Senator Joe Manchin showed he can work a crowd with the best of them yesterday at a Town Hall held at the WVU Health Sciences center in Martinsburg, WV. He also showed why he wins elections. All the Republican Congressmen and the other Senator are running from the Town Halls, like the yellow and blood-sucking vampires they are in the light of day. "Oh myyyy, I caaan't face those terrible professional protesters! Woo Woo". Not Joe. He is comfortable with friends and adversaries alike, knows the issues, and understands the questions being asked, as a competent politician should be able to do!
The Town Hall was organized by West Virginia Citizen Action with the help of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care to review the Republican anti-health-care-give-the-
rich-another-tax-cut bill presented by Speaker Ryan this week. A dramatic presentation by two patients, one a victim of the flood of opiates into West Virginia in place of actual medical practice, and another of a longstanding illness, opened the event, which was standing room room only in a theater with over 400 seats. The testimonies highlighted the dramatic life-saving benefits of the Affordable Care Act, especially expanded Medicaid, in West Virginia, and the dreadful costs of the Ryan bill, which would result in up to 600,000 West Virginians losing coverage. The labor force in West Virginia is approximately 800,000.
The crowd was diverse. Health care providers from several clinics and hospitals took off work to attend in force, and gave powerful testimony on behalf of their patients and colleagues. Environmental, Religious, and other progressive groups also came to both listen and give testimony. Senator Manchin brought a good portion of his staff with him to facilitate getting ALL the questions and comments from those for whom there was not enough time to get to the microphones.
Senator Manchin's message on Ryan-Trump "care" was straightforward: he would vote against any bill that would reduce West Virginians coverage under Obamacare. Republican Senator Capito has also been REPORTED making a similar pledge. However, he warned that Republicans are so committed to destroying Obamacare that they may ram it through the House of Representatives even if it is a political abortion on passage. That will create tremendous partisan pressure on the Senate. "Only Trump," Manchin said, "may be able to kill this bill. Call him or email, because regular mail takes two months to reach elected officials since the Anthrax scare. This whole thing will be over by then. Perhaps even next week."
Advocates for a single-payer health care plan were also out in force and at the microphones as well. Manchin's reaction to this dialog was interesting. I re-listened to the exchanges on this question in my recording, and summarize/ paraphrase Manchin's replies: "The imminent threat is the removal of 24 million, mostly working people, patients like the ones that testified today, from coverage under the Republican Plan. It is not yet clear we can stop this big step backward to a situation WORSE than before Obamacare, without an all out effort directed at the President, now, to keep his pledge that no one will lose coverage. Single Payer works well in Canada, but at a high tax rate. The insurance industry is a very large interest in the United States. Do we really want, or have the power, to put it out of business, and have tax rates move toward 35-40%? I don't think that's practical, and like Bernie Sanders [a slight tease to a mostly progressive crowd], I do not like to waste precious time on something that cannot get the necessary votes or sponsors now to move forward."
Even though the meeting was focused on health care, Eastern Panhandle fracking pipelines, and controversial Manchin support of Trump cabinet choices -- anti-education Betsy DeVoss for Education Secretary and racist Jeff Sessions for attorney general -- were also raised. He gave the typical political answer that executives have the right to choose their team on the cabinet nominees, and did his branded "big tent", butter bread on both sides reply on fracking pipelines: in this case he would get the CEO of the main pipeline company to meet with unhappy residents about fears of water contamination.
It is good that Senator Manchin came, and came prepared, to the Town Hall. He is addressing and hearing from others across the state this week and weekend. He got an earful in Martinsburg. It is also a bit of a thrill to watch someone gifted with such impressive political skills as Joe Manchin.
At the same time, his fundamental message was on the sobering side, and not very optimistic on the deep divisions in politics. Quite an admission from a man who philosophically plays politics like a football player, from first down to first down, and holds "opportunism"---finding the center, so to speak -- in high ideological esteem.
Bernie's message, to my mind, is also sobering but more hopeful. Like Sanders, I believe that social democracy -- more socialism, so to speak, to help the advanced capitalist/market-oriented parts of the economy work better for all -- is the direction of sustainable growth, and the elevation of both living standards, and democracy for the ourselves, and the generations to come. Finding the center can be a slippery proposition, as Joe and his skills attest. Creating a new one, a la Sanders, feels like a more sure-footed path.
I am glad Joe is committed to keep the hospital doors open. But making us stupid with an anti-public-education Education Secretary, and terrorizing or imprisoning us with a racist Attorney General seems a high price.
I support efforts to find a "Sanders-smart" primary challenger. Accommodations to fascism should not get a free ride.