Senator Joe Manchin: A fossil of neoliberalism

The Build Back Better plan has the potential to return the Democratic Party to its progressive Rooseveltian roots. However, Senator Joe Manchin all but single handedly stands in the way.

This past week the eyes of the world have been fixed on the future. For many, this meant looking to Glasgow, Scotland where the first week of the COP26 U.N. Climate Change Conference has been ongoing. For others, this meant looking towards their wallets with the buzz word “socialism” droning in their brains.

“We are standing at an inflection point in history in world history, we have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable clean energy future,” said President Biden as he addressed the UN conference in Glasgow, “…and in the process create millions of good paying jobs…cleaner air for our children…healthier forests and ecosystems for our planet…this is a moral imperative, but it is also an economic imperative.” 

Yet even as he said these words, thousands of protestors demonstrated right outside in the streets of Glasgow, claiming Biden and other world leaders were not doing enough. Simultaneously, political rivals and even members of Biden’s own party have claimed he is attempting to do too much, stonewalling his economic and environmental agenda, the “Build Back Better Plan.”

Most recognizable of the opponents of the Build Back Better bill is the Democratic state senator from West Virginia, Joe Manchin. 

According to the Sept. 1 article in The Intercept by Daniel Boguslaw on Manchin, he disavows clean energy spending by warning against adding to the national deficit  “Adding trillions of dollars more to nearly $29 trillion of national debt, without any consideration of the negative effects on our children and grandchildren.” Manchin said last August, while also making an erroneous claim that eliminating fossil fuel dependency in America wouldn’t alleviate climate change but make it much worse.

While I am sure Manchin is making a big show of wringing his hands and shedding crocodile tears for the poor children of the future, my sympathy for his concern is somewhat diminished by my belief that he is wiping those tears with dollars, 4.5 million of them to be exact.

Joe Manchin and his brothers started their first coal energy firm Farmington Resources Inc. in their hometown of Farmington, West Virginia, which proved so successful they formed a second firm, Enersystems Inc. The Intercept article later reveals that, since becoming a state senator in 2010, Manchin has personally grossed 4.5 million from these operations, not including stock options valued at 1-5 million collectively.

In that same period just one of Manchin’s operations has been responsible for emissions associated with 18 deaths, 169 asthma attacks and 18 heart attacks annually. Costing nearly two million dollars in health damages in 2019 alone. 

Given the massive profits Manchin has earned as a dirty fuel peddler, and his apparent indifference to the health of his own community, I do not think it would be too far of a stretch to say that Manchin’s opposition to the Build Back Better bill has a lot more to do with concern for his profits, than any concern for the wellbeing of children.

Yet many on the right end of politics are applauding Manchin for his efforts. They paint Build Back Better as a green Trojan horse, warning that if we let it inside the city gates, Stalin, Lenin, and Castro are going to spring out of it, destroy democracy and gobble up our children. 

To many, climate change has always been a communist conspiracy, designed to convince us to give up our democratic rights for the sake of an imagined threat.

However, this view is in conflict with the majority of scientific opinion. The anti-climate change view depends solely on the idea that nearly the entire global scientific community are all a part of a global conspiracy to deceive us. A theory without a shred of evidence.

Often when Americans talk of socialism, they conjure images of the Soviet Union and the communist regimes of the 20th century. Many of which regressed into brutal, authoritarian police states. Yet nobody talks about the forms of socialism which work all around us. 

The National Parks Service protects our natural wonders for all to enjoy. Libraries provide education and entertainment to even the poorest child. Social Security provides some degree of financial support to the elderly, people who have contributed to society long before many of us were born.

If we can mobilize our society to do these great things, we can mobilize to combat climate change. If we truly are the leading nation of the world, we have a responsibility to lead it to a better place. 

The answer for the days ahead is not socialism at the expense of capitalism, or capitalism at the expense of socialism, but a union of both ideals. A public and private sector who equally support one another to their mutual benefit.

Powerful people like Senator Joe Manchin could be allies in this goal, they could use their financial resources and political influence to switch from fossil fuel production to clean energy production. 

Billions of dollars that are spent in wars securing a dwindling resource could be spent on science, the arts, housing, and developing clean energy. People like Joe Manchin could still be leaders, could still be wealthy, but they could do some good in the world too.  

Yet the allure of the quick and easy profits of fossil fuels seems to be like a meth addiction for people like Senator Manchin. In my opinion it’s not even about the money. 

It’s about the thrill of succeeding while watching others fail. It’s about knowing you forced your will on the world and took everything you could from it, no matter what it cost someone else. Like a drug addiction, it will never be enough.

I don’t think it really matters to people like Senator Manchin how they get their fix as long as they don’t face any consequences. However, dire consequences are coming. Manchin likely won’t live to see them, but we will, and so will all those children he is supposedly so concerned for.