An ever-increasing volume of news stories continue to be published regarding the personality and positions of Senator Joe Manchin. But what far too many of them seem to miss is that Senator Manchin is first and foremost a pragmatist.
As recently as December, it was Manchin who became the focal point of a group of lawmakers who decided enough was enough and crafted a COVID relief package that would pass. Joe Manchin literally saved Christmas for millions of Americans.
Without a doubt, Senator Manchin is a politically astute individual. But his key quality is that he genuinely cares about his state. And while he now finds himself in the national spotlight, one gets the sense it is not a position he has spent a career seeking. Rather, he has found himself at an interesting crossroads of history where what he would deem as the sensible middle has an opportunity to lower the rancor and work together in an increasingly polarized America.
As Governor, he coined himself the state’s chief salesperson. He was willing to meet with anyone, anywhere to bring a new company to the state or work to expand an existing company’s footprint. His successes were wide ranging: he eliminated taxes on food, privatized workers compensation insurance that had dogged the state for years, as well as prioritized and completed highway projects – all while maintaining a balanced budget during the Great Recession.
Joe Manchin realizes that the nation as a whole is moving faster than his home state. This perspective gives him a sense of social justice for those who may be left behind in a changing economy, no matter in which state they may live.
The senior senator from West Virginia also understands the politics of the body in which he serves and reveres. He visits the home states of other senators to learn more about their industries. He puts in the effort to learn about the families and the home lives of his colleagues. He mourns their personal losses and celebrates their joys. Pragmatism allows for that – the separation of the personal and the professional.
A fair amount of crow has been eaten by the many who assumed he would switch parties. But his politics don’t find a home in either modern party as bestowed in Washington today. It is a throwback to an era in which the basic needs of people were put first by responsible efforts with justice to the many.
There are any number of issues in which one can disagree with the Senator – and interest groups and elected leaders from across the political spectrum certainly do – but it would be a dire mistake to underestimate him. They too often take for granted that they understand his state and the politics it embodies. They too often believe they can reference his constituents and not sound demeaning. And they too often think they back him into a corner to force his hand.
During his Second Inaugural Address in 2009, then-Governor Joe Manchin promised, “our best days were still ahead of us, our greatest strengths still within us, and that, together, we could overcome any challenges we face to create a bright future for our children and grandchildren.”
That kind of optimism demands pragmatism.