Joe Manchin seems like a very nice guy. And he’s clearly a talented politician – having been elected as governor and senator as a Democrat in the increasingly Republican state of West Virginia.
But his new proposal – unveiled on Tuesday – designed to bring comity and bipartisanship back to the Senate makes no sense. And wouldn’t work.
There are five basic tenets of Manchin’s proposal – as outlined by CNN’s Ashley Killough:
1. Don’t campaign against other senators.
2. Don’t raise money in support of challengers to sitting incumbents – nor to the party committees tasked with electing and reelecting those incumbents.
3. Don’t be part of any direct mail efforts against colleagues.
4. Don’t be in any radio or TV ads against a fellow incumbent.
5. Don’t take part in any social media efforts against another senator.
“I don’t see anybody in public service that’s willing to put their name on the ballot as my enemy,” Manchin told Killough. “If you’re willing to serve, then I’m your comrade. I’m willing to work with you.”
Which sounds great! People are frustrated that their representatives in the House and Senate can’t get much done. Taking some of the heat out of those relationships seems like a good thing!
But, like all things that seem good, this is bad. (OK, not all good things. But, realistically, most.)
What Manchin is proposing is to take the politics out of politics. And to turn our two-party system into a single party system – a party in which incumbency would be the common ideological thread between politicians.
The clear winners if Manchin’s proposal was to be implemented would be the people already in office. By taking away a significant source of campaign cash from challengers – and by starving the party campaign committees of money as well – it would be that much harder for any candidate not already in office to come anywhere close to the financial might of an incumbent.
Remember that every trade association, every political action committee and every lobby shop has a vested interest in giving to incumbents so politicians in office would have no problem continuing to hoover up cash.
Take away the ability to play on anything close to an even financial playing field and incumbent reelection rates, which are already sky high, would get even closer to 100%. Incumbents not badly damaged by scandal or too lazy to raise money would win.
At the heart of Manchin’s proposal sits a false assumption: That politics – and even polarization – is, by default, bad.
It’s not. Like everything, too much politics and too much polarization is, of course, bad. But a proposal to eliminate – or come close to eliminating the politics from politics – is just as bad.
We have two parties in this country for a reason. Republicans and Democrats, broadly speaking, have very real philosophical differences regarding the right role for government in the lives of average citizens. That doesn’t make one side right and the other wrong or one side evil and the other good. But it does make them different. And that’s totally fine!
Our current system is messy as hell. And highly inefficient. We lurch from crisis to crisis and call it governing. We say we want politicians who work across the aisle and then we punish them politically when they try. Outside groups have commercialized and monetized opposition for the sake of opposition. The extremes of both parties are now running things.
This is all bad! And I commend Manchin for trying to come up with a creative way to fix it. Unfortunately, his proposal isn’t it.
Pretending that the differences between the two parties are wholly a creation of campaign dollars and senators campaigning against one another simply misses the mark.
What the Manchin proposal would ensure is a political class living with almost no fear of political pain or retribution no matter what they did in office.
Incumbency would reign – for as long as incumbents wanted it to, which would be forever. (Who among us would volunteer to leave a job we liked?) The entrenched political class would get even more entrenched.
None of that would help the current morass of our politics. In fact, if we put Manchin’s proposals in place today, I think things might actually get even worse.