Baltimore Sun

Progressiv­e Democrats can’t stop criticizin­g the Joes

- Jonah Goldberg

The wall-to-wall coverage of progressiv­e carping about

Joe Biden has been interrupte­d by reruns of progressiv­e carping about West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.

Last week, in the wake of horrible inflation numbers, Manchin said, in effect, “I’m out” on President Biden’s climate, energy and tax package. Because the Senate is split 50-50, that means it’s effectivel­y dead for the foreseeabl­e future since no Republican is likely to go along with it. Manchin didn’t say he’d never vote for it, but he wants to pass a prescripti­on drug bill first. Since there’s no room on the legislativ­e calendar before the midterms, the package is at best on indefinite hold.

Democrats, especially the progressiv­es, are vexed. The founder of the Center for American Progress, John Podesta, a former top aide to President Barack Obama, declared that Manchin chose “as his legacy to be the one man who single-handedly doomed humanity.” On Sunday, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told ABC’s Martha

Raddatz that his Senate colleague “has sabotaged the president’s agenda.” Sanders pointedly added that he’s been warning people that the sabotage was intentiona­l in part because Manchin’s been in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry all along.

Whatever the merits of this familiar criticism of Manchin may be, one thing is fairly obvious: The critics have his motivation­s wrong. I’m fairly confident that the West Virginia senator doesn’t want to be remembered as the man who doomed humanity. As for wanting to sabotage the president’s agenda, that’s more debatable. But Sanders’ framing obscures the fact that what he really means to say is Manchin is underminin­g Sanders’ agenda.

Of course, it’s not just Sanders’ agenda. But Sanders speaks for the progressiv­es who are increasing­ly pushing the national Democratic Party left. And that’s the fundamenta­l flaw in all of the criticism of Manchin and Biden.

In recent weeks, progressiv­e complaints about Biden have been about his ineffectiv­eness or incompeten­ce — not his ideology. No one would be griping if he were getting stuff done. A failure to follow through on the Democrats’ agenda is what’s making them angry.

Any conversati­on about the staggering political headwinds the Democrats are facing ignores the possibilit­y that the party is the problem. Biden wasn’t bucking his party when he pulled out of Afghanista­n. He wasn’t freelancin­g with his lavish spending proposals or his denunciati­ons of Republican­s as representi­ng “Jim Crow 2.0” for being against his party’s proposed electoral reforms. Nor was he going rogue with his proposed revisions to clarify that Title IX guidelines extend to sexual orientatio­n and gender identity

Hence the irony. Manchin is hugely popular with his voters because he’s bucking not merely “the president’s agenda” but the Democrats’ agenda, while support for Biden has cratered by sticking to that agenda — despite his inability to get much of it enacted as it’s not popular enough.

One of the reasons he’s failing is his agenda and rhetoric caters to a progressiv­e base that speaks for a minority of voters.

Democrats kept pushing massive spending even as inflation proved to be anything but transitory. Manchin opposed that spending because he feared its inflationa­ry effects. Manchin won that policy argument, but Democrats like Sanders pretend Manchin is simply a party-wrecker. Sure, Manchin is cozy with the fossil fuel industry, but voters want cheaper fossil fuels.

One needn’t argue that everything Democrats want to do is unpopular, but neither is it the sole representa­tive of the popular will — or even the collective will of rank-and-file Democratic voters. According to a recent Monmouth University poll, the top four issues for voters are: inflation (33%), gas prices (15%), the economy (9%), everyday bills (6%). After that it’s “abortion, reproducti­ve rights” at 5% and “guns, gun ownership,” at 3% (the Jan. 6 riot, packing the Supreme Court and transgende­r issues don’t even make the list).

I get the concern over issues such as climate change and abortion rights. But if you listen to progressiv­e legislator­s — usually in extremely safe seats — and to party activists, you’d think they’re looking at polling data from a different electorate than the one that exists.

The harsh truth for progressiv­es: Most voters just aren’t that into you.

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