Robert Reich Voting

Robert Reich: Understanding Why Manchin and Sinema Voted Against Voting Rights

Last Wednesday, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema voted against voting rights. Why?
Austin, TX, USA – June 20, 2021: Demonstrators gather outside the Capitol to protest Texas SB 7, a bill that would place new restrictions on access to the polls.

Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

What can possibly explain Manchin’s and Sinema’s votes against voting rights last Wednesday? Why did they create a false narrative that the legislation had to be “bipartisan” when everyone – themselves included – knew bipartisanship was impossible? 

Why did they say they couldn’t support changing the filibuster rules when only last month they voted for an exception to the filibuster that allowed debt ceiling legislation to pass with only Democratic votes? 

Why did they co-sponsor voting rights legislation and then vote to kill the very same legislation? Why did Manchin vote for the “talking filibuster” in 2011 yet vote against it now?

Part of the answer to all these questions can be found in the giant wads of corporate cash flowing into their campaign coffers. 

But if you want the whole answer, you need to look at the single biggest factor affecting almost all national politicians I’ve dealt with: Big egos. Manchin’s and Sinema’s are now among the biggest.

Before February of last year, almost no one outside West Virginia had ever heard of Joe Manchin, and almost no one outside of Arizona (and probably few within the state) had ever heard of Kyrsten Sinema. Now, they’re notorious. They’re Washington celebrities. Their photos grace every major news outlet in America.

This sort of attention is addictive. Once it seeps into the bloodstream, it becomes an all-consuming force. I’ve known politicians who have become permanently and irrevocably intoxicated by it.

I’m not talking simply about power, although that’s certainly part of it. I’m talking about narcissism – the primal force driving so much of modern America, but whose essence is concentrated in certain places such as Wall Street, Hollywood, and the United States Senate.

Once addicted, the pathologically narcissistic politician can become petty in the extreme, taking every slight as a deep personal insult. I’m told that Manchin asked Biden’s staff not to blame him for the delay of “Build Back Better,” and was then infuriated when Biden suggested Manchin bore some of the responsibility. I’m also told that if Biden wants to restart negotiations with Manchin on “Build Back Better,” he’s got to rename the package because Manchin is so angry he won’t vote for anything going by that name.

The Senate is not the world’s greatest deliberative body, but it is the world’s greatest stew of egos battling for attention. Every senator believes he or she has what it takes to be president. Most believe they’re far more competent than whoever occupies the Oval Office. 

Yet out of one hundred senators, only a handful are chosen for interviews on the Sunday talk shows, only one or two are lampooned on SNL, and very few get a realistic shot at the presidency. The result is intense competition for national attention.

Again and again, I’ve watched worthy legislation sink because particular senators didn’t feel they were getting enough credit, or enough personal attention from a president, or insufficient press attention, or unwanted press attention, or that another senator (sometimes from the same party) was getting too muchattention.

Several people on the Hill who have watched Sinema at close range since she became a senator tell me she relished all the attention she got when she gave her very theatrical thumbs down to increasing the minimum wage, and since then has thrilled at her national celebrity as a spoiler.

Biden prides himself on being a member of the senatorial “club” for many years before ascending to the presidency and argued during the 2020 campaign that this familiarity would give him an advantage in dealing with his former colleagues. But it may have worked against him. Senators don’t want clubby familiarity from a president. They want a president to shine the national spotlight on them. 

Some senators get so whacky in the national limelight that they can’t function without it. Trump had that effect on Republicans. Before Trump, Lindsay Graham was almost a normal human being. Then Trump directed a huge amp of national attention Graham’s way — transmogrifying Graham into a bizarro creature who’d say anything Trump wanted in order to keep the attention coming.

Not all senators are egomaniacs, of course. Most lie on an ego spectrum ranging from mildly inflated to pathological.

Manchin and Sinema are near the extreme. Once they got a taste of the national spotlight, they couldn’t let go. They must have figured that the only way they could keep the spotlight focused on themselves was by threatening to do what they finally did this week — shafting American democracy.

