Democratic Party Seems Determined to Allow the Perfect to be the Enemy of the Good

Manchin represents West Virginia which, if you’ve never spent time there it is incredibly difficult to overstate how important the coal industry is to the state. And I used that phrase to refer to how culturally important it is, not how important it is economically. Coal as a mass employer of West Virginias was in step decline by the 1980s, and I think even 20 years ago it was no longer the single largest employer in the state (I think Wal-Mart and the State government employed more people than coal by then), but the effects of being a single resource economy for like 100 years take many decades to disappear.

For huge swathes of the state, there’s a legacy of “we’re here because of coal”, maybe not anyone in their immediate family works in coal, but maybe their grandfather did, and maybe they moved here from Italy before WWII to work in those coal mines. Coal was seen as the bedrock of the community, towns like Welch in McDowell County were happy and booming places in the 1960s, and are hell holes now. Coal has taken on an emotional and psychological element in the State. Most of the State firmly, and deeply believes with religious fervor that things are bad in the State because of the collapse of the coal industry. Various hills like the opioid epidemic, the exodus of young people (especially those with education or any job prospects) et al. are firmly blamed on the collapse of the coal industry. That belief has some truth to it, although like most things there’s more to it. But going hat in hand with that belief is a strong belief that the coal industry in WV didn’t die off for the reasons it actually died off–seams being mined out of profitable coal after 150 years, mass mechanization with the deployment of continuous mining machines that replace around 100 miners per machine, shifting electric generation to natural gas away from coal, the rise of coal development in other regions with newer seams that can be more profitably mined (and are thus more competitive)–instead the widely believed reasons is “Democrat environmentalists” killed coal, and with it all the communities who died along with coals death.

Manchin represents to his constituents that he’s one of them because of his unwavering defense of the coal industry and his broad rejection of most of the Democrats environmental policy–positions he’s held ever since he entered electoral politics 20+ years ago. Now does Manchin really believe this narrative? I think he probably believes some nuanced version of it, remember before politics Manchin made his money as coal broker, he’s not just taken money from the industry he was in the industry. He likely understands there were systemic issues to coal’s decline but he also likely genuinely feels that as a Senator from West Virginia, he’s not going to take votes for issues that are so oppositional to the religious beliefs of his constituency.

For many years Manchin has been one of the few prominent advocates of technology like “clean coal” and carbon sequestration etc. I don’t really think he’s pretending; I think if you’re steeped in West Virginia culture, being pro-coal is a cultural shibboleth. This is way bigger to him than political donations though, it’s much more about saying what you stand for, and in West Virginia you god damn better stand for coal.

Before the modern era, West Virginia Democrats could largely get by without such stark behavior because 1) West Virginia was an old school machine politics Democratic state dominated by unions, and the workers were voting for who the union said and didn’t deeply analyze their positions and 2) before the 2000s or so environmental policy wasn’t getting nearly the political attention it has since. For that reason, you had the long-term Senatorial team of Robert Byrd and John Rockefeller IV, both of whom were closer to their party on environmental issues than Manchin has been. I think there is no space for Democrats like that now in WV politics.

I am willing to believe Manchin is more sincere than I first believed, but any loyalty to coal does not explain why he must oppose any and all progressive infrastructure spending. Opposing healthcare or family leave is not going to bring back the coal industry. Even environmental transportation would have a very limited impact on the coal mining industry.

Perhaps he should suggest a large solar power manufacturing plant or some other pork barrel for his state and let his party have some success otherwise. Move out of the nineteenth century and give them some hope of a future in the twenty-first century. But that is likely oversimplification also.

And, given how much of his state is dependent on government handouts, he would be doing his constituents a favor by increasing the safety net.

Not been following this, but just why are Biden’s signature legislative proposals in trouble?
I thought there was a convention in American politics that the opposition party would not oppose what had been a major item on a winning candidate/Party’s election campaign…sure they would argue over the details,but not the principle.
At least thats what I understood from what I have read about US political culture, its one of the reason why LBJ got so much of his domestic legislative agenda across

By ‘progressive infrastructure’, are you talking about the social spending that is disingenuously being called infrastructure to make it more palatable to moderates, or are you ralking about actual infrastructure? Because if the latter, Manchin has already signed off on the largest infrastructure bill in history. It’s not his fault progressives are holding it up.

I’m assuming this post is satire.

Several well read posters can explain it better, but one short answer is that American politics has been evolving at a remarkably rapid rate recently. (To some degree over the last fifty years – even more accelerated over the last thirty years – and approaching light speed over the last decade or so.) What was considered a “mandate” by the voters no longer seems to exist and it could be a while before it even can exist.

I will leave it to others to fill in details or give additional reasons.

I don’t want to make Manchin’s arguments for him, and I think it’s possible he’s a disingenuous hack on some issues, I was just pointing out a lot of the stuff around environmentalism and the fossil fuel industry is more than just campaign money to him. It’s a real cultural issue in West Virginia.

But from Manchin’s own words–he is relatively opposed to the idea of an “omnibus” bill for a grab bag of policies which aren’t traditional physical infrastructure spending as it is understood in American politics. He has said there are some elements of the omnibus bill he’d support as separate bills, and many he wouldn’t. He has said the Democrats shouldn’t be trying to pass an omnibus bill, but should attempt to pass more tailored bills. So a specific climate bill, a specific childcare bill etc.

He seems to genuinely believe the Democrats would be able to get some form of at least some of these bills passed through the filibuster requirement in the Senate, which if he genuinely believes, I think is naive, but taking him at his words, that is what he believes.

He appears willing to support the omnibus bill which is against his desires, but only if it is significantly pared down.

