Joe Manchin, Jeff Weaver, and Jill Stein Walk Into a Bar…

Joe Manchin, Jeff Weaver, and Jill Stein Walk Into a Bar…

Joe Manchin, Jeff Weaver, and Jill Stein Walk Into a Bar…

Actually, it’s no joke. All three just showed they’re opportunists more interested in themselves than the country’s perilous future.


Thursday was a big day for the future of US democracy—or lack thereof, take your pick.

Three seemingly unrelated events became news. Conservative West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin announced that he won’t seek reelection, and hinted he was looking at a 2024 presidential run. The Green Party’s Jill Stein announced that she was looking to reprise her 2016 spoiler role by running again next year. And socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, was revealed to be working for wealthy conservative Democrat Dean Phillips, who is running a vain—in both senses of the word—primary race against President Joe Biden.

What links these stories? I’d say: grifters, all the way down.

Manchin’s declaration was the biggest news, though many expected it. The state’s GOP Governor Jim Justice, already running, was almost certainly going to beat him.

But in his statement Thursday, Manchin also told his admirers—fossil fuel barons, mainstream reporters who’ve enjoyed dinners on his “Almost Heaven” houseboat, plus West Virginians who admire the wealthy Manchin dynasty—that “what I will be doing is traveling the country and speaking out to see if there is an interest in creating a movement to mobilize the middle and bring Americans together.” Asked by reporters whether he’d rule out running for president, one source close to Manchin replied, “Nothing is off the table.”

As you likely know, Manchin is often floated as a potential candidate to front the big grifters group No Labels, run by the wife of diabolically inept Clinton pollster Mark Penn’s wife, Nancy Jacobson, and connected to Penn himself in various ways. A major No Labels donor is Harlan Crow, right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wealthy patron. Nothing shouts love of country louder than getting cash from a conservative anti-democracy real estate magnate. (Also, a group called registered with the FEC this week.)

So that happened.

What also happened was feckless Green Party leader Jill Stein, most famously seen dining with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in December 2015, who was last spied luring the formerly excellent and now forlorn Cornel West to run for president on the Green Party ticket, declared Thursday that she’d run herself.

Let us remember: West switched from the essentially nonexistent People’s Party, an amorphous, aimless left-wing protest club that he help found, to the Green Party, after some allies said that was a better move since the party has ballot access in roughly 30 states. Stein was alternatively described as West’s campaign manager and a senior adviser.

Within a month, West reversed his decision, realizing the Green Party is one hot mess. “The best way to challenge the entrenched system is by focusing 100 percent on the people, not on the intricacies of internal party dynamics,” his campaign said in a statement. In a text message to a New York Times reporter, West added, “I am a jazz man in politics and the life of the mind who refuses to play only in a party band!”

That reminds me of why I used to be fond of West. Although Harlan Crow also donated to West. The good professor defended accepting his money as the right of “a free Black man,” but a few days later returned it.

Anyway: Brave Jill Stein stepped into the breach. Jill Stein, who helped elect Donald Trump, taking votes that most likely (though not certainly) would have gone to Hillary Clinton in key 2016 swing states. Jill Stein, who has never adequately explained her sitting smilingly with Putin at a Moscow dinner before she ran for president that year, when Russian meddling on Trump’s behalf is indisputable.

Jill Stein, who collected money to recount the 2016 vote in some of the very Mmidwestern states people think she tipped to Trump—and never explained what she did with the $7.3 million she took in. But it certainly didn’t fund a recount.

A final footnote: Self-promoting and abrasive Jeff Weaver, Sanders’s 2016 campaign manager, is going from trying to elect a socialist to promoting one of the House’s most wealthy, conservative Democrats, Dean Phillips, in a doomed vainglorious primary run against Biden. Amazingly, Phillips is also funded by Harlan Crow. Weird, huh?

Weaver titled his 2018 non-best-selling book How Bernie Won, which is delusional, because while Sanders changed the direction of American politics decisively for the better, he didn’t win in 2016, or in 2020. Promotional copy on describes it this way: “The brilliant manager of Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign shows how Bernie took on the entire establishment and changed modern American politics for good.” (I wonder who wrote that?)

After Sanders lost in 2016, Weaver took over as the leader of Our Revolution, which spectacularly blew up and semi-righted itself after he left. He declared early that he would not be running the 2020 campaign, which seemed a preemptive strike against the likely news that he would not be asked to.

It’s totally predictable that a principled political operative would move from the camp of a socialist senator (who’s already endorsed Biden) to the camp of the self-aggrandizing gelato magnate ridiculously challenging Biden. Right? Makes total sense? Of course it doesn’t.

Why does all of this matter—some developments more than others?

Manchin matters most. He is the worst Democrat in the Senate, since Kyrsten Sinema announced she was an independent. Not only did he protect the antidemocratic filibuster, even opposing a so-called “carve-out” to advance voting rights legislation he purported to support, he worked to water down Biden’s ambitious “Build Back Better” legislation—and then came out against it nonetheless. Worst of all, to me, Manchin opposed extending the Covid-relief expanded Child Tax Credit, which cut child poverty almost in half, telling some of his fellow senators that he believed his poor West Virginia constituents spent the money on drugs.

Wealth is a hell of a drug, Joe. Keep enjoying it.

Stein and Weaver matter less. But anyone who believes in democracy right now should do everything they can to prevent the reelection of Donald Trump. Trump is a fascist who will end democracy should he be reelected. And the world is on fire, with the butchers of Hamas massacring Israeli citizens and an incompetent, extremist Israeli government killing Palestinian civilians indiscriminately. There’s a lively argument about whether Biden should step aside, given all this turmoil, plus given polls showing that his age is a major concern even among Democrats. I’ve made my opinion well-known—Hell no, Joe! But some people I love, who share my values, disagree with me. That’s OK.

Manchin’s, Stein’s, and Weaver’s choices are different. They represent opportunism and grifting (in Manchin’s case, especially if he decides to run for president). The fact that these three unlikely allies’ moves were revealed on the same day represents the universe telling us: The forces opposed to democracy include nominal Democrats and those to the nominal left of Democrats. (Please don’t get me started on RFK Jr.)

And please don’t fall for it. Any of it.

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