Anderson edited "Leveraging: A Political, Economic and Societal Framework" (Springer, 2014), has taught at five universities and ran for the Democratic nomination for a Maryland congressional seat in 2016. McIntyre is author of "Post-Truth" (MIT Press, 2018) and "How to Talk to a Science Denier" (MIT Press, 2021).
Now that Sen. Joe Manchin has made it official — he is not going to vote for the For the People Act, nor is he going to agree to repeal or modify the filibuster — it looks like game, set, and match for Republican efforts to obstruct President Biden's legislative agenda. Or is it? What might it take for Manchin (and fellow Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema) to change their minds?
Instead of scorn, what Manchin and Sinema need now are friends in the Democratic Party. Someone needs to figure out a way to bring them to a place where they stop denying the facts — Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has clearly said he is 100 percent focused on blocking Biden's agenda, whatever it is — and recognize what their own obstruction might cost us.
If these two senators actually believed our country could lose its democracy and become an autocratic state, surely they would put the fate of the country ahead of the fate of the filibuster, or even the Senate itself. So why can't they see that this is what the protection of voting rights is about?
As one of us has written, science deniers are those who refuse to accept empirical reality even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Presenting a science denier with "the facts" just doesn't move them. They retreat into a fog of illogical reasoning, double standards of evidence and reliance on conspiracy theories all meant to protect their identity-driven conviction that what they want to believe in their heart of hearts must be true.
Research shows that the only way to change a denier's mind is to appeal to feelings, rather than logic, and begin to show them the kind of patience, respect and empathy that can break through and build the trust they need to feel safe enough to reconsider. Reason alone — especially when accompanied by ridicule, insults or anger — is not enough to do the trick.
Surely, it's a stretch to compare Manchin and Sinema to flat Earthers and climate deniers, but might the solution be the same? When Manchin announces — despite all evidence to the contrary — that we "have to have faith" that there are 10 "good" GOP senators who will join him in upholding the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, there is some sort of denial going on.
There is no magic solution here, but perhaps the key is to harness one of the central phenomena of our time, namely leveraging, which the other one of us has written about. In all aspects of life, leveraging has become critical to getting things done, whether the issue concerns finance, passage of laws, international negotiation, marketing of products or political outreach.
Indeed, three different kinds of leveraging — financial, bargaining and resource — have all been used in abundance in the last generation as traditional structures of authority have become dismantled, notably the Cold War global environment and the nuclear family where the father is the primary economic provider and the mother is the primary caretaker. When you can no longer just order people to do something, you have to find more creative ways to get them to achieve your ends.
Democratic leaders should appeal to Manchin and Sinema by leveraging nothing less than America itself. It's one thing to try to build a factual case that we are at risk of losing democracy, it's another to talk to them in emotional terms to make them "feel our pain."
Biden should put Manchin to work. If he thinks he can get 10 Republican senators to change their minds on the Lewis voting rights bill, let him. And then, when he fails, Biden can be the shoulder he can cry on, and mourn together the bipartisan Senate they have lost.
Manchin, has spoken quite eloquently about the need for the Senate to maintain bipartisanship, as befits the greatest deliberative body on Earth. But it's now fair for his colleagues to ask him, "Joe, could anything change your mind?"
As it stands, Manchin is so emotionally attached to his goal of preserving the filibuster that he has failed to see what 100 leading scholars of democracy have argued: that the future of American democracy is at stake. If we do not pass a federal voting rights law to override the voter suppression laws that have already been passed in 14 states, "Our entire democracy is now at risk."
In the classic film "The Bridge over the River Kwai," Col. Nicholson, memorably played by Alec Guinness, is so committed to "the bridge" (that his captors insisted he build) that, even when he receives allied orders to blow it up, he refuses. Indeed, upon witnessing his own men's efforts to carry out these orders, he sabotages them.
Finally, after witnessing his men being shot to death, Nicholson realizes his mistake and asks, "What have I done?"
Joe Manchin is one of the most sincere advocates for the integrity of the Senate and bipartisanship in American history. But he has lost sight of what is at stake in this battle for the soul of U.S. democracy. All Democrats must work together to override these racist voter suppression laws, which could move us further in the direction of an autocratic regime and, quite possibly, a second term with Donald Trump as our president.
