Opinion

In praise of Joe Manchin

He's the left's most hated Democratic lawmaker — and I admire the hell out of him

The Democratic Party is in the midst of a painful rehabilitation and identity crisis. But one thing is clear: Democrats are nowhere near ready to play ball on any of President Trump's priorities.

With the exception of a spending bill that will keep the federal government open for the next five months (it's sad that this is the barometer of success in Washington nowadays), Democrats have presented a largely unified front against Trump's legislative goals. The message is plain as day: Democrats may be in the minority, but they retain the power to block much of what the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress want to get done.

For the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the obstructionist strategy that Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi have adopted is a godsend — the only thing stopping our brash president from destroying America. For establishment Democrats, it's a safe way of keeping the grassroots happy. But for the many Americans of all political stripes who are just sick of the partisan fighting, and are desperate for something, anything, to get done in Washington, this sort of constant political warfare resembles an embarrassing schoolyard fight.

It wasn't always like this. There was a time when Washington was filled with Blue Dog Democrats and Rockefeller Republicans — the sort of lawmakers eager to cross the aisle and work with the other side. These sorts of congressmen and senators are almost all gone now.

Thank goodness we still have Joe Manchin.

Manchin is perhaps the most conservative Democrat in the country today — and as such, is loathed by most of the left. In many ways, he's the exact opposite of liberal stalwart Bernie Sanders; whereas Sanders obsessively talks about the absolute necessity of discomfiting millionaires and billionaires, Manchin proudly boasts about the indispensability of coal miners to America's economy and speaks about the Democratic Party as a collection of politically correct elitists afraid to say something genuine for fear of being thrashed from the left. And if Sanders is safely ensconced in his Senate seat for however long he wants to be a senator (Vermont is about as blue as blue can get), Manchin, who holds a precarious Democratic seat in West Virginia, is a lonely Democrat in a sea of beating red hearts. Indeed, he's already facing a tough challenge from a GOP congressman in next year's Senate race.

It's easy to see why Manchin is so hated by liberals. Manchin has been the perennial thorn in the side of Democratic unity — he's criticized the Affordable Care Act (one of the worst sins that a Democratic lawmaker can make); he voted for the Keystone XL pipeline; he's an avid defender of the Second Amendment; and he voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, despite incredible pressure from liberal groups to use every parliamentary maneuver to keep him off the bench. Manchin even skipped a meeting of congressional Democrats that President Obama called during his last few weeks in office, calling it bad for bipartisanship.

I see this not as treacherous, but as a refreshing willingness to buck his party's leadership and actually work across the aisle.

Manchin is constantly searching for Republican partners to get something accomplished. It's one of the reasons why Manchin, along with other red-state Democrats, traveled to the White House to meet President Trump in February. Sure, he has a very good reason to be seen working constructively with a man who won West Virginia last year by over 40 points. But Manchin's outreach to the other side isn't just politically motivated. He's worked with Republicans before on everything from gun legislation to immigration reform, perhaps two of the most controversial domestic issues that the U.S. Congress can take up.

American politics have become so divisive, so poisonous, and so childish that I cannot help but appreciate any lawmaker who at least tries to work with the other side. We need more lawmakers like Manchin — not to mention Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester and Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins. They are moderates within their parties who at least attempt to make a go of writing legislation that can be passed and signed into law. And there are so few of them left.

Don't hate centrists like Joe Manchin. Applaud them. Or get used to a political system that continues to treat the words "bipartisan," "cooperation," and "independent" as career killers.

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