Reviews | Sanders’ blowout in Manchin highlights deeper party difference
For the Democrats, it is not the ideologues who prevent things from working well. It’s the so-called moderates – people like Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
The subject was Manchin again withdrawing from backing a Democrat-only bill that includes climate change provisions and corporate tax increases, after indicating his support for both. Here is what Sanders said about Manchin:
He sabotaged the president’s agenda.
No, look, if you check the file, six months ago I clarified that you have people like Manchin, Sinema to a lesser extent, intentionally sabotaging the president’s agenda, what the American people want, what the majority of us in the Democratic caucus want. Nothing new about this.
And the problem was that we kept talking to Manchin like he was serious. He was not. He’s a guy who is a top recipient of fossil fuel money, a guy who has received campaign contributions from 25 Republican billionaires.
It is very unusual to hear a senator say such things about another caucus member. But what drives Sanders so crazy isn’t where Manchin ended up, it’s how he got there.
Manchin is certainly a shrewd politician, and in his dark red home state, being elected a Democrat means he has to be more than ideologically moderate. He believes he must also be a visible thorn in the side of the Democratic Party.
But he has turned it into a cat-and-mouse game that his own colleagues find infuriating. Sometimes he says he supports action to fight climate change, but then he turns around and kill measures designed to do just that. One day he’s a populist insistent we should raise taxes on corporations and the rich, and the next day he torpedoes benefits for low-income people.
What fulminate those who want to negotiate with him, or those who are just waiting for him to say what he will accept.
But the problem isn’t that Manchin is simply more moderate than his fellow Democrats. It’s that it has no discernible core ideology.
If Manchin had clear and consistent beliefs, the Democrats could work with him. They would know where he stands, and there might be a workable compromise, even if it meant Manchin getting 90% of what he wants and the other Democrats only getting 10% of what they want.
But he is not. The real contrast displayed here is this: for all his reputation as an extreme left-hander, Sanders is both an ideologue and a pragmatist. For example, while he has long advocated the creation of a single-payer health care system, he voted for mostly incremental improvements to our current mess of a system. He advocates for big change, but accepts that small changes are better than nothing. He is someone other Democrats can negotiate with, even if they are less progressive than him.
In contrast, Manchin often positions himself as a centrist, but his too often, centrism is primarily about opposing whatever liberals want, for their own good, and is not based on any clear set of beliefs.
You can see this contrast in two great debates.
First, the expanded child tax credit. This policy was widely credited with reducing child poverty, but Manchin began talking about imposing a work requirement and capping those eligible for the credit at a household income of $60,000.
Fellow Democrats told Manchin that stance would eliminate the very things that made the program successful. But Manchin was impassive. He gave no significant argument as to Why he wanted a work requirement and a means test. He has just decided that too much spending is bad in a vacuum, without weighing the disadvantages of spending against the consequences for millions of families and children of not spend that money.
Manchin also decided that giving money to families should be a “right,” which, of course, is also wrong. This considered position that a program giving money to families should simply discourage work and the initiative did not allow him to entertain the idea that the expanded child tax credit is a empowering Politics.
The dynamic was similar on climate change. When Manchin shut down talk of the most recent version of the resurrected Democratic agenda — which would have included hundreds of billions in tax incentives for a green energy transition, funded by rolling back some tax cuts on GOP corporations – he cited inflation as the main culprit.
But then again, Manchin did not seriously argue that this particular package, which has been significantly reduced from initial Democrat hopes, would even be entirely inflationary. Nor has Manchin seriously argued that the consequences of any inflation this package supposedly produced would be worse for the country – in the long run – than vigorous action on climate change would be.
Manchin’s lack of discernible ideological core leads him to arbitrarily state that a set of consequences (of inflation) should be determinative. Thus, they do not need to be weighed against the other set of consequences (not acting on climate change over time).
Democrats had long expected Manchin to be merely moderate, pushing them to scale back their ambitions. What they failed to understand was that Manchin would not at all see child poverty, rising inequality and the planet cooking as consequences that figure into the equation. A party organized around the idea that these are unacceptable moral and political disasters cannot negotiate with someone like that.