The Other Joe
The majority of the country believes that Joe Biden was legitimately elected as the 46th President of the United States. A loud and sometimes violent minority believe that the election was fraudulent and that Donald Trump easily won re-election. But both groups are wrong. The biggest winner of the election and the most powerful man in America is West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who holds the key to deciding whether this country will take a progressive turn and enact an agenda that will counteract climate change, help families, especially working mothers, and expand Medicare and Medicaid to provide broader benefits and fight the stranglehold of the large pharmaceutical companies in setting obscene drug prices.
The power that Manchin holds is representative of either the strengths or the weaknesses of the system of checks and balances underlying our three co-equal branches of government, or maybe both. Manchin represents a state with a population of 1.8 million, the 38th most populous in the country. Because the Democrats control the Senate with the barest minimum (50–50, with Vice President Harris holding the tie-breaking vote), they need every last party member to pass any legislation since the Republicans have long ago abandoned any notion of bi-partisanship. So nothing happens without Manchin (and of course Kyrsten Sinema, the enigmatic Arizona Senator who deserves her own column that doesn’t focus on her bizarre fashion sense).
But is it really what the founders had in mind when they set up the checks and balances of the Constitution ensuring that the less populous states (i.e. the mostly Southern states that wanted to preserve slavery) would not be dominated by the powerful and more populous North? In the particular case of West Virginia, we have a poor state desperately clinging to a coal industry that is doing its best to remain relevant as wildfires rage, storms become more destructive and the West runs out of water.
The optimistic budget that Biden proposed would have attacked a lot of social ills, but its most important elements would have moved us closer to a fossil fuel free future. Well Manchin singlehandedly killed those provisions ostensibly in the interests of his constituents, but coincidentally protecting his not insubstantial personal financial stake in the coal business. Ironically, the effects of climate change are evident in his own state, as flooding in this land-locked region has exceeded any reasonable natural explanation. So whose interests is he really serving?
Is this any way to run a country? Manchin insists that he is motivated by fiscal responsibility, but he wears his biases on his sleeve as he resists incentives for developing clean energy sources and pushes for greater dependence on natural gas to operate power plants.
Both Manchin and Sinema adamantly oppose elimination of the filibuster, a step that would allow the Democrats to actually enact their agenda (not least protecting us from a nation-wide disease of attacking voting rights in the states). But Democrats should remember when they allowed federal judges to be affirmed with a simple majority, a change that Mitch McConnell gleefully abused to block votes on Obama appointees but enabled Trump to successfully nominate virtually every member of the Federalist Society to lifetime appointments that will affect national policy for years after most of us are gone. In other words, be careful what you wish for.
Biden and the Dems desperately need a win, any kind of win, to salvage their economic agenda and save the separate infrastructure bill, which, remarkably, represents a real showing of bi-partisanship in these fractious times. Biden would like nothing better than to reassert American leadership on this issue at the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow that starts this weekend. So they will have no choice but to go along with the wishes of both Manchin and Sinema for anything to happen. We can only hope that enough remains to make a difference. It’s only our planet’s survival that is at stake.