Hall of infamy: Joe Manchin
JOB: Democratic Senator from West Virginia
REPUTATION: Covert Republican and carbon apologist
As the world faces crisis upon crisis, The 73-year-old Joe Manchin is the quintessential renegade Democrat: pro-carbon, anti-abortion and firmly opposed to any whiff of ‘an entitlement society’. In a Senate split almost 50/50 between the donkey and the elephant, Manchin has become the centre around which politics inside the DC beltway revolves. He likes the attention that lets his political whimsy rule the roost. Which way will Joe jump on this or that piece of legislation?
To get a sense of Manchin’s social conservative and pro-carbon politics, a good start is understanding who he is and where he comes from. Manchin is the senior senator from the US coalmining State of West Virginia. He has held the seat since 2010, having previously served as the state’s governor. In that role, Joe stood up to those nasties at the Environmental Protection Agency over new rules that limited mountaintop-removal mining, accusing the Obama administration of attempting to ‘destroy our coal industry’.
Manchin is what is known in US political parlance as a Blue Dog Democrat – a reactionary as likely to vote against his own party as he is for it. During the reign of Donald Trump he turned out to be more of a Trumpster than such Republicans as Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney. He gave the green light to controversial cabinet nominees and supported the packing of the Supreme Court with reactionary justices. Overall, he voted for Trump’s programme more than half the time.
Why? For a start Manchin is a very rich man and a good deal of his economic success is rooted in the money he made, which comes from a family firm selling waste coal from abandoned mines to a high-polluting West Virginia power plant. No wonder any carrots or sticks to incentivize a shift to renewables stick in his craw. The carbon capitalists from the oil, gas and coal industries know an ally when they see one, bestowing more campaign loot on their boy than on any other senator during the current election cycle.
With the Biden Democrats in the White House, Manchin has become a major thorn in their side. Whether it’s the Build Back Better bill or voter rights for the urban poor, Manchin – often operating in concert with Arizona Democrat Kyrsten Sinema – can always be relied upon to resist the key legislative initiatives of his own party.
His opposition to voter rights is a particularly egregious position in light of Republican states’ deployment of gerrymandering, draconian voter registration provisions and discouragement of the working class, particularly those of colour, from voting. Manchin and Sinema, always so willing to wrap themselves in the star-spangled banner, are now happy enough to endanger that supposedly most cherished of US values: democracy.
It always seems to be this way. If the Democratic Party wins the Presidency and a majority in the House of Representatives, there are always a couple of conservative Democratic senators who side with the Republicans to block any remotely progressive legislation. The Democrats then tumble in the polls, gaining the reputation of a ‘do nothing’ administration failing to live up to its promises. Such senators usually come from smaller states – and when accused of betrayal they justify their reactionary manoeuvring by donning the cloak of ‘independence’ and championing ‘the little man’. Back in Barack Obama’s day, it was Connecticut’s Joseph L Lieberman and North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad who rallied to eliminate any ‘public option’ in Obama’s promised healthcare reforms. The resulting ‘Obamacare’ remains dependent on private insurance – a rare beast in the world of socialized medicine. These days Joe Manchin is well positioned to sustain the deadlocks that bind US government.
LOW CUNNING: Manchin likes to present himself as a defender of Senate traditions. He is a big supporter of the filibuster by which Republicans stonewall progressive legislation. He glorifies his commitment to bipartisanship which allows him to partner with those ‘across the aisle’ to block any threats to corporate power.
SENSE OF HUMOUR: Manchin recently quipped: ‘I don’t know where in the world I belong politically.’ Refreshing candour or a guise for pro-corporate duplicity?
Sources: The New York Times; The Guardian; Jacobin; UnHerd; AlterNet; Portside.