The title of Tim Wise’s book, Between Barack and a Hard Place, got me thinking about West Virginia’s newest Senator, Joe Manchin. Poor Joe. He doesn’t know what to think. He’s caught between Barack Obama and West Virginia voters. So what’s an ambitious senator supposed to do? He’s got to play both sides, of course.
West Virginians know that since the 1980s we have become more Republican than Democratic. According to The American Magazine, West Virginia hadn’t voted for a Republican presidential nominee, except incumbents, since 1928, but has become more reliably Republican. West Virginia Democrats supported Hillary Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primary election and then went solidly for John McCain in the general election. So where does this trend leave our newly elected senator? As some have speculated, is he a DINO (Democrat in name only)? Maybe.
After Manchin declared that he was unsure that he’d vote for Obama in the upcoming election (and Gov. Tomblin followed suit), he was met with outrage by die-hard West Virginia Democrats. The WV Democratic Party was most critical of Manchin’s position and essentially told him (I paraphrase) he should keep his big mouth shut. For Manchin, this declaration was not a slip of the tongue (as other politicians -lately Bill Clinton – have been known to do), but a contrived comment to allay his fears that some WV Republicans would not vote for him and instead put John Raese into the U.S. Senate. (West Virginians are changing, I agree, but not to that extent! Raese is w-a-a-y out there.)
But now, it seems that Joe Manchin is coming to his senses. He now realizes who has put him into his current position as the junior senator from West Virginia, replacing the unreplaceable Robert C. Byrd. The WV Democratic Party machine. At the recently held WV Democratic Convention when state Treasurer John Perdue urged delegates to re-elect President Obama, he received a standing ovation. After the cheers and shouts subsided, Perdue said he’s never going to agree with everything the president does but that Obama has had to make some tough decisions. “He’s never forgotten the people of this nation,” Perdue said at the Charleston Civic Center on Saturday. “In November, let’s don’t forget him.” Perdue’s thinly veiled comments were directed to Joe Manchin.
Support for the president ran strong at the convention, despite those recent statements from Manchin and Tomblin that they might not vote for Obama again. During Saturday morning’s session, delegates passed a resolution that state and national candidates must support all elected party officials, including the president. Delegates also adopted the party’s 2012 platform and approved several other resolutions.
Remington Markos, a delegate from Ohio County, said after the vote that he supported the resolution because he sees a need for unity among Democrats. “If you don’t support the party as a whole,” he said, “then you probably shouldn’t be in the party at all.” Then Jim Hoyt, a delegate from Morgan County, said that he is “proud to be a Barack Obama Democrat” and that he didn’t think Manchin and Tomblin handled their frustrations with the president in an appropriate manner. “A lot of us are disappointed with the way they’ve done that,” he said. So it seems clear. Manchin got the point. Hopefully, Gov. Tomblin did too.
Aware of the influence of the coal industry and also that West Virginia must focus it’s future on other types of industry, Hoyt said he’d like to see the focus move from coal to solar and wind power. Then Manchin addressed his feelings about the coal industry. He said West Virginia Democrats stand for energy independence but also said “we have some differences right now on the national level.” (Ha! Should he have said “I”?) The state’s junior senator then stressed the importance of using all of West Virginia’s natural resources and said there can be a balance, noting that he wants a clean environment and clean water. As I’ve stated before Joe Manchin is in the pocket of Friends of Coal. This is probably an understatement.
But back in April after Manchin realized he probably made a mistake by saying he might not vote for Obama, he almost immediately started back-tracking. He wrote a piece in the Charleston Gazette on April 20th telling all of us that he “was born a West Virginia Democrat and will always be a West Virginia Democrat.” Yeah. Right. Whatever it takes, Joe. You can’t have it both ways. Or can you?
But the fact that Manchin was openly chastised at the WV Democratic convention is reassuring. It satisfies die-hard Democrats. However, it still doesn’t erase Manchin’s comments about Obama. We know that he is still between Barack and a hard place. Keep those that sent him to the U.S. Senate happy or keep his Friends of Coal happy? Ah, how to maintain this balancing act? Such a place to be. Poor Joe Manchin. Except he isn’t poor anymore. According to his Senate disclosure forms he is now worth more than $6 million dollars!
This is my rant today.