Sen. Joe Manchin plays the Democratic Hamlet on the Potomac. Eager to please, he garners rave reviews from Republicans. With sincere inflection, he says, essentially, “To kill the filibuster, or reform the filibuster, that is the question.”
His deliberations rise to the level of national news because the Senate is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The contemporary use of the filibuster by the GOP means that most legislation won’t pass unless 60 senators agree.
But send the filibuster to the junkyard, or even reform it, and Democrats may have enough votes, with the tie-breaking authority of Vice President Kamala Harris, to deliver bills to the White House for President Joe Biden to sign.
A so-called moderate from the once proudly blue state of West Virginia, Manchin suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune foisted on him by his liberal peers and unsympathetic media observers. He takes the attacks rather than giving simple answers to simple questions.
For starters, folk want to know if he supports proposed landmark Civil Rights legislation approved by the House. It is known as the For the People Act.
Timid souls call it Voting Rights legislation designed to thwart many state voter suppression laws spawned in our Republican-controlled Petri dishes of democracy.
But a newly minted senator from Georgia, Raphael Warnock, showed us this Voting Rights bill is in fact a Civil Rights bill of epic proportions. He said on the Senate floor this week:
“I stand before you saying that this issue – access to voting and preempting politicians’ efforts to restrict voting – is so fundamental to our democracy that it is too important to be held hostage by a Senate rule, especially one historically used to restrict the expansion of voting rights. It is a contradiction to say we must protect minority rights in the Senate while refusing to protect minority rights in the society.”
I agree with this straightforward assessment. So I went online to see where Wild and Wonderful Joe Manchin stands on the For the People Act. I didn’t find anything, either in articles or on his website. However, I did discover lots of links to articles about his country line-dancing, hemming, and hawing on the filibuster.
I get it. The senator is Do-si-doing his West Virginia base before he comes out one way or the other. The state he represents is truly beautiful. And wonderful. And full of contradictions. I met many warm and friendly people when I lived in the Eastern Panhandle about two decades ago. That’s the part of the state nearest to Washington, D.C., and the suburbs in Maryland and Northern Virginia.
I also experienced something that I have not experienced in a variety of the other states I’ve called home during my almost 63 of living. A good number of the bars or clubs where I lived were “private.” The front door was locked, guarded by a security camera. You sometimes had to press a buzzer before someone inside would check you out and let you in.
Once inside, chances are you were asked if you had a membership card. If you did not, you had to pay a minimal fee to get a card and become a member.
Joe Manchin was a state politician back in those days. I do not allege that he ever stepped inside of a “private” club, or became a member. I do not even assert that he knew about such things, although the U.S. Department of Justice did file a lawsuit in connection with what I’ve just described (see this March 27, 1997 DOJ press release titled, “The Justice Department today sued the owners of a West Virginia nightclub for allegedly refusing to allow African Americans to enter”). The DOJ announced a settlement on Jan. 27, 1998.
Nobody is perfect. We all make mistakes. Sometimes we have trouble making up our minds. But Senator Manchin needs to tell us soon whether he will stand in the way of major Civil Rights legislation. He can become a hero. That would be truly wild and wonderful.