Narcissism in the Senate

Admittedly, describing a senator as a narcissist is a relative term: none of them are possessed of low self-regard to say the least. But Ed Burmilla raises a good point about what two narcissists, West Virginia Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Manic Pixie Dream Senator (aka Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema):

The recent in-depth interview with Sinema in which she reveals (tellingly) that her office in Tucson is unoccupied sheds a lot of light on one of the most confounding aspects of the obstructionist legacy she and Manchin are building. Any read, even a favorable one, of this interview makes it perfectly clear that this person could not give a shit about anyone or anything but her own career. Being a Senator is meaningless except inasmuch as it might give her a the right springboard into whatever lobbying job she’s dying to get. This is a line on a resume. There’s no signature policy she wants to enact, no legacy she wants to leave behind – this is the Millennial politics of the near future. Sincerity doesn’t even need to be faked and the question “What’s in this for me?” does not refer to one’s odds of reelection.

This is the fundamental issue with Manchin, and apparently with Sinema as well: it is impossible to figure out what it is they want. If they wanted something then some kind of political deal would be possible. Recall some of their predecessors: Robert Byrd using his Senate seat as a cudgel for beating West Virginia pork out of his colleagues, or Carl Hayden openly boasting about trading his vote on Civil Rights legislation for Federally-funded Arizona water projects. With this current pair, it’s unclear that handing them a blank check would accomplish anything. What do they want? What’s their strategy? What are they hoping to gain from being the reluctant members of a bare-majority coalition?

The answer is nothing, and that is a big reason that they are so nearly impossible to deal with. They don’t want anything except to play this character that they believe will pay off for them, personally, down the road. When Manchin is Governor or a mouthpiece of the coal industry and Sinema has taken her exhausting narcissism to the Chamber of Commerce or whatever, they’ll look back on what they did as a success. The politics of Congress is predicated on the assumption that each individual member wants something that either benefits their constituents directly or increases the member’s odds of reelection. In Manchin’s case the latter is argued, although not entirely convincingly (would West Virginians really be furious if the minimum wage went up? Seems unlikely!) whereas Sinema doesn’t even seem to care about getting re-elected. If they don’t want anything, how can you negotiate with them?

I think Burmilla is right about Manic Pixie Dream Senator–you don’t go from a $15/hour minimum wage to her disgusting thumbs-down Senate floor display if you have any core beliefs. But Manchin is worse: he’s a narcissist and an ideologue. Manchin actually believes that things have to be done his way or the Republic will collapse–especially ironic in light of his opposition to voting rights legislation, which the Republic desperately needs to keep its democracy. He thinks he knows better than the overwhelming majority of the Democratic Senate caucus, the Democratic House caucus, not to mention most Democrats, a large majority of independents, and even a fair number of Republicans. His arrogance is astonishing in its scope.

We have not witnessed this level of arrogance since Joe Fucking Lieberman, the Last Righteous Man in Politics™, graced the halls of the Senate.

Unlike Burmilla, I think there might be a solution. I don’t know how to wordsmith it to make it palatable for the narcissistic duo, but if they could be convinced that they are preventing a second Redemption and protecting American democracy, they might be convinced to support voting rights legislation. Flatter their egos and them into ‘heroes.’ It’s all we got at this point.

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3 Responses to Narcissism in the Senate

  1. Manchin is not an ideologue. He is simply a fool.

    Very few politicians are ideologues. Most ideologues do not want the scrutiny that comes with holding office; they are “advisors” or whatever. The officeholders are storytellers. The ideologues try to teach them what stories to tell, but it always comes back to improvisation. Manchin cannot even improvise coherently; he has the exact unpredictability of a genuine fool, who has no comprehension of his surroundings and who accordingly may do or say anything at all. For all we may know (or he may care), the sky may appear green to him.

    I pretend no insight into Sinema’s motivations. She does seem to think that she has an image to cultivate. If so, she flatters herself; her “image” is made up of borrowed feathers. Perhaps she has an “advisor” on her shoulder, of whom we know nothing; if so, it is at best an amateur ideologue, lacking even the spurious coherence of propaganda.

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