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For Democrats, Joe Manchin is frustrating, but better than the alternative

As Steve Chapman makes clear his most recent column in the Chicago Tribune, Manchin is almost certainly the only Democrat who could hold that West Virginia seat for the party.

Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Sen. Joe Manchin is the most conservative member of the Democrats’ 50-member quasi-majority.
Leigh Vogel/Pool via REUTERS

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, liberals (including me) are frustrated with Sen. Joe Manchin, but liberals and Democrats of all stripes need to balance their frustration with a big dose of gratitude for Sen. Joe Manchin.

Manchin is, of course, the least liberal (or to put it another way, the most moderate) member of the 50-member Democratic caucus that currently “controls” the U.S. Senate. I put “controls” in quotes because the aforenamed least liberal member of the caucus has more “control” over what can pass than the other 49, and he is not willing to go along with quite a few things.

But, as Steve Chapman makes clear his most recent column in the Chicago Tribune, Manchin is almost certainly the only Democrat who could hold that West Virginia seat for the party. As Chapman notes, “A Democrat has about as much business representing West Virginia — which Donald Trump won by a 39-point margin — as a vegan sandwich has on the Burger King menu.”

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But, Chapman humorously notes, there is indeed a vegan sandwich on the BK menu because enough people apparently like it. And enough West Virginians like and trust Manchin to forgive him for being a Democrat.

Without Manchin, Mitch McConnell and his Republican compatriots would have a Senate majority and most of President Joe Biden’s agenda would be dead on arrival. With Manchin, Democrats have a chance to pass some things (using tricks like “reconciliation” to get around the absurdly undemocratic filibuster) as long as they can talk Manchin into going along, or compromise with him to get his vote.

This may be an unpleasant reality for those who want much bigger and more progressive legislation than Manchin will support. It says here that it’s probably better than the alternative of being limited to whatever progressive legislation Mitch McConnell will support.

As regular readers of this space know, I’m not a worshipper of the American system of politics and government. The Senate itself is fundamentally undemocratic, since it gives equal power to California and Wyoming. And the current demographics make that a much better deal for Republicans than Democrats. But that’s our system until we figure out a way around it. So, until Democrats figure out that way, or pick up some more Senate seats in 2022 (history suggests the odds are not good), they’ll have to find a way to live with the what-will-Joe-Manchin-go-along-with dilemma.

By the way, Chicago Tribune website is subscriber only, but the Chapman column linked above also ran on the Star Tribune’s website Thursday, to which more of you might have access. That link is here.