Which Side is Joe Manchin On?
A man is as good--or bad--as his word. But why did the West Virginia senator string his party along on Build Back Better when he clearly had no intention of voting for it at any? That is the question.
Well, it looks like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin scr*wed everyone— everyone, that is but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, FirstEnergy, Dominion Energy, and other contributors to his PAC. So that is where we are going today, even as Covid-19 surges again. As usual, friends, if you think this is worth broader distribution, please
When you look at a political map of West Virginia, there is nothing blue, or even purple, about it. The governor is Republican. The GOP holds the State Senate 23-11 and the House of Delegates by an even more overwhelming 78-22. West Virginia only has one Democrat in its Congressional delegation, and that is Senator Joe Manchin—who, unsurprisingly, acts like a Republican. On Sunday, after almost nine months of what I now suspect were bad faith negotiations, he torpedoed President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better legislation.
Manchin was aided in this little charade by Princess Kyrsten Sinema, a Senator from Arizona who also claims to be a Democrat. Unfortunately, they have held the rest of the party hostage to their shenanigans. They undermined President Joe Biden, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. All of these party leaders promised the House Progressive Caucus that if they could agree to separate the infrastructure bill, the social legislation would come to a vote by the end of the year.
Manchin lied, and with his lies, he has undermined the promises that the Democratic party as a whole made to their voters. The question is: why?
Many people have remarked on what a hugely neglected state West Virginia is, which stands in contrast to its centuries of importance to the American economy. Coal extraction began there in the mid-18th century. The state—along with Ohio, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania—became a significant source for the fuel that came to dominate transportation, industry, home heating, and other energy needs by the beginning of the 20th century. West Virginia coal and its punishing extraction process built heavy industry in the United States, as it did in the United Kingdom and Western Europe, and continues to do in contemporary China.
As Loretta Lynn said about her father, who went down into the Kentucky mines after World WI ar II, “it must have taken a lot of nerve to go into that terrible dark hole.” It did. Miners died and were disabled by suffocation, poorly secured shafts and roofs falling in, explosions, and fires. Workers who survived these hazards died of the coal dust they breathed into their unprotected lungs. Unsurprisingly, they worked at exploitation wages, lived in company houses, and shopped at company stores. From 1912 to 1921, the United Mine Workers launched a fierce organizing drive in West Virginia’s Kanawha, Mingo, McDowell, and Logan Counties: the mine owners retaliated violently. A decade of confrontations known as the West Virginia Mine Wars culminated in The Battle of Blair Mountain, thought to be the largest insurrection since the civil war. The miners, now reinforced by battle-hardened World War I veterans, were crushed by local militias, private detectives, and soldiers commanded by local, state, and federal governments, all acting on behalf of the mine companies.
In the spring of 1960, however, Americans were asked to interrupt their celebrations of prosperity when a presidential race put West Virginia in the national spotlight. Democratic Senator John F. Kennedy, who had begun his campaign with a significant lead over fellow Senator Hubert Humphrey, woke up in April to learn that he was now 20 points behind. What happened in between? White, Protestant, Democratic West Virginians found out that Kennedy was Catholic.
The campaign decided to target West Virginia. The entire Kennedy family descended on the state, making it a poster child for industrial poverty in the United States. The strategy worked. Kennedy proved to the Democratic party that he could win even the most bigoted voters, and the future president acquired a platform to attack the GOP for celebrating an American economy that had left millions behind.
Today, however, West Virginians are still poor. Despite trillions in profits pulled out of the ground, at a poverty rate of 17.6%, the state is the fourth most destitute in the nation. According to the Beckley, West Virginia Register-Herald, in 2017, West Virginians also have the worst teeth in the country, an issue that BBB would have addressed by expanding Medicare to cover oral health. “The Mountain State ranked within the top three worst states for percentage of adults who visited a dentist in the past year,” wrote Wendy Holdren, “percentage of adults who experienced pain in the past year due to their oral condition, and percent of adults with low life satisfaction due to their oral condition.”
Twenty-five percent of West Virginians over 65 have no natural teeth.
So, Manchin declared that dental insurance was not a national priority—nor are child tax credits, a policy that has already cut child poverty by 30% and which runs out at the end of the year. Why? According to the Huffington Post, the Senator reportedly explained to several fellow Democrats, parents would only take that money and buy drugs with it.
Predictably, the White House is furious: Manchin promised, over and over again, that if Democrats could tweak the bill to his satisfaction he would vote for it. Instead, he ran out the clock and walked away. But if you ask him, it’s Joe Manchin—not hundreds of thousands of West Virginians, millions of Americans, and his party—struggling to stave off Republican control in 2022—who is the victim. On a West Virginia radio station this morning, Manchin claimed to be the object of bullying, and nefarious leaks: "They figured surely to God we can move one person,” Manchin whined:
We surely can badger and beat one person up. Surely we can get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough that they'll just say, 'OK I'll vote for anything,'" he said in a local radio interview.
Well, guess what? I'm from West Virginia. I'm not from where they're from and they can just beat the living crap out of people and think they'll be submissive, period.
So what was this about? Really?
I am not the first person to think that the Democratic party leadership was fooled into giving Joe Manchin a year of free publicity calculated to position himself for a presidential run. And he wants to keep doing it: today, he laid out a path to return to BBB that would, of course, be entirely driven by what he does—and does not want—to have attached to his name, and probably go nowhere.
That too would be part of positioning himself as a national candidate.
That Manchin cares nothing about West Virginians is not surprising: West Virginia politicians have never advocated for the people of West Virginia. And like his forbears, Manchin survives on dirty money. He is funded by the energy companies and the financial industry, and Manchin’s daughter Heather Bresch, the CEO of a large pharmaceutical company, was implicated in the EpiPen price fixing scandal. It’s a trifecta of industries determined to extract as much profit from the American people as they can. This is also consistent with West Virginia’s political history.
But West Virginia politics aren’t national politics, and they aren’t even small-d democratic politics, given how little West Virginians have benefitted from their political class. The Democratic party can only move forward without Joe Manchin, and that means winning more Senate seats in 2022 so that he no longer matters.
Mychel Schnell at The Hill reports that Adam Kinzinger (R-IL16), one of two Republicans on the Select House Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol on January 6, confirmed that the committee is examining the possibility of criminal charges against the Former Guy. Kinzinger made these remarks to CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday. (December 20, 2021)
At the Boston Globe, Christian Hoover and Austin Frakt report on a new Massachusetts study that reaffirms something the federal government has known since the 1990s: high levels of lead in children correlate with gun ownership. Everyone who uses weapons regularly is at risk. “Lead in firearms used in hunting contributes to high blood lead levels in hunters and their families when they consume the meat, and to the local flora and fauna through deposits in plants and water,” Hoover and Frakt write. “Their use at firing ranges has led to excessively high blood lead levels in employees and attendees.” Lead from firearms remains in the environment for approximately 700 years. (December 20, 2021)
In the New York Times, Matthew Continetti speculates that Donald Trump’s divisive effect on the Republican party could upend the GOP’s expectation of taking back Congress in 2022. “Republicans have experienced hopeful times before — only to have the moment pass,” Continetti writes. “They believed that disapproval of President Bill Clinton’s conduct would expand their majorities in 1998. They ended up losing five House seats. They believed that Mr. Trump would rally the base to support two incumbent senators during runoffs in Georgia last January. They lost both seats and control of the Senate.” (December 18, 2021)