicals or a party that looks like the current and future face of America—which should we strive for? To ask that question is to answer it. Democracy is messy, which is why Republicans are yearning for an authoritarian government (but only one that favors their religion and values).
If you were given the task of building a democratic coalition that will last for generations, you would build the current Democratic Party. Yes, balancing competing interests is difficult and maddening—which is the very point of democracy! If Joe Manchin were acting in good faith, his “point of the fulcrum” position would be a healthy feature of today’s Democratic Party. But because Manchin is acting in bad faith, this moment feels particularly demoralizing. Do not despair. We have a chance to rectify the situation in November 2022. Let’s make the most of it!
Trump decides to run in 2024 to dissuade Merrick Garland from filing charges.
As the January 6th Committee has made it increasingly impossible for Merrick Garland to languish in his stew of worry over the DOJ’s reputation, Donald Trump has told friends and advisers that running for president in order to make it harder for Garland to file charges against him. See Rolling Stone, Trump Says He Needs 2024 Election Win to Stop Criminal Probes. Per Rolling Stone, Trump told a friend, “when [not if] he is president again, a new Republican administration will put a stop to the [Justice Department] investigation” of Trump.
As usual, Trump’s feral instincts are right. Per a report by Rachel Maddow on Monday evening, Garland has issued two memos telling DOJ prosecutors that they must exercise special caution in indicting political figures near elections. And Garland specifically re-authorized Bill Barr’s guidance that no indictment of a presidential candidate can made without clearance from Garland himself. The purpose of these cautionary guidelines is “to safeguard the reputation of the Department of Justice.” See letter from Merrick Garland to “All Department Employees,” here: Attorney General Memorandum - Election Year Sensitivities
Garland has always valued the reputation of the Department of Justice over the actual pursuit of justice. But the converse should be true: in every conceivable instance, the “reputation” of the DOJ is secondary to the pursuit of justice—especially where a coup-plotter is concerned.
It is time for Biden to fire Merrick Garland (and his chief deputy, Lisa Monaco). Garland’s instincts are upside down and backward. He is such an institutionalist that he has forgotten that the American people come before the DOJ’s reputation. Whatever disruption ensues from the firing of Garland cannot be worse than injury to democracy from the glacial (or non-existent) investigations of Trump’s coup attempt.
Fire Merrick Garland now. His slow (or non-existent) response to a constitutional crisis is a grave dereliction of duty.
GOP accelerates pace of anti-LGBTQ agenda.
Yesterday, Ted Cruz called the Supreme Court’s recognition of same-sex marriage “wrong.” Today, two Trump appointed judges dealt blows to LGBTQ equality by ruling that Title IX does not prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ athletes and prohibiting transgender athletes from joining teams that correspond to their current gender. The GOP has determined that the last acceptable group to discriminate against (after women) is the LGBTQ community, and it is pursuing that agenda with a vengeance.
I have been outspoken in my defense of transgender people because . . . . well, they are people. Period. Full stop. I am always surprised when a well-intentioned reader sends an email that says either “God created two sexes” or “there are two sexes.” Both of those statements are wrong to their core. Anyone who believes so has not educated themselves about human sexuality, gender, and biology.
If you believe there are “only two sexes” and are open to a scientific discussion of same, I recommend Dr. Steven Novella in Science Based Medicine, The Science of Biological Sex. I will not repeat his lengthy discussion but will note that 2% of infants have ambiguous genitalia and that common chromosomal variations include XXY, XYY, and XXX. And some people have cells in their body with XX chromosomes and other cells with XY chromosomes. And those chromosomal variations do not account for the role of gene variation in gender identity. I could go on, but you can read the article if you are interested in the science of biological sex.
In the tens of thousands of cases each year when doctors must make their “best guess” as to the sex of an infant, that guess becomes ironclad in the view of GOP lawmakers and judges—even if the “guess” is wrong. So, all of the GOP bills that talk about “gender assigned at birth” create the illusion of certainty that does not exist.
Even if the numbers of biological and genetic variants are small—say 2% of the population—that is no excuse for asking that segment of the population to “Sit down, shut up, and pretend to be someone you are not.” Nor is it grounds for discriminating against them. One day, we will look back on the institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people with the same shame and guilt that we feel looking back on discrimination against Black Americans in the Jim Crow south.
Okay, that was a heavy newsletter, so let’s end with some good news. The January 6th Committee appears to be preparing another blockbuster takedown of Trump on Thursday of this week. Steve Bannon, who promised “medieval warfare” against the “misdemeanor from hell” was forced to sit silently at the defense table as a jury of his peers is being interviewed. They will decide whether he goes to jail. And the DA for Fulton County, Georgia, Fani Willis, is taking on Republican politicians in the House and Senate for their role in Trump election interference in Georgia. Good! Perhaps Biden should appoint Willis as Garland’s successor??
And, again, there were signs of hope for 2022. Fundraising reports for many Democratic candidates exceeded expectations (and that of their competitors), signaling a level of interest and intensity that seems appropriate for the moment. And, tragically, as each new story emerges of the cruelty of criminalizing abortion, public opinion will be swayed as Republicans attempt to defend the indefensible.
To my friends and readers in Europe, I wish you safety and respite in the face of unbearable heat and rampant wildfires. Please send me a note or leave a comment to report on conditions in Europe. Be safe and take care of yourselves and loved ones!
Talk to you tomorrow!