His fellow senators, President Biden, Vice President Harris and others must help Manchin to "see what he has done" before it is too late. No one can force Manchin to change his mind. All that we can do right now is leverage our mutual love for this country, which might remind Manchin that if he does not change course, American democracy may be lost.
- Beyond rationalization: Joe Manchin exposes his own machinations ›
- Manchin deals critical blow to election reform legislation - The Fulcrum ›
- For the People Act falls victim to partisan dysfunction - The Fulcrum ›
- Progressive campaign aims to weaken filibuster to pass HR 1 - The ... ›
Golden is the author of "Unlock Congress" (Why Not Books, 2015) and a senior fellow at the Adlai Stevenson Center on Democracy. He is a member of The Fulcrum's editorial advisory board.
Hypocrisy abounds in everyday life. People are fickle. We change our minds. We're human beings.
And in Washington, strained rationalizations and snap reversals are as commonplace as nightly cable rants.
Still, seeing a U.S. senator arguing against himself, in print, under his own signature, in the local paper of his state's capital, is truly something to behold.
West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is usually known as a reasoned and pragmatic senator who dwells in the middle of the political spectrum. But in his obstinate defense of the Senate filibuster and his refusal to vote for the For the People Act, Manchin has revealed his real hand on the issue — and it is embarrassingly weak.
First, Manchin's references to history to bolster his arguments about the filibuster are specious and ignore context. He writes:
"Our founders were wise to see the temptation of absolute power and built in specific checks and balances to force compromise that serves to preserve our fragile democracy. The Senate, its processes and rules, have evolved over time to make absolute power difficult while still delivering solutions to the issues facing our country and I believe that's the Senate's best quality."
While our founders did create checks and balances, the filibuster was not one of them. In fact, there are five specific scenarios outlined in the Constitution where more than a majority vote is required. Passing legislation and confirming judges were not among them. The Senate just made it up. Inadvertently, at first. And the charade grew from there. Manchin slipping in how the rules have "evolved over time" is dismissive, if not disingenuous.
The checks and balances in our American system of government reside in our separated branches. This is basic civics. When majorities are elected in both chambers of Congress, and their policy objectives align with the chief executive, legislation is passed. When different majorities are elected, these laws may be repealed. There is also a Supreme Court that gets to weigh in.
There are plenty of veto points that were originally built into our system. If a senator or citizen wants the filibuster to be among them, they have the constitutionally protected right to lead a movement and pass an amendment.
Manchin goes on to cite the time in 2017 when 33 Democratic senators sent a letter to leadership that warned of the dangers of eliminating the filibuster. That part is true.
The context Manchin completely omits is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nuked the filibuster on Supreme Court confirmations that same month and confirmed three new associate justices over the next three years. Times change. Politics usually adapts.
Manchin passionately writes about the imperative to "seek bipartisan compromise, no matter how difficult." This is a noble pursuit.
But sometimes, even in the advocacy of nonpartisan goals — like protecting the principle of "one person, one vote" — passage along party lines is necessary.
Speaking of protecting the integrity of the vote, this is what the For the People Act does, in a variety of ways. Manchin does not make any substantive or specific case for why he opposes the broadly popular reforms included in the bill (known as HR 1 in the House and S 1 in the Senate). Rather, he has two complaints: 1) It is too long, and 2) it is only supported by one party.
The first whine is almost too silly to address. Manchin has voted for longer bills in the Senate and said in 2010 that he would have supported the Affordable Care Act — which clocked in at more than three times the size of S 1. (He eventually flip-flopped on that statement, which should give hope to currently infuriated HR1 advocates.)
His other complaint about S 1 being too "partisan" is actually ironic. This is because outside of the voting rights protections in it — which he seems to support — the two other major reforms in the bill are designed to restore integrity and fairness to the system.
The campaign finance portion of S 1 would strengthen the oversight of super PACs, require disclosure of "dark money" contributions, and set up a small-dollar matching system to empower candidates who do not have access to wealthy donor networks.
