Setting the Stage: In this political climate, a single week can seem like an eternity. But here we have an issue that happened so long ago it may as well be in a different geological epoch: back in February, Joe Manchin invited a Primary challenge, stating that he wasn’t going to be changing his politics and that if the people of West Virginia wanted someone different, they shout “vote [him] out” of office.
Now on the one hand, there’s a part of me that respects this move. I think that everyone, no matter how open to compromise, has “non-negotiables”, or things they won’t bend on. And that’s good, to a degree! That’s having principles. But Manchin’s voting record has been a thorny question for the Progressive elements of the Democrats for some time. Take his voting record with Trump’s cabinet appointments, for example. He voted Yes on people like Jeff Sessions, who’s trying to expand government theft of innocent citizens’ belongings (also known as civil asset forfeiture); he voted Yes on climate-denier Scott Pruitt to head the EPA; he voted to hand the State Department over to Exxon through their former CEO Rex Tillerson, under whom the company violated sanctions on (you guessed it!) Russia.
Eventually, the question becomes “Why are we even keeping him around?”
Enter Paula Jean Swearengin.
Drawing the Battle Lines: Paula Jean Swearengin took Manchin up on his offer. Aligning herself with the Brand New Congress movement, she’s set herself up as the Progressive challenger to Manchin’s seat and believes that Bernie’s sweep of West Virginia during the Democratic Primary indicates a thirst in the state for a new way forward. These expectations may be tempered by the fact that however well Bernie did in the Primary, Trump absolutely dominated the state in the General. Now we can argue the hypotheticals like “Would more liberal-leaning folks have come out if the Dem nominee had been Bernie instead of Hillary”, but such what-ifs distract from the root question.
Should we, as Progressives, challenge literally everyone in the House and Senate, even if we risk a loss? Even if we risk a net loss of seats?
Simply Put…: Yes. Yes we should.
Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m worried that Paula is going to win her Primary, and then some alt-right Trumplet is going to beat her in the General. If that one seat had been Republican this term, the ACA would have been repealed. Manchin standing with the Democrats on this particular occasion doesn’t absolve him of all the other horrible votes he’s cast, but we also can’t pretend as though this is some purely intellectual question. This isn’t a game. If we Primary conservative (“Blue Dog”) Democrats, there are going to be real world consequences.
But there are going to be real world consequences if we don’t, too. For instance, the Democrats just came out and said that there’s “no litmus test” for Democrats on the question of abortion; if abortion rights get scaled back or repealed altogether, that’s going to have an unspeakable impact on women’s health- especially women of color. Its going to impact low-income families across the country, especially when you couple this move with the Republicans’ “religious liberty” attacks on birth control and contraception.
“Pragmatism vs. Purity” is Bullshit: Inevitably, we’re going to hear complaints from Democrats that we’re traitors, that we’re idealists, that we’re this or that or the other. We’re going to hear that we ought to make the pragmatic choice and accept a more conservative or corporatist option, and that any voices claiming otherwise are getting caught up with “purity tests”.
But this is all nonsense. We’d be “caught up on purity tests” if we were threatening to unseat Manchin for “only” voting in line with someone like Bernie 99.99% of the time, and that .01% was our tipping point. But that’s not what we’re dealing with. People like Manchin vote against our interests most of the time already, so why should we be shamed and silenced by the corporatists into abandoning a Primary challenge? It makes no sense.
This is going to be a tough midterm, in West Virginia and across the country. But we’re not going to improve our own lives, and the lives of our countrymen, by acquiescing to corporate stooges who shout us down. We must show the country that we’re ready to fight for our beliefs in every county, city and state.