An outdated agenda


Progressives are angry with and insulting West Virginian Joe Manchin, of course.

They say the center-right Democratic senator from a deep red Trump state is corrupted by personal coal holdings and large corporate donations.

Biden’s White House essentially branded Manchin a liar who told his old friend the president he was about to agree, then went on Fox, of all places, to say he was never going to support that $ 2 trillion progressive wishlist that Biden and the Democratic leaders in Congress had set out for themselves.

I don’t know if Manchin is corrupt. I don’t know if he misled Joe Biden or outright lied to him.

I don’t know anything firsthand about Manchin except that Mike Beebe once gave me his email address and I copied a column that I had written to him, after which he responded nicely, but for the form.

Okay, I know four things:

• Manchin is the only Democrat imaginable who could be elected to the US Senate from West Virginia, which is perhaps worse politically than Arkansas, which is saying something.

• Losing him in the Democratic caucus would make Mitch McConnell the majority leader, which would be the worst thing for Democrats next to Kevin McCarthy becoming Speaker of the House or Donald Trump becoming President.

• He has worked on reasonable compromises with the left, like the pending voting rights bill that Democrats will not be able to pass.

• He never said anything publicly about the Build Better Bill except that he was concerned about its size and was not ready to vote for it.

When the bill arrived from the House weeks ago, Manchin said it was not the document he would be working from because it was too big. He said he was concerned about inflation, deficits and costing gimmicks like the so-called phase-out of programs progressives had no real intention of letting expire.

What Manchin told Fox on Sunday was not much different from that.

He did not say he would not join the Democrats in a regrouped retreat to write again with fewer pages, fewer dollars and less consensus.

There are things a moderate opinion journalist in Arkansas can see because he lives in a Tory-led bubble where liberal interest groups are small and weak. It’s different for the Blue States where liberal voters are numerous, strong and demanding because they finally have even tenuous control over the White House and Congress.

Down here, it is clear that Democrats will never be able to achieve a functioning national majority unless they find reasonable, central-leaning Tories. This makes Manchin’s center-right leverage an important positive thing.

But, in Blue America, it seems equally clear that Democrats will never be able to achieve a functioning national majority unless they keep the base satisfied and motivated.

This makes Manchin’s center-right leverage hateful.

I’m writing from Arkansas a few blocks from where a Republican-dominated legislature exists less on its own merit than through the powerfully alienating fear of rural and American areas of perceived National Democratic liberalism.

From that perspective, I wrote confidently that Biden went wrong, choosing to defend the left and refine the center, when he should have done the opposite.

The proof is in the bottom line, which is that what Biden chose didn’t work.

He moved all-in for the progressive agenda, which was grossly disproportionate to the 50-50 Senate.

The only way he could hope to push through the progressive all-inclusive agenda was to avoid the systematic obstruction of the 60 votes and use the single option of budget reconciliation. This meant that every Liberal senator with a favorite agenda demanded that that agenda be included in this unique budget reconciliation book.

Biden’s central legislation, therefore, was only defined by disjointed vastness, nothing about which spin scholars could find a clear message with which to persuade Americans who cared about other things, primarily gasoline prices. and supply chains.

Then when Manchin first made it clear months ago that he was wrong with something so broad, progressives were cut off, but not by programs. They have been eroded by the supposed expiration or extended funding of the programs.

They never did the hard legislative work of prioritizing the reduction of the bill to the few popular, consensus-backed articles they could have passed now, giving them not only lust relief and a bipartisan infrastructure to brag about, but also progress in social spending. -modest, yes, but real.

So, now they’re back to where I say they should have started – downstairs to find programs that can get 50 votes in the Senate and that they can craft a clear, bigger message for.

It is better to accomplish with less skill than to wait with more incompetence.

Biden should have led rather than followed. He should have told the impractical progressives to get mad at Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and him, but that he would give them something rather than nothing. It would have been presidential.

There may still be a slightly ajar window for modest Democratic competence, unless it is now oxymoronic.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his Twitter feed @johnbrummett.


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