Senator Manchin and His Billionaire Sponsors Have It All Wrong
Democratic, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin was recently fretting about his dire prediction that passage of his 48 fellow Democrats’ $3.5 Trillion Reconciliation Bill (only he and fellow Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona are blocking it) would result in a “welfare state.” This term, and others like it, have been slung around in the political arena with the obligatory choruses of gasps by the ultra-conservatives and neoliberals since the Reagan administration on. The truth is that “promoting” and “providing for” “the general welfare” of the people of this country is a fundamental principle that the founders enshrined in the U.S. Constitution in its Preamble and in Article I, Section 8:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Preamble, emphasis added)
The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; (Article, I Section 8, emphasis added)
Just from these two excerpts from the U.S. Constitution, we can see that the founders, in their immense wisdom and knowledge of history and political philosophy regarding what was important in ensuring a good government and a free and healthy society (at least for all free persons at the time, which has since been amended to include all citizens), clearly prioritized the “general welfare” of the people. What is the meaning of the word “welfare”? According to merriam-webster.com, the definition is: welfare, noun, 1 : the state of doing well especially in respect to good fortune, happiness, well-being, or prosperity. The first known use of the word “welfare” was in the 14th century, and the origin of the word is as follows: Middle English, from the phrase wel faren, to fare well.
This brings up a few salient issues. The first is, just what is it about the concept of the “welfare” of his fellow Americans that scares Manchin so much and causes him to hang his head and lament its seemingly imagined destructive powers? Could it be the idea that all of the people in such a “state” would be given the opportunity to fare well? Is it that all of the people would have adequate food, shelter, and clothing, and other modern necessities such as electricity, clean drinking water, and quality healthcare and education? Now, I can state with confidence that this is not such a scary idea to the majority of Americans. Yet, it seems to frighten Manchin.
And just as importantly, how can it be that Manchin himself is faring so, so, so far above the minimum level that most would agree to be that of “well,” and yet the seeming desire of his heart is to stubbornly prevent anyone who is faring poorly from having the opportunity to actually fare well? Manchin and his corporate sponsors have been toiling hard to prevent just such good things from happening to those of us who could really use some help to start actually faring well, not to mention to prevent future generations the opportunity to survive and thrive in a healthy environment free from the apocalyptic effects of extreme global warming.
These are questions that Manchin and his corporate sponsors, who are also faring light years above the base level of “well” and are dictating which policy positions he takes, should be made to answer — if only to satisfy the people’s curiosity and give political analysts, sociologists, psychologists, and criminologists fodder for research. The last three because certainly it can be said that such thinking on the part of Senator Manchin is sociopathic and leans toward criminality in terms of violating the oath all senators swear upon taking office “to support this Constitution.” (Article VI, Clause 3)
What the founders and authors of the Constitution meant by “the general welfare” was any resources that should be provided to the general public by the general public — to the governed by the governed via the government. These resources include those that are necessary for the people to have in order to preserve their lives, liberties, and their ability to engage in the pursuit of happiness. This would include any resources needed to keep themselves out of crippling poverty, illness, illiteracy, or any other form of powerlessness to help themselves or to pursue their happiness (education, trades, etc.). It also meant supplying necessary amenities (some listed in the Constitution in 1789, the year of its ratification) such as “Postal Offices and Post roads” (Article I Section 8), schools (a responsibility left to the states at that time; however the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause have expanded the protections to the right to education).
To argue against the government promoting and providing for the “general welfare” as if it were some kind of social evil that will lead to the destruction of our society makes no sense. The founders understood what “the general welfare” meant, as they had been denied the most fundamental of rights and liberties and were struggling to provide for the general welfare of the people because of the oppressive laws and taxes the British monarchy across the Atlantic Ocean had burdened them with. These oppressive laws and taxes prevented them from having the opportunity to preserve their lives, liberty, and their ability to pursue their happiness. In sum, they were being fettered and made miserable by the greed and power-mongering of the British Crown — much like a large percentage of Americans are today, but by the billionaire, corporatist oligarchs. The founders understood tyranny and its mechanisms, and devised a fundamental, governmental plan — a constitution — to defend against any threats of tyranny that should arise in the future. And so, among others, they sanctified the concept of “the general welfare” in the Constitution.
