As uncomfortable and painful it is to accept, the story of the past dozen years has been one of defeat and helplessness for the Democratic Party. After losing their Senate majority almost immediately following President Obama’s election, Democrats failed to recapture the upper chamber for five election cycles in a row and could only watch in fury as the Republicans obstructed every policy proposal out of sheer spite and stole a Supreme Court seat right out of our hands.
Now that we have finally clawed our way back into the slimmest possible majority in the Senate, it is imperative for our political future and our ailing, flawed little democracy that we learn from the lessons of the Obama years and use this opportunity to ram as much through the Senate as we possibly can before the worst inevitably happens and the window is slammed shut. Now is the time for us to remind the American people that after nearly a decade that the Democratic Party is capable of effecting transformational change in the lives of ordinary people.
Unfortunately, one man is once again threatening to derail our entire agenda — but this time, it’s not Mitch McConnell. It’s someone who is ostensibly on our side.
Though there is a supposedly a “D” next to his name, former Republican Joe Manchin is making it clear that he is Trump’s man on the inside, pledging to obstruct any move that would create any kind of real change to the status quo, no matter how much it would benefit the beleaguered and neglected people of his home state, West Virginia.
He and his fellow conservative Kyrsten Sinema have vocally opposed the $15 minimum wage raise and threatened to derail the COVID-19 relief bill if it was included, even though 63% of Manchin’s voters support it and 43% of West Virginians make less than $15 an hour. A $15 minimum wage ballot measure passed by more than 60% in the swing state of all swing states, Florida, during the last election, proving that it is a bipartisan winning issue that voters of both parties support — just not the detached and uncaring millionaires like Manchin they inexplicably choose to send to Washington.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Manchin erupted at a reporter on Monday and yelled, “‘Jesus Christ, what don’t you understand about ‘never’?” in response to a question about ending the filibuster, which is the one thing preventing Democrats from passing bills without the votes of any Republicans, who won’t even consider the bills on principle alone.
The grim reality is that there are only two ways for Democrats to get the COVID-19 relief bill passed — budget reconciliation or abolishing the filibuster. That doesn’t even include the rest of the Democratic agenda, including passing legislation to combat the wildly restrictive voting rights laws that Republicans are pushing through their state legislatures at a frightening pace.
Manchin has signaled that he will use his position to block the use of either of those methods for anything that would qualify as delivering substantial or transformative material benefits to the non-oligarchic classes, which no conservative will ever allow to happen lest it reminded the downtrodden that government is capable of doing more than simply maintaining an increasingly worsening status quo.
That carefully cultivated perception of Congressional apathy and uselessness is the GOP’s key to driving down voter turnout and engagement with politics as a whole while they redirect their own supporters’ frustration away from material concerns into performative culture war bullshit and white nationalist fearmongering.
That’s exactly why we cannot allow this ex-Republican to be the man that squanders the incredible potential of a Democratic Senate majority — which at this point is a once in a decade phenomenon — and in doing so make the highly likely loss of the House in the 2022 midterm elections all but assured. While the “big tent” talk sounds good on MSNBC, Democrats are quickly learning that having a wild divergence in interests between their caucus members does not make for a productive government.
President Biden got into office by promising that he could convince Republicans to get on his side. All he has to do is win just one over if he wants to be remembered as more than anything than the stopgap between Trump and an even more devious fascist.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.