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Boardman writes: "Among the many threats to free and fair elections in the United States, one of the most immediate is Senator Joe Manchin III, a multi-millionaire, career politician of West Virginia."

Sen. Joe Manchin. (photo: Getty)
Sen. Joe Manchin. (photo: Getty)

Joe Manchin Argues: Self-Defeating Idiocy Is Best Choice

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

09 June 21


mong the many threats to free and fair elections in the United States, one of the most immediate is Senator Joe Manchin III, a multi-millionaire, career politician of West Virginia. As a putative Democrat (under Trump, he voted Republican about half the time), Manchin is best known for his high self-regard and his abiding by whatever principles are likely to secure his re-election in West Virginia. His circumstances make it politically difficult to lead on any serious matter – for example, voting rights.

Rather than take on the challenge of actual leadership, Manchin puts on a show of faux leadership. This makes him look like an idiot.

Evidence of his idiocy is plentiful, most recently his op ed in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail on June 6, excerpts from which follow, with comment. Manchin begins:

The right to vote is fundamental to our American democracy and protecting that right should not be about party or politics.

Who could disagree with such idealistic, empty rhetoric? And who doesn’t want to know how such rhetoric informs action? For Manchin, this “high-mindedness” serves as an excuse for inaction. And his formulation is mindlessly divorced from history. American democracy began with little regard for any universal right to vote. Our history features a long struggle to expand suffrage, and Manchin has positioned himself on the wrong side of that history. Manchin continues:

Least of all, protecting this right, which is a value I share, should never be done in a partisan manner.

This is the core of Manchin’s bait-and-switch mantra. He paints himself into a corner of imaginary bipartisanship, then has the chutzpah to complain that he’s painted into a corner.

Almost any sentient being knows by now that “bipartisanship” is currently a political unicorn. Republican senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has been saying that out loud since 2009. “Bipartisanship” is a shibboleth for fools and frauds, a tool Republicans use to manipulate the soft-headed. Manchin’s soft-headed position leads to the absurd possibility that if internment camps were bipartisan, he’d be for them (oh, wait, he’s been there when it was useful in Guantanamo or along the southern border).

In its simplest form, Manchin’s position is that you shouldn’t do the right thing unless your opponents agree. How is this not self-imposed impotence?

The reality now is that Republicans have introduced 389 bills to limit voting rights in 48 states (the only exceptions being Vermont and Hawaii). Does Manchin inveigh against this hyper-partisan attack on what he calls a fundamental right? He does not.

In self-defense, Manchin claims that he supported early voting in West Virginia, which is hardly relevant or exculpatory. Once again he invokes bipartisanship:

Throughout my tenure in politics, I have been guided by this simple philosophy – our party labels can’t prevent us from doing what is right.

This would be laughable but for Manchin’s critical position in the Senate and the high stakes involved for the country. Manchin’s self-imposed reality is to avoid doing what is right.

Manchin argues that “the fundamental right to vote has itself become overtly politicized,” which, either dumb or dishonest, is a gross distortion of history. But Manchin goes on to use this false premise to justify his actual support (by inaction) for partisan voting laws. His garbled argument remains rooted in avoidance.

Manchin says he won’t vote for the For The People Act (first passed by the House in 2019) but does not object to a single element in its 818 pages. This is a remarkable failure of critical intelligence, even for a senator. No Republican supports the bill, so Manchin hands them a veto over his vote. He complains that the act has zero Republican support, but doesn’t even try to analyze why. He diverts attention by wondering why Republican senators who voted to impeach Trump don’t support voting rights. And asks:

Are these same senators, whom many in my party applauded for their courage, now threats to the very democracy we seek to protect?

Well, yes, they are. Pretty much all Republicans in Congress are “threats to the very democracy we seek to protect.” What do you mean “we,” Joe? You’re lined up with them while you gaslight the rest of us about protecting democracy. And Manchin’s flimflam hardly stops there, as he rushes to protect the filibuster that protects the Senate from actually rescuing voting rights from partisan assault:

They’ve attempted to demonize the filibuster and conveniently ignore how it has been critical to protecting the rights of Democrats in the past.

Intellectual dishonesty doesn’t come much purer than this. Any honest examination of the filibuster recognizes that it can be used for good or ill. Currently it is being used mostly for ill, such as blocking voting rights. Historically, the filibuster was hugely useful to racist southern Democrats in holding off the Civil Rights Movement and perpetuating Jim Crow laws. Joe Manchin may not be a racist, but he tucks himself in bed with racists.

In an apparent effort to seem reasonable, Manchin offers an alternative:

The truth is there is a better way – if we seek to find it together.

The Voting Rights Act [of 1965], for example, was monumental in the fight to guarantee freer and fairer elections in the United States. Since its original passage, it has been reauthorized with overwhelming bipartisan votes five separate times. In addition, there is bipartisan support to pass the latest iteration of this legislation, the rightfully named John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

This is all well and good, as far as it goes. But as Manchin knows, it doesn’t go very far. This legislation is mostly a repair job, an effort to address the damage the Supreme Court did to the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 decision (5-4) in Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529. That was the case in which Chief Justice John Roberts invented his own reality and, in effect, declared that racism was over in America and voters no longer needed to be protected from official bigotry.

Like anyone looking to redress the court’s insanity, Manchin is in good company supporting this legislation, even if it does little more than restore the legal context of 2012. That’s better than nothing, but not much. The Republican assault on voting rights in America is more than twenty years old, and Joe Manchin continues to be one of its facilitators. He’d rather you didn’t pay attention to that. Instead, he concludes his op ed:

American democracy is something special, it is bigger than one party, or the tweet-filled partisan attack politics of the moment. It is my sincere hope that all of us, especially those who are privileged to serve, remember our responsibility to do more to unite this country before it is too late.

Joe Manchin “hopes” Republicans will remember their responsibility to unite this country. Really? After decades of deliberate division? All we have is a vain hope? And if they don’t, what does Joe Manchin plan to do? He’s going to enable the success of their partisanship, all in the name of bipartisanship. And if it turns out to be too late, will he believe his chimerical delusion was worth it?

If Joe Manchin is not an idiot, why does he play one in the Senate?

William Boardman has over 40 years’ experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary and a stint with Captain Kangaroo. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll, published in September 2019, is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon.

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