Should Joe Manchin Just Go to Hell?

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Image: Wikimedia

It seems clear that for too long the Democratic Party has allowed itself to be held hostage by a U.S. Senator from West Virginia who does not give a rat’s ass about his party, his colleagues, his president, or anything else for that matter, except himself.

You know it and I know it — Joe Manchin is loving every minute of his twisted time in the spotlight. He’s got his party by the balls, for he knows full well that if his Democratic caucus kicked him out, Mitch McConnell – aka, Doctor No – would be on the phone so fast your head would spin, offering Manchin anything he wanted, including half the state of Kentucky.

And, say, Manchin were to retire. West Virginia voters, at least those not hopelessly hooked on opioids and unable to cast a ballot, would replace him with a Republican so extreme as to make Missouri’s Josh Hawley look like a Marxist. Face it, Joe Manchin is no Democrat, and his Senate colleagues must soon decide at what price will they be willing to pay for their threadbare majority.

How much longer will the party of Roosevelt, Kennedy and Obama, be forced to tip-toe around a man whose loyalties are not at all aligned with President Biden or members of the Democratic caucus? In the August issue of Harper’s magazine, Andrew Cockburn makes a persuasive argument that Manchin is nothing more that a huge speed bump, “the poster child for obstruction … a bulwark against progressive reform.” I say his fellow Democrats might just as well tell him, “Joe, you’re not needed, so why don’t you just take your ball and glove and go home.”

In 2020, Donald Trump took nearly 70 percent of the vote in West Virginia, which separated from Virginia in 1863 after choosing Lincoln’s path to remain loyal to the Union without abolishing slavery. The 73-year-old Manchin is the last Democrat standing in one of America’s most impoverished and, for what it’s worth, unvaccinated states, where, as Cockburn notes, “almost a third of the state’s children are in families that are either hungry or behind in housing payments.”

No, Virginia, it really wasn’t that long ago when a picture of FDR still hung in working-class households next to John F. Kennedy. West Virginia, who motto is “Mountaineers Are Always Free,” is now redder than blood. All three of its congressional seats are Republican. The state House and Senate are Republican-held. The governor is a Republican. Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win a presidential election, winning both in 1992 and 1996.

Writes Cockburn: 

In particular, Manchin’s unequivocal pledge to stand by the filibuster rule – which he justifies with appeals to a vanished tradition of bipartisanship – dooms much of the vaguely progressive agenda with which the Democrats squeaked to victory last year, leaving them with little to show voters in 2022 or 2024.”

LET’S TAKE A BRIEF TOUR – compliments of Cockburn’s fine reporting – of Manchin’s rise to the U.S. Senate. 

“As a newcomer to the state legislature in 1983 … Manchin reportedly held hostage a bill curbing hospital costs pending passage of an obscure measure favoring physical therapists, the profession of one of his uncles.

Hewing to a straightforward pro-business agenda, he ran for governor in 1996 and was soundly beaten in the Democratic primary by Charlotte Pritt, a coal miner’s daughter with a mildly progressive platform.”

Pritt lost the general election by 6 points, defeated by old GOP dinosaur named Cecil Underwood. To this day, Cockburn points out, Pritt, a longtime NRA member who was nonetheless viciously attacked by Republicans as being anti-gun rights, still believes that Manchin was hugely responsible for her loss. 

The sore-loser didn’t even endorse her following his defeat in the 1996 primary. “It’s the only time he ever lost, and to a woman!” Pritt told Cockburn.

After losing to Pritt, Manchin ran successfully for secretary of state in 2000, and then won the governorship in 2004. He was reelected in a landslide four years later, and in 2010, he won nine-term senator Robert Byrd’s vacated seat in a special election.

Cockburn: 

Pritt, who stayed active in politics but never won another election, insists that Manchin ‘has always been a Republican.’ Rank-and-file Democrats in the state may yearn for a progressive agenda – Bernie Sanders absolutely crushed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary – but they have no voice in the state party and get little or no support when they run for office, even in districts where they might have a chance of winning.”

When Denny Longwell, a former United Steelworkers official, ran for the state senate in 2018 in a largely Democratic district, he received no money, no help, no support from the state party. Manchin did nothing for him, either.

As Cockburn writes, “Like many West Virginian activists I spoke to, he (Longwell) does not regard Manchin as a survivor of the party’s electoral decline, but as an active agent of its downfall.”

Indeed, Joe Manchin is no friend of the Democratic Party, and maybe it is time to bid him farewell – no matter the political consequences.

