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Joe Manchin, a rare American statesman

Paul Swamidass
Courtesy of Paul Swamidass

On Sunday, June 6, 2021, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV.) published the op-ed, “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act,” in Charleston Gazette-Mail. It is crafted by a true statesman.

Where are our statesmen/stateswomen?

We are in an era of “vanishing statemen/stateswomen” in this country. Years ago, I used to think, so and so (let him remain nameless) might be a statesman; lately, he has disappointed all of us as an “excessively partisan” politician, the very opposite of a statesman. Statesmen put national interest above partisan interests even in the face of vicious opposition within his/her own party.

The Simple English Wikipedia says:

A statesman or stateswoman is a respected, skilled and experienced political leader or figure. In most respects a statesman is the opposite of a politician. Politicians are thought of as people who will say or do anything to get elected or to gain power. A statesman is someone who does everything for the common good of the people he or she represents. To call a person a statesman is a mark of high regard for that person's integrity. To call someone a politician usually implies the person is worthy of very little esteem.

Statesmen make unpopular decisions, eschew partisan gain in order to protect the national interest by using superior judgment even at the cost of their own political standing.

Senator Manchin’s statesman-like stand

The Hill reported, “Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said he will vote against a sweeping election reform overhaul bill, dubbed the For the People Act, putting the fate of the legislation in jeopardy in the evenly split Senate.” The Hill also noted, “The House in March passed the For the People Act in a 220 to 210 vote. No House Republicans supported the measure, and one Democrat voted against the legislation.”

Manchin is being pressured to vote for the above act; he responded with the op-ed, which focuses on the harmful consequences of this partisan legislation being pushed through without any Republican support. Additionally, through the op-ed, he wants to steer the partisans in the Senate away from the power-hungry partisan rush to do away with the Senate’s Filibuster rule to pass the above partisan act, and pave the way for more flawed partisan legislations in the future.

The Senator’s determined action for the welfare of the nation is evident in the op-ed. He explains convincingly why he cannot be a partisan on a critical issue that is vital to the very future of this nation. Let us not ignore him; he deserves our respect and accolades. Here are three notable things he said about partisanship:

  • Speaking of the act, he wrote, “I believe that partisan voting legislation will destroy the already weakening binds of our democracy, and for that reason, I will vote against the For The People Act."
  • He also wrote, “The truth, I would argue, is that voting and election reform that is done in a partisan manner will all but ensure partisan divisions continue to deepen...”
  • On the partisan vote to kill the senate’s Filibuster rule, supported by all other senators from his own party, Manchin said, he “will not vote to weaken or eliminate the filibuster.”

Time to acknowledge him and learn from our statesmen

It would be poor judgement on the part of those who care for this country to let this moment pass away without acknowledging the statesman-like conduct of our Sen. Joe Manchin to take a bold and unpopular stand within his own party.

Here are eight lessons for future statesmen and stateswomen—quotes from the Senator’s op-ed that express statesman-like judgment:

  1. “I have been guided by this simple philosophy — our party labels can’t prevent us from doing what is right.”
  2. “...partisan policymaking won’t instill confidence in our democracy—it will destroy it.”
  3. Through this Act, “...we risk further dividing and destroying the republic we swore to protect and defend as elected officials.”
  4. “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 [in defense of the Filibuster rule].”
  5. “Do we really want to live in an America where one party can dictate and demand everything and anything it wants, whenever it wants? [in defense of the Filibuster rule].”
  6. “American democracy is something special, it is bigger than one party...”
  7. I will... “seek bipartisan compromise no matter how difficult...”
  8. I will... “develop the political bonds that end divisions and help unite the country we love.”

Three cheers to Senator Joe Manchin! Let us pray that many young and upcoming political leaders would learn from him the disappearing art of statesmanship for the future wellbeing of this nation, whose statesmen and stateswomen of the past contributed to the building of this great nation.

Sen. Joe Manchin, you are at the right place at the right time. In this era of vanishing statesmen, you are a breath of fresh air. We acknowledge that it is difficult and lonely to be a statesman now. Thank you for your courage, senator.

Paul Swamidass, PhD, is Professor Emeritus, Harbert College of Business, Auburn University, Auburn, AL, USA. After a total of 33 years of teaching and publishing as a business management professor, he retired from Auburn University in 2016 after teaching there for 24 years. He teaches Biblical Leadership for Kerusso Institute for Global Leadership. His newest book is, Greater Things: The Qualifications of a Biblical Leader, Vide Press, 2020. He and his wife Nimmi worship at Lakeview Baptist Church, Auburn, AL.

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