Manchin has bemoaned for years the flood of money that pours into our elections. In 2015, I quoted him directly in "Unlock Congress" from a national TV interview he gave about his own experience:
"I go to work everyday, and I'm expected to raise money against the other side. So as a Democrat I go to work, I'm expected to raise money for the DSCC and my Republican counterparts and my colleagues are expected to raise money for the RSCC. That money is used against any Democrats or Republicans up for elections, and then we're even expected to go campaign against them. Now that doesn't add for a good atmosphere, for us to come back and say, 'ok, can you work with me now, can you cosponsor a bill."
That's what's happening. The money has infiltrated and has driven us apart.
The other big reform in the For the People Act calls for independent districting commissions to reduce the partisan gerrymandering that already makes more than 85 percent of our congressional races foregone conclusions for one party or the other — before anyone even votes.
Where's the beef? If Manchin truly wants to make Congress "work" in a more "bipartisan fashion," fixing rigged congressional districts is the first no-brainer on the list.
Taken as a whole, Manchin's editorial reads much like a desperate closing argument from a defense lawyer who just doesn't have any persuasive facts to marshal for the jury.
That said, it's quite possible that Manchin's presentation is ultimately part of a larger gambit to make him look exhaustively reasonable before he does what needs to be done at the last minute. Because the case of the For the People Act is not a criminal trial. Just electoral politics. The jury instructions are far more vague. And Joe Manchin has nearly four more years before West Virginians will deliver his next verdict.
- West Virginia advocates implore Manchin to reconsider S 1 - The ... ›
- Manchin deals critical blow to election reform legislation - The Fulcrum ›
- For the People Act falls victim to partisan dysfunction - The Fulcrum ›
- To change Manchin's mind, we must appeal to his heart - The Fulcrum ›
The 2020 presidential election shattered voter turnout records, with about two-thirds of eligible Americans casting a ballot. It was the highest voter turnout rate in a century and the largest increase in voters between two presidential elections.
High turnout amid a deadly pandemic wasn't a foregone conclusion and didn't happen by accident. It happened because many states, including Vermont, temporarily expanded voting by mail and early voting options to protect citizens' right to vote and their health. These changes proved immensely popular nationwide among voters, with nearly 70 percent casting their ballots either by mail (43 percent) or in person before Election Day (26 percent) — a dramatic increase over 2016.
This marks resounding success for democratic participation. If states didn't realize it before, they should now be sure that giving people more ways and opportunities to vote is a good idea in any election, and many of the temporary policies put in place during the pandemic to expand voting options should be made permanent.
Vermont officially learned that lesson Monday. Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed a sweeping vote-by-mail bill into law, ensuring that for every general election starting in 2022, every eligible Vermont voter will be sent a ballot, just as they were in 2020. Another important feature of the bill is that it sets up a "ballot curing" system. If an election official flags a potential issue with a particular ballot, such as a missing signature, the voter will have the opportunity to fix — or "cure" — the issue so that their vote is counted.
The people of Vermont demanded this change after seeing the system succeed in 2020. A RepresentUs poll showed that nearly 70 percent of Vermonters supported making the vote-by-mail policy permanent after the 2020 election, and more than 90 percent agreed that voting should be made as easy as possible. The bill garnered the support of Democrats, Republicans, Progressives and Independents in the General Assembly — a truly multipartisan victory.
With its new law, Vermont now joins Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington as states that send all registered voters a ballot for general elections, and plants itself firmly as one of the most voter-friendly states in the country.
All states should follow Vermont's lead and take steps to move toward a robust vote-by-mail system. While the numbers vary slightly from state to state, vote-by-mail significantly increases turnout, and voters consistently like it. Colorado's vote-by-mail policy, for example, boosted turnout by over 9 percent. In addition to increasing overall turnout, giving everyone the option to vote by mail reduces the participation gap between voters of color and white voters.
But instead of embracing vote by mail after 2020, many states have chosen to go in the opposite direction. Georgia, Florida, Iowa and other states have passed laws restricting access to the ballot box, including limiting vote by mail, decreasing the number of dropboxes and curtailing early voting. In total, legislators in 47 states have introduced 361 bills that include restrictive voting measures.
