We have now entered the “Hunger Games” era of American history. Does Joe Manchin care?
Senator Joe Manchin confronts climate activists leaving his boat en route to Capitol Hill, Washington, DC on November 4, 2021. Image Credit: Rachael Warriner / Shutterstock.
West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said on December 19 that he opposed the Build Back Better bill, the second of two infrastructure packages Democrats have been negotiating for months. (The first, focusing on “traditional” infrastructure, was adopted last month.)
News is moving fast. Negotiations appear to be ongoing. To get a better idea of what’s going on, I spoke to Monique Judge. Until recently, she was editor-in-chief of The root. I asked Monique if Manchin’s surprise announcement made sense, politically or practically.
Monique Judge [MJ]: I think at some level, Manchin was expected to do a stunt like this. When asked why he had done it, his answers made no sense. He said he was out of breath, but when asked to elaborate his answers were like “they know what they’ve done”. NBC News asked him if he felt there was still a place for him in the Democratic Party. His response: “I would like to hope that there are still Democrats who think like me. I am fiscally responsible and socially compassionate. Now if there are no Democrats like that then they will have to push me where they want me. MDR. Goodbye, Joe.
John stoehr [JS]: Rachel Bitecofer, the political scientist, told me this about her opposition this morning: “It makes perfect sense for Manchin, who is the last Democrat to serve in a realigned West Virginia, who beat Donald Trump by 35 points in 2020. need to gain 20 points from Republican voters to occupy their seat in 2024 in a presidential election cycle. Its pretty hard. Thoughts?
MJ: If so, Manchin is playing a very long game that might not deliver the results he is looking for. And now what? Siding with the GOP is one thing, but attempting to manipulate the people with political machinations leaves a bitter taste in people’s mouths. After the victory, so what? Are you starting to support Democratic legislation again? Even if that’s a reason, it’s still hard to make sense of it.
JS: Do you think Manchin really wants a deal?
MJ: It’s hard to say. It was reported that he visited Biden last week with his own preview, which the press secretary said largely reflected the president’s plan. If he bothered to create this, you’d think he would follow. If there are important parts that he does not agree with, he could spell them out clearly and have an alternative solution. Ultimately, the work remained to be done. He didn’t do that. It’s kind of a weird power play. It’s hard to say where he’s going with this or if he wants to get the job done.
JS: Schumer promises to bring a vote early next month. The idea is to show that Manchin Republicans won’t run like Manchin says they will run. If that doesn’t work, should Democrats cut the BBB even further to keep it happy?
MJ: First of all, Congress needs to stop playing these little games of one-upmanship. Everything is ego. It does nothing to help the millions of people who are suffering. Enough is already enough with this bullshit.
Second, absolutely not. Important things were already missing from the bill that could help, including student loan debt relief, which many people are still calling for. Reducing it even more would make it almost useless in relieving struggling and suffering Americans.
JS: We suppose that transmitting something, anything, is better than transmitting nothing. It assumes something else: that this legislation is a winner for Democrats halfway through next year.
MJ: I don’t know if he’s a winner. On the contrary, I think it might make it harder for some Democrats, because their constituents will see them as not having fought hard enough for the right things. And I don’t know if passing “something” is better than passing “nothing”. What “something” doesn’t help people? Is this a good thing?
JS: I’m not sure the policy is going to affect swing voters the same way some moderate Democrats say it will reach swing voters.
MJ: Republicans are doing all they can to sabotage Democratic stuff. They do everything to push their agendas. Democrats seem to want both “play nice” and wave their fingers at evil Republicans. If Democrats played the game the same, they could probably get some wins. The time to turn the other cheek is over. It just kicks your ass. There is no “fair” when lives are on the line.
JS: I think Biden must be getting more strident.
MJ: I would agree. He’s the president after all. He needs to pick up his presidential boxers and start to be more determined with everyone, Democrats included. For his part, Manchin must do what he was elected to do: put the needs of the American people ahead of his own.
JS: What could Biden say that would make you applaud?
MJ: He could say he wants to alleviate student debt. He could say he wants to raise the poorer classes. He could say he’s determined to dismantle the prison system and come up with alternatives to reduce the disproportionate impact on communities of color. He could say he supports the federal decriminalization of cannabis.
JS: What is your sense of hope for the future right now? One to 10?
MJ: It’s a three. We are doomed.
The climate is destroyed. Our economy is out of balance. People cannot afford the basic needs. No one seems to want to do anything about it. We have billionaires spending their money going under the space porch (not real space, mind you) instead of giving back to the communities that help keep their bloated businesses afloat. We have a global pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. It turned us all into one gigantic humanities experiment. We are literally waiting to know which petri dish we are on. Scary times.
JS: Do you hope the Democrats find courage?
MJ: Only with new blood. Elders who don’t seem to want to retire are stifling progress, I think. Again they want to play things “fair” and “by the rules” as we have now entered the game. Hunger gamesera of US history. The rules don’t apply. We are reading the book. We saw the movie. But we didn’t think it could happen to us. Now we are there.
JS: Monique, thank you very much for chatting with me today.
MJ: Thanks for asking me!
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial committee. He writes the daily edition open and accessible to all. Find him @johnastoehr. This essay first appeared in the Editorial board December 20, 2021.