Manchin Fails Basic Question: Why Choose to Lead?

West Virginia’s poor and vulnerable are living in ‘Almost Hell’ as Manchin preens

“Jesus said, ‘Let the children alone – let them come to me. The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19: 14).

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – This morning, at least 70,000 children – one out of five in West Virginia – started the new year waking up cold, wondering if there’s enough food for breakfast, let alone the whole day.

These are just two of the symptoms of persistent poverty in a state reeling from its dependence on the fossil fuel mono-economy, with communities left bankrupt by the inevitable decline of coal production or made uninhabitable by the emerging – and dangerous – natural gas industry.

So, by failing to support the expanded child tax credit, Senator Joe Manchin III has condemned his state’s children to more years in poverty.

Still, there’s plenty of money to be made for a privileged few – including Manchin. His misplaced priorities seem to have caused him to forget some fundamentals of his faith. He shows absolutely no concept of what The Mountain State’s most poor and vulnerable citizens experience daily.

Joe Manchin may have a yacht named “Almost Heaven,” but for West Virginia’s most vulnerable people – her children – he has single-handedly turned The Mountain State into Almost Hell.

Why Manchin’s Catholic Faith Matters

I grew up here, not far from where Manchin grew up. I am a “Cradle Catholic.” Many of my formative years in the Catholic Church were spent learning about and living out the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It wasn’t just about ending the Latin Mass; it also created what many church leaders today would call “subversive” Catholics. I was one of them because priests in the parishes in our neck of the woods at the time were quite attuned to the poverty which surrounded them.

We were taught that our faith was not a Sunday faith exclusively. In fact, we were taught, it is a living faith that requires that we allow Jesus and his teachings to guide us – even when it isn’t convenient. Indeed, at the funeral mass of Fr. Larry Cann of nearby Bridgeport in 2019, his words were put before the faithful one last time: “Where do you stand on the Second Vatican Council?” The wise, kind and determined priest had participated in the deliberations of the Council. He saw its relevance in West Virginia and demanded it not only of his parishioners, but church leaders within the diocese. In fact, his efforts were so successful that by the time he died, the diocese sent along only a token representative or two, a testimony to Fr. Cann’s truth-telling. That is why he left the question hanging in the air one last time.

It was also a challenge to the powerful. As Pope Francis said plainly in the 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’ or, “On Care for Our Common Home,”  the message was “… for every living person on this planet” (no. 3). So, since Manchin is among us, the pope’s words are directed at him, regardless of his faith. Critically, for such a leader, in paragraph 57, Pope Francis asked, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” 

That’s a good question for Manchin, a Catholic. If he’s looking for answers, my recommended reading is “A People’s Pastoral from the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.” Titled, “The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place In The Stories That Shape Us,” and written by the late Michael Iafrate, it is rooted in social justice theology and beautifully told from a grassroots perspective.

Understanding Poverty

Poverty robs us of more than nutrition, healthcare, education and a good night’s sleep. It also creates despair. We can’t afford to have another child grow up in despair. I mean that literally.  We can’t afford to continue misappropriating our tax dollars. If we can afford to give the military-industrial complex more money than it asks for, we can certainly shake a few pennies from our sofa cushions inside the Beltway for our malnourished and unhealthy children.

In his 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis also wrote that the Church has traditionally demonstrated “ … a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (no. 158). With Manchin’s yacht as startling evidence of his cavalier attitude towards the tens of thousands of children suffering in West Virginia, I reckon we shouldn’t be surprised that Manchin would choose the celebrity that the moment offers. He’s apparently yet to meet a camera he doesn’t love.

Then again, perhaps I should give Manchin a break. Perhaps my disgust is misguided. As the Mountain State’s slogan asserts, “Montani Semper Liberi” (“Mountaineers are Always Free”). Even to vote against our own interests.

© Michael M. Barrick, 2022.

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