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Ellis Conklin spent decades as newspaper man, mainly in Los Angeles, Seattle and St. Louis, having worked at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, United Press International as a national feature writer, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. At long last, he and his wife settled in Manzanita, Oregon. Here, Ellis continues to root for his beloved San Francisco Giants.

7 COMMENTS

  1. WOW !!!!
    My way or the highway is your motto…….
    I believe I have read that Manchin has voted with “The Party” 77% of the time – but you would prefer a Republican representative. Manchin is a politician not unlike the other 100+ that make up the body.
    Suggest you never visit W.Va.

  2. Hell yeah, Ellis! And in West Virginia sports news, basketball legend Jerry West received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2019 on a visit to the Oval Office. Take a shot at that, too.

  3. Alternate take: Joe Manchin is the most interesting dude in Washington, D.C. And the biggest change agent.

  4. Why not report on and try to understand a complex public figure, his roots and values, rather than delivering a rote denunciation of him and sneer at his state. We need reporting, not ranting..

  5. Wow. This is a really childish article. And petty. And utterly disdainful of the people of West Virginia. And, because the majority of this piece is merely a regurgitation of someone else’s writing, beneath the aspirations of Post Alley. Ellis, you tarnished yourself here. Please observe Joel Connelly’s advice.

  6. Comments on comments on comments:

    Re: Kaushik, you should recheck your roll-call list, because Manchin is far from the most interesting dude in DC. And if he’s a change agent, it’s only by accident. Throughout his career he has proven to be a pallid, self-serving and anti-charismatic poser who doesn’t take a trip to the cloak room without checking the political wind first. He’s a coat-changing, craven Mitch McConnell wannabe, only not nearly as interesting. (For more on this, check out Evan Osnos: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/06/28/the-man-who-controls-the-senate.) The fact that Manchin accidentally and implausibly fell into the big chair that sits in front of the control panel in DC and is now jerking the lever up and down and up and down compulsively just to give his starving ego some unfamiliar shots of juice does not make him a change agent. It makes him an out-of-control pretender with no plan or hope other than his own advancement. Hell, if that’s all the job requires, I could do it as well. LBJ showed that the job of change agent requires more force of will, political know-how, guts, strategic genius, and sheer intimidation than Manchin or I will ever have. I sincerely hope the poor guy doesn’t electrocute himself, but if he does, that’s what he gets for pretending to power he hasn’t even begun to earn.

    Re: Connelly on reporting v. rants, I think we need both. A little variety is good for the soul. Yes, ranting is the lane I swim in, but I don’t fault reporters for swimming in theirs. When it comes to unskilled practitioners, whether they be ranters or reporters, that’s another matter. A pox on all of them. Conklin certainly doesn’t need me to defend him, but jeepers, let him rant if he wants to.

    Re: Conklin, I liked his rant. He didn’t say anything about Manchin that I haven’t frequently said myself, in private. The difference is, I am too calculating, cautious and circumspect to express it so vividly in public, because I don’t always have the courage to own my ire or face any blowback I may have earned. You know…kind of like Joe Manchin or the people who hide behind anonymous online comments. Although Conklin’s comments about W. Virginia do have basis in fact, some were admittedly uncharitable. As I remind my husband every time he goes on about the South (or the Confederacy, as he calls it), “You should go easy on (fill in the offending State’s name) because some perfectly nice people live there, and idiocy is evenly distributed across the nation.” But I’m glad Conklin had the courage to say them. One thing the new Republicans seem to have successfully conned the rest of us into believing is that we don’t have the right to lose our tempers. Apparently, only they do.

    • Kathleen, you and — dare I say it! — the New Yorker are completely, obliviously (perhaps even pitiably) wrong.

      In the latter day hyper-polarized precincts of Washington, D.C., Manchin, with his unrepentant centrism and paeans to bipartisanship, is the true outlier. In a world where partisanship is groupthink is ruthlessly reinforced, he’s the real radical. That’s what makes him interesting.

      The actual Democratic analogues to Mitch McConnell are Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, AOC, et al, since they (tediously, imo) embody the mirror image flip side of the coin of hyperpolarized partisanship that Mitch and his Republican ilk represent. They are the true finger in the wind, go along to get along crowd. All of them, on the polarized right and the polarized left, subscribe to the same cheesy business model of selling tinselly pipe dream fantasies of total ideological victory to their legions of tribal dittohead followers.

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