These restrictions represent an existential threat to democracy, and are solutions in search of a problem. Concerns about "voter fraud" and "election integrity" are often used to justify these anti-voter policies, despite the fact that fraud has been and continues to be vanishingly rare to the point of being functionally nonexistent. And each and every day, it becomes clearer and clearer that those pushing for these laws are using the "Big Lie" narrative to further their own political power.
It can't be said enough: Vote by mail is a tried and true policy — already in place in both red and blue states — that increases turnout and is popular among voters of all political parties.
The Covid-19 pandemic upended our lives in many ways, including the way we vote. We can't afford to miss this opportunity to learn from the 2020 election and implement or make permanent laws that made our democracy stronger. At the moment, too many states are learning the wrong lesson. Let's follow Vermont's lead by passing pro-voter laws in other states, and fight back against bills that hurt American democracy.
- Zoraya Hightower hopes to revive RCV in Burlington - The Fulcrum ›
- Ranked-choice voting poised to return to Burlington, Vt. - The Fulcrum ›
- Vermont sets bipartisan example for expanding vote by mail - The ... ›
Meyers is executive editor of The Fulcrum.
The ever-growing democracy reform movement is built around the idea that the American democracy is in trouble because the system is broken. Those with money have an outsized influence on politics. Ballot access is far from equal. Politicians get to pick their voters, rather than the other way around.
That's why, in 2019, I helped launch The Fulcrum, a nonprofit news platform dedicated to coverage of efforts to fix the system. As my then boss, Issue One's Nick Penniman, preaches, government's policy dysfunction cannot be addressed until the political dysfunction is first resolved.
While I remain committed to the mission of informing more Americans about efforts to fix the system, there's a parallel and equally important issue to be addressed: the lack of civility in our collective discourse.
Anyone scrolling through Twitter or Facebook is bound to repeatedly land upon nasty exchanges about Donald Trump, Joe Biden, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Unfortunately, the dialogue is rarely a debate over ideas, but rather is full of nasty name-calling, sexism, bigotry and other forms of hate.
And it's not just on social media. Americans have a profound lack of trust in one another. Last summer, the nonprofit More in Common asked Americans whether "most people can be trusted." Only 39 percent said yes while a horrifying 61 percent said "you can't be too careful in dealing with people."
In fact, we can't even blame social media for making distrust more prevalent — just louder. The More in Common report cites data from the nonpartisan research organization NORC at the University of Chicago, which found this lack of trust to be a long-term problem. NORC's historic data shows the last time more than 40 percent of Americans said most people can be trusted was ... the mid-1980s.
And while the Pew Research Center has found that Americans generally trust one another to do the right thing in many situations, that trust does not extend to political decisions. At the end of 2018, just as the United States was gearing up for a second Trump campaign, Pew learned that only 43 percent of Americans were confident that others would cast informed votes and 42 percent were confident people could have a civil conversation with someone who has different political beliefs.
And that's why I'm supporting America Talks, a much-needed effort to foster civil dialogue — not by regulating social media or limiting speech, but by encouraging individual Americans to engage in one-on-one conversations. It's important we all recognize that just because someone has different beliefs, they aren't evil or unpatriotic.
Not only do we need to get people talking, we need to create some optimism that things can get better. That same More in Common study found that only 51 percent of Americans believe it's possible "for the country to come together in 2021" and just 39 percent say it's likely. While Democrats are more positive (68 percent possible, 52 percent likely), independents and Republicans are far more pessimistic (43 percent and 37 percent, respectively, said it's possible).
(Interestingly, racial minorities are more optimistic than white Americans: 63 percent of Black respondents said unity is possible in 2021, along with 58 percent of Hispanic people and 55 percent of Asian people. But only 47 percent of white people said so.)
We need to apply Isaac Newtons' first law of motion: An object in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by a stronger force. Our citizenry is only going to become more divided, more untrusting unless something stops that trend. America Talks could be that something.
There's no institutional fix to the pervasive lack of trust in the United States. But America Talks can help us start fixing things, one conversation at a time.
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