Robert Reich

Robert Reich writes at robertreich.substack.com. His latest book is “THE SYSTEM: Who Rigged It, How To Fix It.” He is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written 17 other books, including the best sellers “Aftershock,””The Work of Nations,” “Beyond Outrage,” and “The Common Good.” He is a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, founder of Inequality Media, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentaries “Inequality For All,” streaming on YouTube, and “Saving Capitalism,” now streaming on Netflix. 

10 comments

  1. Prof. Reich, To what extent are “supply chain issues” actually a predictable result of good-paying American manufacturing jobs having been offshored over the past half century in “the race to the bottom”?

  2. Too many Amerikans appear too addicted to a culture of narcissism to notice that ‘we the people’ didn’t vote for most of what our lives are governed by.

    What more striking example of this may be found than that ‘we the sheeple’ have now been locked down to tyranny for nearly two years, and still largely in lockstep follow the dictates of (unelected) officialdom and ‘expertise’ as if their radical re-engineering of human society has anything to do with public health.

    So football fans will dutifully comply with mandatory masking just so long as they can attend the StuporBowl, and screen junkies, like Plato’s prisoners, will keep staring at images and hallucinating they’re living.

    Even what we do (or are given to) vote for is not what we get. But the body politic has ‘public servants’ like Reich to make sure that’s not noticed, either.

    Baa, baa, baa…from the ballot to the butcher.

    1. Your comments swing from sanity to pure bat-shit lunacy so damn quickly it is impossible to take you seriously.

  3. Mr. Reich, I totally agree with your assessment…I have come to the same conclusion over the years of watching and contacting Sinema (I’m from Tucson.) It’s especially galling that I voted for her back when she got started in politics and appeared to have such progressive possibility. But even in the House, her voting was mostly disappointing to me, and when she became a Senator, her inherent narcissism bloomed full force. Money and fame are obviously the driving factors.
    I feel that we the people are doomed by our fascist government, as Mussolini described it, i.e., corporate control of government.

  4. ruling class reich…all civilized nations require voting ID; none permit corruption –voting by mail unless for a citizen living elsewhere….only an idiot votes in a nation like USA
    military dictatorship—c wright mills
    inverted totalitarianism –sheldon wolin
    police state worse than Stasi–Thomas drake
    procedural republic like DPRK–Michael Sandel
    oligarchy–gilens/page, Lessig/Shapiro
    “there is no functioning democracy in America; it is am oligarchy…” Jimmy Carter
    “election laws in USA only exist in dictatorships like azerbijian”. Seth Ackerman

  5. Times have changed quite dramatically, Mr. Reich, and this routine political game playing (or grandstanding) doesn’t sell as well as it used to. On the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the voting rights bill, for example: No voting rights were threatened or have been lost. Same system that got Biden into office. Nothing changed. Joe Biden’s BBB is a $2 trillion job program for middle class men who already have the training and credentials for those jobs (the least likely to be jobless), isn’t seen by many as a priority. Meanwhile, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, much of the country is in crisis, and Democrats work hard to build support for a senseless war, driven by McCarthyesque lies about Russia.

  6. Robert if you weren’t so smart I would think you merely a simple idiot. But your not so I think you just another democratic party shill. The controlled opposition that always complains but in the end always ends up towing the line.

    Your a fake and fraud. Manchin and Sinema and those like them have always been a feature of the democratic party not an exception. They always have a few around to ensure they can never accomplish what they said they would when they got elected. It’s all one big soap opera sham and it absolutely disgusts me that even now after so many year, so few seem to get it.

  7. We have the same problem in Canada, with a virtue-signaling Prime Minister that is all image and no substance. He’s so addicted to promoting himself that facts and realities on the ground seem completely alien. Part of an entitlement culture exemplified by the anti-vaxers who consider it freedom to clog hospitals while others get the freedom to have their surgeries delayed.

    Where and how does the madness end?

  8. A lot of words from Reich to simply say they are greedy narcissists – as if that needed explaining to any thinking person.

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