Home > Essays > If He is a Man of His Word, Joe Manchin May Save Democracy

If He is a Man of His Word, Joe Manchin May Save Democracy

June 14, 2021

Readers of this blog know that I often decry Reagan’s famous campaign quip “”The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help” and the phrase from his inaugural address stating that “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” I find that sentiment abhorrent because it assumes that “the government” is an organization run by faceless bureaucrats whose sole purpose is to usurp power from free-enterprise entrepreneurs who, left to their own devices, would ensure the well-being of citizens. In a totalitarian world “the government” is such an enterprise. But not in our country, which is a representative Democracy. In America, “the government” consists of those elected to public office by those who choose to vote. Those who are elected to office, in turn, pass policies and laws that are implemented and enforced by employees hired by those elected to office. In America, contrary to the implied message of Ronald Reagan and explicit message of Donald Trump, there is no “Deep State Government” forcing individuals to bend to their will. Nor are there “government schools” brainwashing innocent children with “socialist values”.

In our representative Democracy, those who work for “the government” are devoted to serving the public. Over the course of my lifetime working for, with, and on elected boards I don’t recall working for or with anyone who wanted to earn lots of money or impose lots of power. At the local and state level, the elected and appointed officials I worked with all believed they were representing the interests of those who elected them, fulfilling the mission of the organization they served, and doing what they believed was best for the well-being of the voters who put them in office. I did not always agree with their perspectives, but I believed their hearts and minds were aligned.

One of the sad realities of democracy is that it moves very slowly and incrementally. But that slow pace has one benefit: it ultimately results in a consensus that is morally, practically, and fiscally sound. Manchin claims he is attempting to seek by focussing on elements of SB 1 that had bi-partisan support. The “wings” of both parties have become increasingly disdainful of this kind of incrementalism, seeking vast overhauls instead of modest changes… but democracy functions slowly but surely when Manchin’s model of incrementalism is accepted by both parties.

I am not at all certain that those members of the GOP elected to the House and Senate today are at all interested in incrementalism or progress. Their adherence to party dogma and their desire to impose that dogma on everyone overrides their desire to find an acceptable middle ground. Moreover, because their dogma is based on the premise that government is the enemy they are doubly troubled when the government takes action that is widely supported by the voters, for it demonstrates that government CAN provide a helping hand. When the GOP Senate Majority leader pledges to defeat any legislation proposed by the administration or the opposing party bi-partisanship goes out the window.  When a majority of the GOP House members support the lie that 2020 election was “stolen” bipartisanship is even more elusive.

Mr. Manchin and other middle-of-the-road incrementalists are proceeding on the assumption that a bi-partisan agreement can be achieved despite the rhetoric of Mitch McConnell and the intransigence of many House GOP members. If Mr. Manchin is a man of his word and the GOP fails to accept ANY small changes to SB 1 or fails to fund ANY broadly-supported infrastructure with broad-based taxes, I trust that those, like Manchin, who seek bi-artisanship will forge ahead with “small-ball” legislation and make the voters aware of their reasoning. By introducing a succession of bills providing all voters with reasonable access to the polls, funding clearly needed and universally acceptable infrastructure projects, and providing opportunities for further education and training of the workforce, the Democrats could illustrate their intention to improve the well-being of voters and the GOP’s intention to offer no reasonable alternative. In doing that, the Democrats could live up to their name— and save Democracy from dogma.

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