Updated: Nov 25
Jubilation on the left side of the American political spectrum has hardly worn off in the wake of the midterm elections. And why not? Even with loss of the U.S. House, gloomy predictions and historical precedent lie in smithereens. More importantly for the future of self-government in this country, candidates who rejected the 2020 presidential results failed to gain a single office with power over elections in a battleground state. And then there’s the Senate. On Nov. 13, Reuters led with Democrats’ “victory lap,” as they “defy ‘red wave’ to keep Senate control.”
But this is no time for resting on laurels. Control of the U.S. Senate -- real control -- is not yet decided.
As a resident of West Virginia, I beg my compatriots in Georgia, whatever your political party or lack of one: vote to re-elect Raphael Warnock. Mobilize your friends and neighbors. The impact of the December 6 runoff will land well beyond your own state, beyond even the issue of partisan control of the Senate. It will shape the quality of democracy itself in this country, and especially here in West Virginia.
What am I talking about? Joe Manchin. A Warnock victory would neutralize Manchin, who has proven to be one of the most pernicious forces in U.S. politics today. And that’s saying something.
In what the Associated Press has called “an extraordinary display of political power in the evenly split 50-50 Senate,” Manchin’s vote has repeatedly stood in the way of measures that enjoy wide popularity across the country. Paid family and medical leave, for example. Pre-kindergarten for all American children. Modest taxation of corporate profits. In other cases, he has extorted conditions in return for his vote that have amounted to windfalls not for us, West Virginia citizens, but for corporations that are already reaping staggering excess profits — and thus spurring the inflation that is killing Americans.
During so-called negotiations over what was first called the Build Back Better Act, Manchin dragged our country through months of what can only be called psychological torture. It was a cross between a Mafia-style shake-down and the mock executions Moscow has been known for, under both the Czars and Putin. The Inflation Reduction Act that came through at the very last moment — when American citizens were blindfolded and on our knees — amputated or grossly denatured BBB’s original social and environmental thrust.
How did my senior senator’s website greet the success of the altered bill? “House Passes Manchin’s Inflation Reduction Act.” Italics mine.
“The Power of One,” summarized the earlier AP headline.
That, friends, is not democracy. In a democracy, one individual does not have such outsized control of a nation’s collective destiny.
The effects of this control have spread out around Manchin like the ripples around a stone cast in water. Until a recent upset victory by a coalition of dedicated local democrats, he and his allies controlled the West Virginia party apparatus, to the point that he could influence personnel decisions at nonprofit environmental advocacy groups, according to what I've heard, and certainly ensuring that no one serious could challenge him in a primary. That’s a big reason he keeps getting voted into office. How many of you have spent your civic lives holding your nose and voting?
After the 2020 election, the national Democratic Party set about obsequiously stroking Manchin's ego. It and allied philanthropists spent large sums, which could have been put to far more productive purposes, on vain efforts to sway him. A newly inaugurated Joe Biden appointed his wife co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, an agency that distributes tens of millions of dollars in federal grants to this wondrous but painfully undervalued part of the world.
Those of you who know me will predict the word I’m going to reach for next. Corruption. You could hardly ask for a better example of an integrated kleptocratic network than Manchin's operation.
He is the number one recipient of donations from oil and natural gas and gas transmission companies, as well as tobacco giants and for-profit eduction providers.
None of these companies operates in the public interest. The cost to West Virginia — to its residents’ health, to our property and property rights, to the health of the mountains we’re famous for, to our beloved rivers and the bedrock beneath them, to our already underfunded infrastructure — in return for a few temporary jobs is incalculable. And Manchin is pushing to expand the devastation, by turning the United States into an energy exporter.
I’ve visited or studied many such countries: Nigeria, for example. Angola. Azerbaijan. The disorder that plagues them is known as the resource curse. Symptoms include acute economic distortion, systemic corruption, and violent insurrection.
And it’s not just donations Manchin reaps in return for selling out his constituents and other Americans. His vast personal fortune derives from these same industries — combined with his influence over local energy decisions.
Georgia, I know a lot has been asked of you in the past several years; heavy hopes have been loaded onto your strong shoulders. Forgive me for asking again. Dear Georgia, please: elect Warnock and end the "power of one."
(Picture credits: FEMA, Mother Jones)
This essay was updated on November 25, 2022. Since posting it, I encountered this amusing take on Warnock's rival.