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Joe Manchin is to progressives what Mitch McConnell was to liberals. Or is he? Over the past few months, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has been in the crosshairs of many progressives and liberals for his staunchly moderate viewpoints. Manchin opposes a $15 minimum wage, removing the filibuster and other progressive policies like Medicare for All. He also responded to calls to “defund the police” last summer by tactfully tweeting “Defund, my butt.” 

Clearly, Manchin has not made many friends among Gen-Z or older progressive Democrats who strongly support the aforementioned policies. This leaves many of us to wonder why we need him in the Democratic Party and what role he serves. West Virginia, Manchin’s home state, is one of the most conservative in the country, with President Joe Biden losing the state by almost 40% in the 2020 presidential election. 

Manchin was uniquely able to get elected due to his deep ties to the state and his portrayal as a blue-dog Democrat, which means he is socially conservative but progressive on issues of labor and some governmental regulation. That is why West Virginians support Manchin who also supported Obamacare despite traditional conservatives strongly opposing that policy. All of this is to say that Manchin is the best Democrats could hope for out of a ruby red state like West Virginia.

With the Senate in a virtual 50-50 deadlock, every vote can make or break legislation and Manchin often finds himself on the fence of Democratic legislation. Some call Manchin the most important politician in Washington at the moment — the Democratic party must adhere to his will. If progressives had their way, Manchin would not be a senator; but it is important to consider the alternative.

Considering how conservative West Virginia is, it is already a miracle that Democrats got someone from their party elected. If the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party continues to villainize Manchin, his reelection chances could be in danger. While at face value, some progressives don’t like that he is so powerful and want him removed from the Senate, we rarely look at the opposite viewpoint. If Manchin’s seat were filled with a Republican, the Republican Party would control the Senate, as they have since 2014.

In an era of immense voter suppression and attempted GOP reversal of the presidential election, every blue vote is essential. It is imperative that Democrats maintain control of the Senate, yet every day that progressives vilify Manchin in the media is a day closer to McConnell and the GOP flipping another seat to the Republican Party. Democrats need to do everything they can to keep the seats they have and potentially pick up more in 2022. Tearing ourselves down from the inside out does not help the cause.

This column is in no way a ringing endorsement of Manchin’s policies. I disagree with him in most of his centrist and conservative policies. Still, Manchin and I agree on one broad theme: advancing the Democratic party instead of the GOP.

Without Manchin’s vote, the $1.9 trillion stimulus deal would not have passed the Senate. If Manchin’s seat were occupied by a Republican, Democrats would have to make immense compromises, potentially accepting a plan one-third the size of Biden’s. Instead, Biden was able to make good on his first campaign promise of sending direct help to individuals who need it the most. 

The state of American politics and the structure of the Senate makes it difficult to even get a Democratic majority, much less one with a large enough margin for progressives to have any power. Manchin helps us achieve liberal policies and block conservative initiatives, even if it comes at the price of more progressive policies. It is imperative that we do not let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

It is easy to point to and scapegoat Manchin as the reason Democrats cannot legislate with the stroke of a pen, but that takes away from some of the systemic problems within the Democratic Party and how certain Democrats have prioritized the wrong objectives throughout the years. In 2020, Democrats were outpaced in their ground campaign efforts leading to numerous inroads from Republicans, which represented a large failure from the Democratic National Convention. If Democrats focused on reforming these problems instead of directing their attention toward Manchin, they could have a five-seat majority in the Senate and Manchin would simply be a blip on all of our radars.

Progressive attacks on Manchin are not only misplaced, but detrimental to the future success of the Democratic Party in the Senate. In a state that is right leaning, having a Democratic ally is a huge advantage and should be celebrated as a success rather than a failure. 

While it is true that Manchin currently represents a roadblock to progressive policy making, I would rather have a roadblock that we can potentially wiggle around than the brick wall that a Republican majority would be. While having Manchin control the fate of any and all legislation is frustrating, it is important to understand that the alternative could be much worse. McConnell spent years stalling everything former President Barack Obama did, and we are fortunate enough to have a Democratic majority leader. Thus, we should focus on pushing forward the Democratic agenda instead of making Joe Manchin the progressive punching bag. 

Shubhum Giroti can be reached at sgiroti@umich.edu.  

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