As the resources of the country grew and science and technology progressed, so did the scope of the basic necessities required by the people to preserve their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was keenly aware of the need to codify an expanded set of fundamental rights in our Constitution. FDR came to the presidency following a period of extreme corruption, inequality, and financial recklessness caused by a new set of tyrants, different from but resembling the former British, aristocratic tyrants: the ultra-rich multimillionaires (the ultra-rich oligarchs of that period) whose unfettered greed and power-seeking (meddling in our government) had caused astronomical wealth for a few and widespread, extreme poverty and suffering for most Americans. This era culminated in the Stock Market crash and banking crisis of 1929 followed by the economic collapse of the United States and much of the world, a period known as the Great Depression.
The economic hardship and instability of the Great Depression also led to extreme political strains and instability internationally, which fed domestic and international tensions and conflicts. It is clear from history that it also fed the trend toward extreme, authoritarian regimes and their excesses which sprouted up during and after the Great Depression and which eventually resulted in the build-up toward and breakout of WWII.
We seem to have been on such a trajectory in the past few decades, and to be heading toward just such extreme circumstances, with their corresponding tensions and conflicts. It is a chilling realization that we have just put down the insurrection of January 6, 2020, led by the authoritarian, white nationalist, demagogue, Donald Trump, and his extremist, right-wing followers. Reflecting upon these facts, it is clear that promoting and providing for the general welfare of the people was sanctified in the Constitution for many good reasons.
In light of all the lessons of the decades preceding his rise to the presidency, FDR proposed amending the Constitution to add a “Second Bill of Rights” to what the founders had listed in the original Bill of Rights, and presented it to the U.S. Congress on January 11, 1944, in his State of the Union speech. They are:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
Oddly enough, it is most all of the other economically advanced nations of the world that have succeeded in integrating these 8 additional rights into their societies, if not also into their constitutions. The United States got a good start, but made two steps forward and one step back during the next three decades, and has since been making one step forward and two steps back, since the Reagan administration of 1981–89. These additions to our Bill of Rights made sense because, as our society had progressed and the advancements in the fields of science and technology had progressed, our standard of living and number of what were considered to be basic amenities (many of which, such as electricity did not even exist at the time of the ratification of the Constitution) had increased.
Many of these services are best provided for by the government because either, by their nature, they are “natural monopolies” or “natural oligopolies” and are subject to all the ills that monopolies and oligopolies are subject to; or, because their inherent purpose is not to make a profit — and should never be to make a profit — but to provide a necessary service to the people, such as judicial courts and education. Where they are not best suited to being provided by the government, they are implicitly guaranteed to citizens by the government.
It seems inaccurate and unfair that some constitutional scholars are narrowly arguing today that what the founders “meant” when they referred to “promoting” or “providing for” “the general welfare” was the barest minimum of absolute necessities that the government provided for then, in 1789, just after the Revolutionary War; and that the founders “meant” for those resources and services never to be altered or amended, but to be set as in stone forever. This narrow interpretation might have been accurate if the founders had been approaching the concept of “the general welfare” from the perspective of their colonial overlords, the British monarchy, but they were not.
It is true that in the post-Revolutionary War states, American society was much more rural and agrarian. However, there were many cities and towns. In the farming communities, the lives of the people were characterized by a great degree of self-sufficiency, as the farmers made most of the products they consumed. In the towns and cities, however, there was greater specialization of trades and greater interdependency. Thus, in cities and towns, there was more emphasis on the provision of aid to children, the poor, orphans, widows, and so on; as well as more emphasis on the provision of services that the government was best suited to provide, such as schools, fire departments, post offices, and so on. In any case, the resources and services that people could avail themselves of and those that the government could provided toward “promoting” and “providing for” “the general welfare” were much more limited than they are nowadays. In any case, most all constitutional scholars will agree that the Constitution was meant to be a living document that would grow and be adapted as the country grew and developed. This is why the founders included an article devoted to the process by which future amendments would be added to the Constitution (Article V).
