Demonizing Joe Manchin

Take it from someone who worked on Capitol Hill: DC Statehood was always one of those causes every Democrat in congress would get behind knowing it had zero chance of passing. The question is if 2021 is any different.

With the momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement and increasing engagement of Black voters, along with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, it is tempting to see possibility. It is also easy to see one US senator as the only obstacle. Even journalists who should know better are simplifying the argument.

When I got on twitter this morning and read all the hostile, even vile, tweets about Sen Manchin, the first thought I had was, “So this is why Republicans never cross party lines.” It is easy to see DC Statehood in black-and-white terms, literally and figuratively, to frame it as right vs. wrong. But if Americans want to see progress in Washington, they must see legislation, and people, in shades of grey.

Even if Sen Manchin voted for DC Statehood, Democrats would still need to eliminate the filibuster to pass it. There are some good arguments for doing this, but Democrats would do better to “break that glass” over more sweeping legislation, such as infrastructure, health care, or police reform. Keep in mind, these policies address inequality, too.

There are 34 Senate seats along with all House seats up for reelection in 2022. Republicans would like nothing more than to campaign on Democrats eliminating the filibuster and passing DC Statehood. They’re already trying to paint President Biden as a liberal in moderates clothing and hinge the election, once again, on race. If Democrats hope to accomplish anything, we must maintain control of both houses. In the current political climate, even a president with as much experience in congress as Joe Biden will not be able to breach the logjam.

While I’m furious over the hypocrisy, bigotry and outright lunacy of Republicans, Democrats must be careful how we channel our ire. Anger is a very empowering emotion. When channeled constructively, it can move mountains. But, as we’ve seen with Republicans, it can also enable destruction. Anger has the power to energize and embolden people to stand up for what they believe in. But it can also override rational thought and empathy. If we apply equal outrage to everyone who disagrees with us, we are being as unreasonable as Republicans. Not everyone who disagrees with us has bad intentions. Our beliefs, no matter how just, don’t preclude the possibility of righteousness in others.

When I help families with their communication skills, I tell them that the most important requirement is wanting to understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their perspective, just understand it. This is called empathy. People have good reasons for making even bad decisions: fear; frustration; helplessness; hopelessness; loneliness; feelings of inadequacy; concern; love; etc. The only way to avert a bad decision is to find a better solution to the problem.

I also help families avoid power struggles by separating the problem (e.g.; time; finances; parenting; chores) from the solutions. Racism, xenophobia, antisemitism, intolerance are solutions for people’s insecurities, albeit destructive ones. Education, emotional intelligence, and communication skills are healthy and constructive alternatives. (I urge Dr. Jill Biden and Sen Elizabeth Warren to push for adding mental health education to public school curriculum.)

I have listened to Sen Manchin’s arguments. While I don’t agree with all of them, I think his motives are about more than power and reelection. I believe his primary motive is bipartisanship – not just with congress, but with an eye toward the American people. Which is why I wonder how serious Democratic legislators are about passing DC Statehood in 2021. In fact, I wonder if Sen Manchin isn’t being used as a scapegoat to save some Democrats from themselves.

I have an expression, “You can win the battle but lose the war.” Democrats can’t want progress so badly that we undermine the progress we’ve already made.

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