If It Wasn't Joe Manchin, It'd Be Somebody Else

On Sunday, West Virginia  Sen. Joe Manchin published an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail. In it, he explains why he’s against the For The People act and why he won’t push to eliminate the filibuster. The column, predictably, made major waves. It was the centerpiece of several Sunday segments and many major publications published response op-eds.

Criticism of Manchin was rampant, and rightfully so. His position actively endangers American democracy, and the logic he’s using to back that position is specious at best (just ask Kyrsten Sinema). He’s an out of place, out of touch moderate with leverage over every good thing the Democratic Party is trying to do. And that’s exactly how Democrats would like you to view it.

Manchin and Sinema may take the heat, but they’re far from the only Dems with reservations about the For The People Act. Or abolishing the filibuster, for that matter. Other moderate Dems like Delaware’s Chris Coons and California’s Dianne Feinstein don’t want anything to do with the debate. They’re happy to let Manchin and Sinema play villain while they throw up their hands in fake frustration, lamenting what the party could do if it weren’t for these two jamokes. And even if it were just the two senators standing in the way, some other random, unnecessary rule or logistical hurdle would pop up out of nowhere. The Senate Parliamentarian ruling that Democrats can only use budget reconciliation just once more this year, for example. These are arbitrary rules that the party in power could change overnight if it wanted to.

This is where the responsible politics person swoops in to explain how complicated things are. There’s more to this process than we realize, they’d say. We can’t just expect lawmakers to make wholesale changes that quickly. Manchin and Sinema have to consider their constituents, state demographics, polling, and other data. Political laymen like you and me simply don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. Surely they and other Senate Democrats are working as hard as they can. Democrats want to get things done, but bipartisan legislation is more legitimate.

That’s where the cognitive dissonance sets in, though. Democrats can’t reasonably spend months (accurately) calling Republicans anti-democratic coup-fomenting authoritarians and then seek their approval on every single thing. Massive voting rights legislation is only necessary because of what the GOP is doing. At some point the mind has to rebel and consider the possibility that it might be more than just two Democratic senators holding this up. The bipartisan logic simply doesn’t hold. The situation is dire. The opposition party still upholds a former president who spent months trying to steal an election he lost outright. They defended an attack on the seat of U.S. democracy and refuse to consent to an investigation. Why the hell is bipartisanship even being considered as an option?

Manchin and Sinema serving as patsies doesn’t make them any less reprehensible. The For The People Act has broad support, including 75 percent among Republican voters. That Manchin thinks that’s “partisan” should signal that he’s playing for the wrong team. He relishes his role as the party’s leverage holder, taking heat from progressives and drawing praise from, you guessed it, Donald Trump. But there are more Democrats who think like them than the party would lead you to believe. If it wasn’t him, it’d be somebody (or something) else getting in the way.