The reason LBJ got his agenda across was because he had near supermajorities in the House and Senate. So did FDR when he got the New Desl. Also, both presidents were popular with the public when they pushed those progrsms. Biden is not.

No one has ever managed sweeping changes like this while being unpopular and having a threadbare majority. Even Reagan was stymied on aspects of his agenda, despite having won in a landslide running on them.

There has never been the ‘culture’ you mention. For example, Trump’s signature campaign issue was building a border wall, but Democrats still opposed it.

It was also much harder to filibuster in LBJs era, you still had to do a talking filibuster and it cost a lot more political capital because you were functionally shutting down the entirety of the U.S. Senate. So while you could rotate different Senators in to keep the talking filibuster session going, eventually interests that needed other stuff passed through the Senate would start applying serious political pressure to cave. For example you can’t approve any military commissions for high ranking officers, which holds up promotions. That lets your opponent go on the news and say “they’re filibustering and because of that it is hurting our military readiness during a time of war” (as the Vietnam war was going on.) The old school filibuster had serious costs and couldn’t be used over any issue just because you had enough Senators in the minority who agreed with opposing a bill, instead you needed enough of them who were willing to sacrifice their lives, sleep, and all other business before the Senate, to stop legislation.

That makes me wonder that instead of eliminating the filibuster if it would be better for the Dems to just remove the provisions to allow a non talking filibuster. If the 40 republicans want to rotate through talking 24 hours a day for the next 2 years let them.

Manchin actually specifically said he is opposed to bringing back the talking filibuster, and I think Biden may have as well. Getting rid of the talking filibuster was shortsighted in many ways, I think it was born out of a desire to stop seeing the chamber disrupted so often, but has instead made it so literally all legislation other than appointments and reconciliation bills require 60 votes to pass, which is pretty terrible.

Fair enough I hadn’t seen him addressing that specifically. Still would be more fun to watch then the current way.

Yes. But Manchin and Biden need to be overruled on this. I suspect that only public pressure can do the job.


You are more generous than I. I don’t believe Manchin could actually believe that ANY of the separate bills he suggests could get 60 votes.

I think he knows that not one single bill carved out of the omnibus bill has a particle of a chance of getting 60 votes. All his protestations are made for the purpose of maintaining the pretense that he wants to do something for Americans who are not CEOs or board members of large corporations who donate money to him.

That pretense is pretty thin.

Hear, hear!

These “prisoner’s dilemma” studies keep being done because no one wants to believe that people so consistently choose to be petty over choosing to get something positive (money, in the case you discuss).

I’ll link to the very long Wikipedia article on the PD because it shows the wide variety of realms of human life in which we see this “cooperate or don’t cooperate” dilemma playing out.

And no matter how often or how thoroughly it is studied, it remains depressing and distressing to see how consistently petty vindictiveness wins out over raw self-interest. Even worse, people rationalize the choice to be petty; they tell themselves they are Standing Up For Principle (or for Justice).

I pray we do not see this old, old trope play out among members of the Progressive Caucus, over these bills. If it does, their feelings of righteousness will be little comfort to them as we all experience the 2022 GOP wins and consequent end of representative democracy.

Thank you, that link has a much greater scope than wherever I fist stumbled across the concept. I know there was also a short lived game show or maybe reality show based around the ‘game’.

It was purely economic where I first read about it which makes me think it might have been in one of the Freakonomics books, but I also read a lot of Danial Levitin and he might have addressed it also. But it could have been in Top Dog by Po and Merryman or one of the non-scholarly decision making books I have read like Tipping Point or Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.

In any case, I hope the Democratic Party across both Houses of Congress and the White House are smart enough to avoid the disaster that could follow a game of brinkmanship within the party.

Yeah, it is interesting how the board gets those “Trumplandia Dispatches” as andy calls them from time to time. I assume it’s a random Trumper who ends up here via some search engine or something, sees a political discussion and decide to just data dump all of this month’s talking points from Tucker Carlson. Most of the time I notice these sort never respond again, probably forgetting the board exists soon after posting and moving on to their next culture war front.

Edit: As a former Republican it’s always interesting to me to see stuff like this though, just in terms of how much I perceive our society and our political organizations have changed. In the 90s and 2000s, in most political conversations lefties could point to stupid shit Republicans believed, but I could point to stupid shit lefties believe fairly easily as well. Frankly it was my opinion then and now that it is basically “normal” for most ordinary people to have at least some uninformed political opinion–most people have neither the time nor inclination to be well informed across the breadth of political topics of the day.

Most people had their blinders and weak points. It’s certainly part and parcel of why I left the GOP, but what’s striking to me now is time and time again when I interact with a real Trumper, it isn’t just that they have one or even a few political topics where they believe fake, stupid things filled with misinformation. It is literally that all of them are now “in for a penny, in for a pound”, it is almost like a mass psychosis occurred in which, once you decide to embrace Trump, you decide: “I must now agree with every conspiracy theory, every insane falsehood, every misinterpretation and misinformation that is produced no matter how obviously false.” It’s like there is not even decisions being made anymore where someone at least decides what misinformation to believe based on their own personal knowledge (or lack) and biases, but instead where to join the hive mind they have to wipe their brains clean and fully adopt every single false narrative that exists in their party.

The psychology is fascinating. It seems wound up tightly with identity – so much so that, at least for Trump supporters, admitting that Trump is wrong, or bad, etc., would be akin to admitting failure in being human, or something equally drastic. I don’t know why, but I get the feeling that many Trump supporters literally would rather die than admit their mistake. And with COVID, it seems that many are getting this chance to prove it.

It is, IMO, an identity thing; I see it in conservatives a lot.

They wrap their identity in everything: where they live, what they eat, the clothes they wear, etc.

I mean, we all do it to some extent but conservatives, by nature, are less able to envision and embrace change, IMO.