The Virginia Senator no longer fits in today's Party
Democrats continue to publicly excoriate West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who has apparently torpedoed the second leg of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposals which, among other things, would have supplied generous tax incentives for green energy, provided universal pre-K (pre-school), expanded health-care access, and offered generous child tax credits.
In fairness, Manchin is not alone. He is now providing political cover for other Democrats who had expressed misgivings about the legislation. It is easier for Manchin to do this, as he comes from a red state dominated by coal interests, whereas the other two are in states that increasingly hew blue. In West Virginia, Trump took 68% of the vote against Biden, and the state has not backed a Democrat presidential candidate since 1996. The governor, Jim Justice, won the state gubernatorial race as a Democrat, but quickly swapped to the GOP, and Manchin could easily do the same, thereby causing the Democrats to lose control of the Senate.
Joe Manchin represents a much older kind of ‘blue dog’ conservative-leaning Democrat — a kind not seen since the days since LBJ or even FDR. But in today’s Party he looks like a relic of a bygone era; the priorities of today’s Democrats, as reflected in “Build, Back, Better” pay relatively little heed to the historic New Deal coalition, instead reflecting the priorities of the woke professional-managerial elite.
The social base of the New Deal — a farmer-labour coalition at a time when about a third of the population was rural and a third industrial working class — no longer exists. Now, the party is dominated by a progressive wing that appears to be more interested in trans rights than workers’ rights; and Green New Dealers who advocate climate change measures that could make energy less affordable, as well as reducing the resilience and reliability of the country’s overall energy supply.
In social policy, contemporary Democrats often evoke the Rockefeller Republicans of 1970 — the priorities are Planned Parenthood, the environment, feminism (which used to be an upper-class Republican cause, not Democratic) and civil rights (ditto). Recall that Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act, for example, would not have passed without the assistance of socially liberal Republicans, as many of his fellow Democrats were unreconstructed racists and segregationists.
But on economic policy, they eschew supporting the structural changes that would genuinely help the country’s working and middle class. As reflected in the BBB bill, the progressive wing of today’s Democrats is pretending that “care workers” are the new steelworkers, even though this is essentially an elite endowment: by subsidising their maids and nannies and apartment doormen, they don’t have to pay higher wages. Similarly, the federalised day care proposal is for warehousing the children of maids and nannies so they can create a buyer’s market in non-union domestic servants willing to work for peanuts, with the taxpayer picking up the tab to keep them alive.
In effect, BBB socialises the costs of care for this class, but retains a neo-feudal economic model that largely benefits the professional managerial class that now dominates the Democratic Party.
Joe Manchin may be popular fall guy in the press right now, but as columnist Matthew Yglesias notes, “it is not his fault that progressives couldn’t persuade the voters of Maine or Florida or North Carolina that their agenda was worth supporting in a way that would have made him irrelevant.” Indeed. And as traditional swing states like Florida and Ohio turn increasingly red, Joe Manchin may turn out to be the least of the Democratic Party’s problems as we approach the 2022 midterms and then the 2024 presidential election.