For a registered Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia seems to take an inordinate amount of pleasure in causing his party difficulty. If he had lost his most recent election in the Mountain State, West Virginia would likely be sending an obstructionist Republican to congress. In fact, they seem more and more to have elected an obstructionist Democrat.

Today came the news that Manchin will not support filibuster reform under any circumstances. Writing in the Washington Post, Manchin pontificated about the glorious traditions of the U.S. Senate and lectured his party, like a stern father, for losing sight of what made this legislative body “great.” Manchin defended the filibuster on the grounds that it gives a voice to small states and impels the majority party to compromise with the minority as supposedly happened in the halcyon days of Senate bipartisanship. He also expressed chagrin at the widespread use of reconciliation to pass President Biden’s agenda, and peppered his remarks with a heavy dose of establishment insularity.

Joe Manchin’s position is deeply reactionary. The United States Senate’s overrepresentation of rural states is inherently undemocratic and, in a society as suffused with racial polarization as the United States of America, gives outsize voice to the dominant racial group. Manchin observes approvingly that West Virginia gets as many senators as California; this is grossly unrepresentative and indefensible. And his commitment to the filibuster will block meaningful action to advance social progress and social justice, as it always has throughout its long history.

The idea that Republicans are eager to work with Democrats on issues like infrastructure, let alone voting rights, sits in contravention to any kind of reality. GOP leader Mitch McConnell promised to fight President Biden’s infrastructure proposal tooth and nail because he believes it will lead the nation astray. McConnell’s threats should be taken seriously. Across the country, Republican politicians are attacking voting rights, and in D.C., GOPers have portrayed H.R.1 as the mark of the beast.

In other words, the continuation of filibuster rules will torpedo the rest of Biden’s agenda. Republicans already weaponized the filibuster to neutralize one Democratic president’s agenda–and Manchin was there to see it. Of all people Manchin should be especially cognizant of the depredations of the filibuster; it was used to destroy his signature gun control legislation advanced (on a bipartisan basis!) with Pat Toomey. Nevertheless, Manchin is either so blinded by Senate tradition or else so eager to posture for his very Trumpy constituents that he has promised to let Republicans stop President Biden in his tracks.

Joe Manchin is a Democrat. But in this case, he is being at best irrational and at worst cynical and disloyal to the party that has backed him despite a long history of causing headaches for their side. Senate traditions should not be allowed to thwart necessary progress, nor should a Democratic senator deliberately undermine his own president. Joe Lieberman did it to Barack Obama. Does Joe Manchin really want to be the next Joe Lieberman?


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