It is clear that what Senator Manchin and others like him who have chosen the path of profiteering from their positions as elected, government officials by representing the interests of their ultra-wealthy, corporate sponsors (and their own interests in many cases, as many, themselves, belong to the ultra-wealthy class) instead of those of their constituents desire is not to “provide for” and “promote” “the general welfare” of the people, but quite the opposite. The deride the general welfare, using such terms as “welfare state” to describe it. But what would a “welfare state” look like? It would most likely be a state in which all the people are generally “faring well.” What Manchin and his sponsors desire, from looking at his voting record in the U.S. Senate, is a state, or nation, in which a large percentage of the people are actually “faring poorly” and a significant percentage of us are even “faring extremely poorly,” to the point of even dying for lack of such basic human necessities as adequate healthcare, food, shelter, and/or clothing.” Furthermore, they desire a state in which many of us have no hope at all of ever having the opportunity to pursue our happiness because we have been so deprived of the basics toward that purpose, such as quality, 21st-Century education and healthcare.
In conjunction with the material conditions of “faring poorly,” Senator Manchin and his corporate sponsors clearly desire to maintain the status quo in which all except for a few of the richest among us are deprived of their full constitutional rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, as well as other civil rights and liberties. The question is: why? Why would Senator Manchin and his corporate sponsors desire this? It’s apparent that they desire this “faring poorly state” for a great percentage of us (and that percentage has been growing and growing over the past few decades and has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past two decades) so that they can fare better. Much, much, much better than the average American. So that they can soar far above the base level of “well.” That is what extreme inequality is all about. And for many, they also desire this so that they can call the shots. Power-mongering goes hand in hand with greed. And to that end, it is apparent that to the ultra-wealthy oligarchs, and their Manchins and Sinemas in the U.S. Congress, the greater the inequality and the greater the deprivations of those who are not faring well, the greater the society is.
What makes their selfish understanding of what constitutes a “great society” even more pathetic is the fact that they too are faring rather poorly, and in the most important of areas. How can that be if they are wallowing in money and wealth and power? It is because they lack the greatest possessions people can have: humanity, compassion, common decency, fairmindedness, knowledge, principles, integrity, honor, wisdom, community, and the love and respect of the men and women in their society.
True, the ultra-rich, corporatist oligarchs and their servants in the U.S. government obviously don’t value any of the things mentioned above, that most of us prize. However, this is just further evidence of their overall mental, moral, and spiritual bankruptcy. After all, we humans are social creatures. One interesting question here is what causes some of us to lose our social nature and take on an antisocial nature? One possibility is that the state of extreme inequality itself leads to decreased levels of empathy in the rich, as they are raised and develop in conditions of privilege; while other are raised and develop in varying conditions of simple sufficiency or deprivation. There is much scientific proof to support this theory (Manne, 2014). In any case, in their extreme want of the character and moral traits that we as humans value most highly, they are every bit as “destitute” as those they deprive of their fundamental rights and render slave-laborers in the unjust society they have worked so hard to create and maintain.
Further, as they weaken and cripple so many in our society by neglecting to improve the dire conditions they are in, they fail to grasp the value of the lost potential of their victims and the costs of remedying the trauma and injuries sustained from living in such conditions, both of which are so huge as to be incalculable. Some of the costs of remedying the traumas and injuries sustained by the poorest and most miserable among us, we as a society will only be able to pay over a period of generations, if ever. Instead of building up a truly great society, the ultra-wealthy oligarchs and their “representatives” who control our government foolishly tear our society down and turn victory dances upon its ruins.
The decline in our American quality of life is crystal clear in: the relatively low increases (and even some decreases in certain years) in our average life span since 1990, while life spans have increased much more in other countries (Crimmins, 2021); the declines in the international academic rankings of our students (Amadeo, 2021); the declines in our scores and overall ranking in the world democracies rankings (Levine, 2021); and in the increases in overdose deaths (drugabuse.gov, 1999–2019), depression (Columbia, 2017), suicide (Ramchand et al., 2021), diabetes (CDC, 2017), heart disease (Healthline, 2017), and obesity (Dotinga, 2016).
Senator Manchin has bemoaned the Reconciliation Bill, which would make great contributions toward promoting and providing for the general welfare, because of his stated fear that its passage would create an “entitlement society.” This is quite humorous considering that “entitlements” are exactly what he and his corporate sponsors have been working so hard to “promote” and “provide for” themselves for many decades. And this multiplication of entitlements of, by, and for the ultra-wealthy people is the source of most of our society’s current ills.
