Joe Manchin and trap of the Senate filibuster 📊 June 6, 2021
We cannot expect a minoritarian institution to put itself on a path towards more proportional representation
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Joe Manchin and trap of the Senate filibuster
I turn 25 tomorrow. As such, today’s email will be brief. Before that, my one note on “aging” is that I have found it harder to lose weight conditional on the same amount of exercise. Yes, I am aware I am too young to complain about this.
Moving on to politics: Most of you will have seen Joe Manchin’s announcement that he will oppose HR 1 and any attempts to repeal or reform the filibuster. He has called the legislation partisan and won’t vote for legislation that isn’t supported by Republicans too. You will know that I oppose pretty much any measure that keeps the filibuster intact or doesn’t take the threat of subversion in the near future seriously.
To be clear, I do not think HR 1 really even comes close to meeting the threats to responsive, representative, republican self-government that ail our democracy today. The legislation’s fixes to the systems that govern voting and election rules and (some aspects of) Congressional redistricting are worth doing on their own but do not address, eg, state legislatures removing power over certification from election officials and giving it to partisan legislatures. But opposing reforms because you want a “bipartisan” deal with the minority, anti-democratic faction is not a good way to combat these problems.
I think Manchin’s opposition to HR 1 could also end up being extremely short-sighted in the future. That depends on how the next 4 years play out, but the probability of backfire seems high. Republicans could always nuke the filibuster in 2022/24 to pursue their own legislative goals. Exchanging correctives that put us on a path towards electoral legitimacy for a tiny chance of future bipartisan engagement from the other side also looks pretty silly when Republicans can basically pass their entire agenda through reconciliation, whereas Democrats usually need 60 votes to pass things their constituents want. Manchin will run up the same negative scores if Republican state legislatures and House Republicans manufacture a GOP electoral college win in 2024.
The final point is obvious, but worth repeating because of its severity. Some people say that Manchin’s actions here are democratic because they are responsive to policy preferences in his deep-red state. That is entirely the problem! That a group of legislators all acting “democratically” in response to opinion in their own states, would vote down a bill that is favored by a broad plurality of the public proves it is too favorable to minoritarian interests — what political scientists call malapportionment.
This is a bad situation. But my conclusion is the same as it was last week: It remains unlikely that biased institutions can be corrected by reforms that make their way through the systems they govern. In this particular matter, it is hard to push a minoritarian system to vote for policies the minority favors. And that is the case for “radical” reforms in a nutshell.
Posts for subscribers
June 3: How increasing education polarization could help Democrats in the 2022 midterms. Republicans' rising reliance on low-propensity voters who don't have college degrees could hurt them in lower-turnout elections.
June 6: A thread for subscribers on polling about the popularity of the “big lie” among Republican voters.
Links to what I’m reading and writing
I revisited this Atlantic essay on Walt Whitman, democracy and unity and found it again recommendable. Here is a more academic but similarly insightful read.
This “Political update for cicadas” is also a delightful concept, even if only really nerdy politicos (and cicadas) will find the piece that interesting.
That’s it for this week. Thanks so much for reading. If you have any feedback, please send it to me at this address — or respond directly to this email. I love to talk with readers and am very responsive to your messages.
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Happy birthday Elliott!
Joe Manchin gives the Democrats the majority in the Senate, so they chair committees. Manchin provided the 50th vote for COVID relief which was important, but not much else will get done during this Congress or during the next four years. However opposing bills that strengthen voting rights and refusing to get rid of the filibuster is disastrous to democracy. HR I may be weaker than what may be required, but it's still worth passing. McConnell would get rid of the filibuster the second it suits his needs. As you said, the filibuster hurts Democrats more Republicans since Republicans can pass their tax cuts and generally their priorities by reconciliation. Democracy is eroding, many Republicans believe that Trump won the election and will be reinstated.
Trump said “We’re gonna take back the Senate, take back the House, we’re gonna take back the White House – and sooner than you think. It’s going to be really something special…”
This is reminiscent of the rhetoric that Trump supporters used on January 6th.
President TRUMP. We are going down to the Capitol--
President TRUMP. . . . weakness, you have to show
Unidentified Speaker. Yes. Right.
(People chanting: ``Take the Capitol.'')
(People chanting: ``Taking the Capitol right now.'')
(People chanting: ``Invade the Capitol.'')
(People chanting: ``Storm the Capitol.'')
President TRUMP. Make your voices heard.
Republicans overturning a Democratic win in the 2024 Presidential election remains a strong possibility which would mean the functional end of democracy in the United States.
The more I observe the U.S. political system, the more I am convinced that we need a new Constitution (which is not realistic). We need major reforms in all three branches of government and we need to protect voting rights in our Constitution. The Senate is not representing the people (nationally) and the filibuster prevents legislation from passing. Many people have said to Congress "Do something about: immigration, climate change, guns, police reform, ect" for a long time and because Manchin seeks to find "ten good Republicans", nothing will get done. The U.S. obsession with bipartisanship is counterproductive. Parliamentary systems are superior even though negotiations may occur especially in a coalition government. A government that is able to implement their policies and let the voters judge them based on how they run the government and their policies is a better system.