Senator Manchin and His Billionaire Sponsors Have It All Wrong
Democratic, West Virginian Senator Joe Manchin was recently fretting about his dire prediction that passage of his 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.” 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)
The founders, in their immense wisdom 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 persons), 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 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 give us and 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 far above the base level of “well” and are dictating which policy positions he takes, should 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 of this country 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 burdens and deprivations prevented them from having the opportunity to preserve their lives, liberty, and their ability to pursue their happiness. In sum, they were being 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 the mechanisms of tyranny, and devised a fundamental 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 this need to codify an expanded set of fundamental rights in our Constitution, as he 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 billionaire oligarchs of that period) whose unfettered greed had caused widespread, extreme poverty and suffering, and which 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 hardships 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 fed the trend toward the extreme authoritarian regimes and their excesses that sprouted up during and after the Great Depression that eventually resulted in the breakout of WWII. We seem to be heading toward just such extreme circumstances, and their corresponding tensions and conflicts. It is a chilling realization that we have just put down an attempted insurrection of January 6, 2020, led by the authoritarian, divisive, demagogue, Donald Trump, and his extremist, right-wing followers. Reflecting upon these cold 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 preceding decades, in his and his wide circle of advisors’ wisdom, FDR added 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.
These additions made sense because, as our society has progressed and benefited from advancements in the fields of science and technology, and our standard of living and number of basic amenities (many of which, such as electricity and the Internet did not exist at the time of the ratification of the Constitution) has increased, and communications and travel have made the United States much more connected and interdependent, the list of what the government was best suited to provide in order to “promote” and “provide for the general welfare” had grown. Many of these services are best provided for by the government because, by their nature, they are “natural monopolies” or “natural oligopolies,” and are subject to all the ills that monopolies and oligopolies are subject to. Some of these services are best provided by the government 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, in the interest of the promoting and providing for the general welfare.
It seems unfair and inaccurate that some constitutional scholars narrowly argue that what the founders “meant” when they referred to “the general welfare” was the barest of absolute necessities that the government provided then in 1789, just after the Revolutionary War, and that the founders “meant” for those services they enumerated in the Constitution to never be altered or amended, but to be set in stone, forever. That might have been true if they had been approaching the concept of “the general welfare” from the perspective of their colonial overlords, the British monarchy, but they were not.
In the post-Revolutionary states, the society was much more rural and agrarian, but there were many towns and cities. In the farming communities, the lives of the people during that era 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 towns and cities, there was more emphasis on the provision of aid to children, the poor, orphans, widows, and so on; and to the provision of services that the government was best suited to provide, such as schools, fire departments, post offices, and so on. In that period, the resources and services that people could avail themselves of and those that the government provided toward “promoting” and “providing for the general welfare” were both much more limited than they are nowadays. In any case, 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).
What Senator Manchin and others like him who have chosen the path of profiteering from representing the interests of their ultra-wealthy, corporate sponsors (and their own interests in many cases, as many are themselves ultra-wealthy) instead of those of their constituents desire is not a “welfare state” — a state in which all the people are generally “faring well” — but a state in which a large percentage of the people are actually “faring poorly” and some 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.”
Also, in conjunction with these 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, and 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” 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. To the ultra-wealthy oligarchs, apparently, the greater the inequality and the greater the deprivations of those who are not faring so well, the greater the society.
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, wisdom, principles, integrity, honor, and the love and respect of their fellows.
True, the ultra-rich corporatists obviously don’t value any of the things mentioned above that most of us prize, but that 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 gain 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 in conditions of privilege while other are raised in varying conditions of sufficiency or deprivation. There is much scientific proof of 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 render slave-laborers in the unjust society they have worked so hard to create.
Further, as they weaken and cripple so many in our society by ignoring the dire conditions they are in, they foolishly 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. Some of the costs of remedying the traumas and injuries sustained, we as a society will only be able to pay over a period of generations. Instead of building up a “great society,” the ultra-wealthy dictators and obstructionists who control our government foolishly tear our society down and dance victory dances upon its ruins.
The decline in our quality of life in our society is apparent 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 rankings of our students (Amadeo, 2021); the declines in our overall ranking and scores 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 also bemoaned the Reconciliation Bill because of his stated fear that its passage would create an “entitlement society.” This is quite humorous considering that the domain of “entitlements” is exactly what he and his corporate sponsors have been working so hard to promote and provide for themselves. And this multiplication of entitlements of, by, and for the ultra-wealthy people is the source of most all 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 outright 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 a great deal of control over our elections (because the Supreme Court, in their Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, granted them permission to sway our elections with 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 the already super-wealthy corporations and their ultra-wealthy owners, and keep the bloated budgets of the military, Pentagon, and intelligence services basking in 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 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 are not humorous to any degree. 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 populists 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 — it is obviously the case that they cannot stop in their obsessive drive to acquire more, no matter what. Further, it is unnatural for governors to turn against the governed. 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, 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 governors’ 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 short-sighted and foolish acts motivated by selfishness and greed 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, 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