The huge collection of privileges — many in violation of the Constitution — they’ve procured for themselves over the past few decades has allowed them to own and control the mainstream media (which they have been allowed to consolidate into six mega-corporations because of laws passed under the Reagan and Clinton administrations), exercise control over our elections (thanks to a majority of “our” Supreme Court Justices, in their Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, granting them permission to buy the outcomes of our elections with their gargantuan contributions), destroy unions, pay workers lower and lower wages, pay very little in taxes in comparison with past decades, drastically cut funding to all levels of education, drastically cut funding to our social safety net till many of us are vulnerable to hardship at every turn, make healthcare and prescriptions unaffordable to most, mandate huge government subsidies and funding that benefit themselves, and keep the bloated budgets of the military, Pentagon, and intelligence services stuffed with billions of unnecessary and often wasted and misused taxpayer dollars, to name just a few.
In his public statements, Manchin might as well just tell the truth, in a thick Sopranos, mob accent: “You gotta understand one thing. See, I’m not against an ‘entitlement society.’ But let’s get one thing straight. All the entitlements go to me and my associates! And that’s just how it’s gotta be, because we say so! Or, we’ll just give you an offer you can’t refuse! We’ll… We’ll… Hold on. I gotta consult with my consigliere…” As humorous as that may sound, the effects of their entitlements are not humorous at all. We really have come to live in what has been called by Dr. Cornell West the “gangsterization of the world.” And it’s a far cry from the days of the administrations of such great public leaders as President Roosevelt and on through President Kennedy.
The stubborn perpetuation of corrupt and oppressive practices against our formerly “much greater society” until it has become nothing to be proud of to wield power over makes no sense. It’s insanity unleashed. It’s as if —no, it is obviously the case that they cannot stop themselves in their obsessive drive to acquire more wealth and power, no matter what. Further, it is unnatural for public leaders to turn against those they govern. It breaks the social contract. It goes against human nature, as we are social creatures. It goes against all the lessons handed down through the centuries of history, political philosophy, and economics about the rise and fall of great civilizations … here we go again. It repeats the worst chapters in human history.
It is the equivalent of the public leaders turning against and destroying their own parents or children, so fundamental is the relationship between governors and governed. Thus the concept of treason and its perceived heinousness. It is the most serious of felonies. Even the words we use to describe this phenomenon are shocking to hear: “treason,” “traitor.” It is never a glorious pageantry of wise and noble acts that leads to the decline of a once flourishing society. It is always a cheap, tinsel-shrouded soap opera of foolish and despicable acts motivated by selfishness, greed, and power-seeking on the part of a few.
The founders of this country and authors of our Constitution, and the great leaders who came later in our history, such as FDR and JFK, had the right ideas. Senator Manchin and his corporate sponsors have it all wrong.
Amadeo, Kimberly. (2021, February 28). U.S. education rankings are falling behind the rest of the world: how it hurts the economy and you. The Balance. https://www.thebalance.com/the-u-s-is-losing-its-competitive-advantage-3306225
CDC. (2017, April). Long-term trends for diabetes. cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/statistics/slides/long_term_trends.pdf
Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health & CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. (2017, October 30). Depression is on the rise in the U.S., especially among young teens. https://www.publichealth.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/depression-rise-us-especially-among-young-teens
Crimmins, E.M. Recent trends and increasing differences in life expectancy present opportunities for multidisciplinary research on aging. Nature Aging 1, 12–13 (2021). https://www.nature.com/articles/s43587-020-00016-0; https://doi.org/10.1038/s43587-020-00016-0
Dotinga, Randy. (2016, August 3). The average Americans’ weight change since the 1980s is startling. CBS News. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/americans-weight-gain-since-1980s-startling/
drugabuse.gov. Graph: Overdose Death Rates, 1999–2019. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/trends-statistics/overdose-death-rates.
Healthline. (2017, March 10). Why heart disease is on the rise in America. healthline.com. https://www.healthline.com/health-news/why-is-heart-disease-on-the-rise
Levine, Sam. (2021, March 24). US sinks to new low in rankings of world’s democracies. theguardian.org. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/24/us-world-democracy-rankings-freedom-house-new-low
Manne, A. (2014, July 7). The age of entitlement: how wealth breeds narcissism. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/08/the-age-of-entitlement-how-wealth-breeds-narcissism
Ramchand, Rajeev; Gordon, Joshua A.; Pearson, Jane L. (2021, May 26). Trends in suicide rates by race and ethnicity in the United States. JAMA Network. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2780380; JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(5):e2111563. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.11563