Episode 85: Take It On The Manchin

In the eighty-fifth episode of The Latest, we disagree to agree about bipartisanship. Curt L. Tofteland, founder and producing director of Shakespeare Behind Bars (www.shakespearebehindbars.org), joins the program for this week’s O.J. Simpson Twitter Update.

The Latest with Greg Ott
The Latest with Greg Ott
Episode 85: Take It On The Manchin


Those voices are discussing bipartisanship, the concept of working together to forge a fiercely-negotiated two-party agreement to kick the can down the road a couple more years. 

As the concept of working across the aisle reasserts itself as a key theme of the Biden administration, many throughout the country find themselves asking the same question: does it smell like the half and half has expired?

Since the onset of the Biden administration, the five-month old government that’s reduced the spread of both COVID-19 and push notifications from the Washington Post, cooperation on several key public policy initiatives have floundered over the lack of good-faith efforts to pass legislation, the fourteenth item on the job descriptions of congresspeople behind tweeting, collecting lapel pins, and accruing airline mileage.

Republicans’ lack of seriousness over the American Rescue Plan pushed Democrats to pass pandemic recovery legislation without their support, believing that keeping small businesses open and people on affordable health insurance plans were slightly higher priorities than determining which college track scholarship Mr. or Mrs. Potato Head should theoretically have revoked.

But failed negotiations over policies such as infrastructure continue to imperil the construction of bridges, both physically and metaphorically.

One of the more galling instances has been in the commissioning of a 9/11-commission style commission on the January 6 Capitol riot, an open-and-shut investigation that should require little more sleuthing than identifying five letters on a flag.

Proposed as an evenly-split committee with five democratic and five republican members, Republicans have nevertheless derided the proposal as a “democrat trap,” a pile of leaves in the woods covering up the hole where Hillary’s standing by with a reusable straw to drink your blood.

But rather than earnestly reflect on our recent past like a Green Day quote on a yearbook page, these Republicans believe that we’re better served “moving forward” — like towards the futuristic rearview year of 2020.

Indeed, former-thinkers like forward President Trump have taken to claiming that he’ll be reinstated as president this August, in sone sort of edit-undo, hot vax summer prime time ceremony where Roman Polanski is also reinstated to the Academy Awards, Bill Cosby’s honor doctorates are returned, and Lance Armstrong gets his Tour de France titles back. 

That’s thanks, in part, to a new-anon theory positing that Italian military satellites were responsible for changing votes in the 2020 presidential election in a conspiracy known as Italygate, because Pizzagate was already taken. 

This also comes on the heels of former U.S. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn calling for a homegrown, Myanmar-style military coup, a model nation which gets more mileage out of their water cannons, rubber bullets, and live ammunition by fixing them on protesters demanding legitimate elections, not just those seeking racial justice.

At a point in time in which the conspiracy genie isn’t ready to be put back in the bottle because he’s still got wishes to grant across our flat, green earth, you think it’d be easy to write off an unreliable negotiating partner; who wants to haggle over the price of a used Equinox with a dealer freebasing meth in the showroom of Wally Edgar Chevrolet?

But even with 19-and-counting QAnon-aligned candidates running for office in 2022, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “100% focus” on blocking Biden’s agenda, some key Democrats nevertheless remain eager to fork over a spoon and lighter with their credit report.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, a lump of coal who moonlights as a haunted Regis Philbin stand-in, and Arizona Senator Kirsten Sinema, who seems eager to embark on a new career as a meme, remain deeply committed to preserving the longstanding Senate tradition of repeatedly tanking Democratic policies to the point at which ushering in the people who believe that Jesus is the one piloting all those recent UFOs because they’re able to get things done, seems reasonable and well-informed. 

I like to think that I live in what Karl Rove once derided as the “reality-based community,” where judgments are based on facts: up is up, water is wet, and there’s no such thing as a good Tobey Maguire film. 

But the post-truth alternative, the Jimmy Buffett retirement community posted up in the outskirts of Florida, is relentless; your mom read on Facebook that Dr. Fauci boiled up the virus recipe in Wuhan himself, so it’s time for more CrossFit instructors who believe that toothpaste is a conspiracy and the earth is fifty years old to take back control. 

And I worry that we’re squandering a moment to get some solid ground back under our feet over this bizarre notion that we have to preserve the “tradition” of  arcane Senate rules in our shirtsleeves  while carrying out hostage negotiations with an assailant holding us over the ledge by the collar. 

This mirage of bipartisanship isn’t just missing the forest for the trees; it’s mistaking the desert for a poolside brunch. 

And if we can’t adjust the spheres in our contacts to recognize an illiberal opposition that prefers conspiracies, coups, despots, it’s hard to see how reaching across the aisle for the sake of a stretch will slide the American experiment back into focus.