If there is a single word that best describes what is key to being a good friend, and also being a good Democrat, it is empathy. You care. You care about people who you know, and equally important, you care about those who you may not know, but who are in need of support. It is a form of synchrony; you deeply value those who share many of your political views as well as those you don’t know but who benefit from your progressive policies.
That’s why if you take a look at the $3.5 trillion proposal that President Joe Biden and progressives in both the House and Senate are advocating, it is clear that you want to provide essential help for those within our society who are most in need.
The bill offers key support to virtually all parts of our society that are struggling economically or socially. There is $450 billion to provide childcare and universal pre-K for young children, at tremendous help to their parents and other care-givers. Medicare for the elderly is expanded to include coverage of dental, hearing and vision services. Prescription drug prices will be cut; there will be more paid family and medical leave.
For the first time since FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, a broad and vibrant plan is proposed to address the major societal needs of the day. Yes, there would be some inevitable inefficiencies in funding a bill so large, but both the public and the private sectors of our economy have repeatedly demonstrated that money can be wasted regardless of how much of it is involved. The bottom line, as President Biden and so many progressives have iterated, is that the economic and social benefits provided to the recipients of the goods and services included in the bill is of far greater value than the cost in marginal inflation or normal waste or inefficiency.
Simply put, it is what friends do for one another.
Which brings us to the question of personal friendships among Democratic leaders in our government. We know from the writings of Chris Mooney (The Republican Brain) and George Lakoff (Don’t Think of an Elephant) that most Democrats are warm and caring towards one another, lacking the harshness of many Republicans. Democrats are less authoritarian, less certain of themselves, and more willing to work through compromise with one another. They place more value on the “common good” than Republicans do; while Republicans are more committed to preserving individual liberties, with some key exceptions such as reproductive rights and voting rights.
You rarely see Democrats going hot and cold at one another the way that Mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham do with Donald Trump. The reverence with which most Democrats speak of Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi bears no resemblance to the ways in which the Republicans speak of one another.
Democrats are “doers;” they see problems in our society and are committed to using public policy to address quality of life problems. They are impatient with stalling. Every moment wasted is additional time when those in need must suffer.
This gets us to the curious case of Joe Manchin, senior senator from West Virginia. He is a Democrat, and many regard him as the only Democrat who could be elected from his state which over the course of fifty years has essentially flipped from all blue to all red. Manchin, along with Senator Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, have been the sole Democrats in the upper chamber who have not supported President Biden’s 3.5 trillion “soft infrastructure” plan. Both are playing it coy like a cat, making it difficult to ascertain what they really support. Just recently, it was revealed that Manchin had indicated this past July that he would accept $1.5 trillion in spending, though with little certainty as to which programs he supported and which ones he opposed. He seems in no hurry to advance the Biden agenda.
But what may be most interesting about Manchin is how he simply did not act like a friend to his fellow Democrats. He expressed opposition to his colleagues’ support of $3.5 trillion measure and went through the motions of trying to reach compromise. But to date, he has not come close to the neighborhood where his fellow Democrats reside.
What is most baffling about Manchin is the lack of loyalty and friendship that he offers to his fellow Democrats. This is particularly true with the President Biden. Joe Biden is the consummate political professional who makes time to understand the perspectives and positions of all his fellow Democrats as well as a number of Republicans.
No one could be more gracious with Joe Manchin than Joe Biden, yet Manchin seems to offer nothing of substance in return. It is difficult to say this, but what Joe Manchin reminds me of is ….. is a Republican. Manchin shows no urgency to move ahead with progressive legislation. He cavalierly postpones deadlines for when legislation should be considered, all the while forgetting that the Democrats in the Senate are a single heartbeat away from losing control of the chamber.
If Joe Manchin cannot act like a true friend to Joe Biden, and to forty-eight of his colleagues in the Senate who repeatedly bend over backwards to try to accommodate him, then he truly is an outcast.
Not only does he fail to be an active Democrat trying to seize the moment to address a myriad of domestic problems, ones which may have more impact on his home state of West Virginia than any other state, but he refuses to engage in the give and take that characterizes warm friendship.
We mentioned Chris Mooney’s book The Republican Brain, and it may be that Manchin has personality traits more like a Republican than a Democrat. If that is the case, then we may have to give up hope that he can be part of the solution. I hope that I am wrong.
I’d love to say, “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”