News. Debate. Community. Levers for a better democracy.
Congress
True
Pool/Getty Images

To change Manchin's mind, we must appeal to his heart

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?

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

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.

MOST READ
© Issue One. All rights reserved.