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The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Joe Manchin – The President America Deserves But Will Never Have

Photo Courtesy of Unsplash

Joe Manchin is the senior United States Senator from West Virginia. Widely regarded as a political miracle, Joe Manchin is the only Democrat representing West Virginia in the Congress. For context, consider that former President Donald Trump won the state of West Virginia by 42.1 points and 38.9 points in 2016 and 2020, respectively. Political pundits are often puzzled by Manchin’s consistent success in the state, in light of his party affiliation: WV Secretary of State from 2001-2005, Governor from 2005-2010, and US Senator from 2010-present. The simplest explanation for Manchin’s success dates back to the 1940s, during FDR’s New Deal, and the 1960s, when Nixon was running for president. 

Southern states like West Virginia traditionally aligned more Democrat—which is seemingly contradictory to present-day American politics. This is attributable to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “New Deal Coalition,” wherein he attracted countless factions of the country into the Democratic party, uniting them behind the common goal of supporting the New Deal. It was only in the 1960s that Southern states began voting Republican, and by the 1980s the region became the Republican stronghold that Americans are familiar with today.

Political historians refer to this party switch as Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”: By appealing to middle class southern voters’ cultural views, particularly regarding the Vietnam War, American nationalism, and illicit substance abuse, Nixon was able to attract “Dixiecrats” (nickname given to Southern Democrats) to the Republican party. Some historians have also asserted that Nixon capitalized on racial biases and dog whistle tactics to draw some vote blocs to the Republican party; that issue will not be the focus of this article. 

Regardless, Joe Manchin continues to defy the current electoral trends of his state which leans heavily Republican. Part of his success is because of lingering historical trends: Democrats previously dominated WV politics. He is often called the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. So, his party affiliation has historical roots in his state, and his conservative views on certain issues appeal to his electorate.

More significantly, though, his success is attributable to his commonsense working-class appeal. In his book “The End of Southern Exceptionalism: Class, Race, and Partisan Change in the Postwar South,” Professor Byron Shafer of the University of Wisconsin-Madison explains, “In the 1960s, moving from the bottom to the top tercile [of the economy] increased the chance of a Republican vote by about 15 percent” in the south. Because West Virginia is a largely working-class state—and is ranked among the top 10 most impoverished states in the union—Manchin’s Democrat ideas regarding social welfare appeal to many WV voters. 

But Manchin has become somewhat of a household name in the past year, as media outlets continue to dub him the “most powerful Senator in America.” Why? Because he is a centrist at heart but also a member of the Democratic party’s 50-50 (+1 Kamala Harris) majority in the Senate. This grants him a unique level of leverage over the legislative path of the Biden Administration. In effect, without Manchin’s vote, Democrats will not reach a majority vote in the Senate for passing legislation.

Recognizing this power, Manchin has been capitalizing on his position to push for more moderate, centrist, and commonsense legislation. He is working to restore bipartisanship and progress in Washington, which has been plagued by partisan gridlock since the 2008 financial crisis. He has opposed eradicating the filibuster—a move which would give the controlling party the ability to pass major legislation with a simple 51 majority vote. Manchin has spoken in support of President Biden’s infrastructure bill and was committed to passing it, but he has voiced opposition to the $1.75 trillion reconciliation package.

In a statement regarding his stance, Manchin elaborated, “As more of the real details of the basic framework [for the reconciliation bill] are released, what I see are shell games — budget gimmicks that make the real cost of the so-called $1.75 trillion bill estimated to be almost twice that amount … if you extended it permanently.” This duality in his support for the infrastructure bill and opposition to the reconciliation package demonstrate Manchin’s diverging views. He is conservative in certain areas and liberal in others. 

What makes Manchin special, though, is his strength of character. He is not willing to succumb to the pressure of Republicans urging him to switch parties or threatening him with expensive opposition campaigns. At the same time, he is not willing to bow to the more left-wing faction of the Democratic party, symbolized by “the Squad” in the House of Representatives. Manchin stays true to his values and ideals, preaching what he believes in and urging cooperation in D.C. 

All of this makes Manchin, in my humble opinion, the President that America needs—but will never have. In 2020, a fierce majority of Americans voted for President Biden in hopes that he could unite the country from the partisan division and gridlock it has been stuck in for the past decade.

However, as the Biden administration’s honeymoon period comes to an end, the public is voicing their disappointment with the President. A USA Today survey published on November 7, 2021 places Biden’s approval rating at a dismal 38% (the lowest ever for a President at this time in his term—except for Donald Trump). Vice President Harris’ approval ratings fare even worse, at an embarrassing 28%. Most important of all, though, is the revelation that independents, in a whopping 7-to-1 margin, believe President Biden has done a worse job than they anticipated. Independents were a crucial faction of Biden’s voters, as they embraced his optimistic outlook on the future of the US. Biden preached that he would restore the “soul” of the nation and unite in the face of division; independents do not see Biden as having succeeded in this respect, however. 

This is a significant problem. It’s not necessarily President Biden’s fault. He cannot be blamed for the division that exists in the country. However, civic-minded Americans must recognize the perils of this divisive political atmosphere that exists in 2021, and something must be done. With polarizing political figures like Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis leading the Republican party and “the squad” annihilating moderate Democrats’ abilities at passing anything, this country is in dire need of bipartisanship. We saw last Tuesday that the country is truly divided, and both parties are being equally repudiated. In Minneapolis, a ballot measure to reallocate police funding was widely rejected.

In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin prevailed over Terry McAuliffe, in large part because of his refusal to endorse Donald Trump’s 2020 election fraud claims and embrace the former president. This shows that the country is repudiating both strong-left and strong-right figures and legislation. We are begging for bipartisanship, and our leaders are failing us. The “Big Lie” of the 2020 election and the Biden administration’s utter failure at uniting Americans has put us in a position of requiring legislative centrism. Even if Biden’s rhetoric may be centrist, he is not legislating in a centrist fashion. 

This is where Manchin comes in. He stays true to his rhetoric and votes with his centrist views. But sadly, Manchin can never be America’s president. He will never win a primary, regardless of which party he is affiliated with. If he continues as a Democrat, the party primary will exclude him in favor of a politician with stronger left-leaning views and greater allegiance to the party’s platform. If Manchin switches his affiliation and runs as a Republican, he will be instantly repudiated for not being conservative enough, and his Democrat voting record will undoubtedly be used against him. If he runs as an independent, he will lack the fundraising and advertising benefits that the RNC and DNC provide their candidates.

All this is to say that regardless of how much the country may need Joe Manchin’s leadership, he can never be the President of the United States. Perhaps if he were catapulted into a general election against a Democrat or a Republican, he would have a chance at winning the presidency. But the election norms and systems of the US essentially require a candidate to align strongly with one party or the other and win that party’s primary before advancing to the general election. This, unfortunately, is a feat that Joe Manchin is unlikely to accomplish. Whether that speaks to the validity of the two party system is an argument that should be considered by every American.

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    Ezra LevinsonNov 12, 2021 at 6:26 am

    “Commonsense working-class appeal” is a fascinating phrase to use to describe a person who owns huge stakes in fossil fuel companies and has received donations from 50 billionaires in the past 5 years. It gets even more interesting when you realize that he opposes clean energy policies, Medicare for All, taxes on the super-rich, and increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. He consistently votes with the interests of wealthy people and the fossil fuel industry in mind, which are inherently and often diametrically opposed to those of the working class. Maybe Manchin is the president America deserves, but that doesn’t say anything good about him or about this country.